ART FROM ANCIENT LANDS

Egyptian Granite Sculpture of Ramses II the Great - X.0434
Origin: Egypt
Circa: 1279 BC to 1213 BC
Dimensions: 18.75" (47.6cm) high x 13.5" (34.3cm) wide
Collection: Egyptian
Style: 19th Dynasty
Medium: Granite

Ramses II, better known as Ramses the Great, was the son of Pharaoh Seti I and Queen Tuya. Early on, Ramses was named co-ruler alongside his father and he accompanied him on military campaigns in Libya and Nubia. During his father’s lifetime, construction was begun on a new capital, named Avaris. Upon Seti’s death in 1290 B.C., Ramses officially assumed the throne and soon after launched an attack against the Syrians. Although he was told to have lived to the age of ninety-six, during which time he father more than one hundred and fifty children to some of his over two hundred wives and concubines, Ramses is best remembered for his monumental structures. Some scholars say that the prosperity of a pharaoh’s reign can be measured by the number of buildings constructed under during their rule. If this is the case, then Ramses II is certainly one of the most important figures in Ancient Egyptian history. Among his many architectural achievements are the two temples at Abu Simbel, the hypostyle hall at Karnak, a mortuary complex at Abydos, the Colossus of Ramesses at Memphis, a vast tomb at Thebes, additions to the Temple of Luxor, and the famous Ramesseum.

While Ramses may be famous for his monumental statures, this granite sculpture depicts the pharaoh with an intimacy that is lost on larger scale representations. This work depicts a fragmented face of Ramses rendered in high relief on the left side as well as a portion of a royal cartouche that has been engraved into the right tip of the wall panel. He wears the distinctive tripartite wig featuring a prominent Uraeus cobra in the center. From this wig rises as cylindrical headdress that appears to be the red crown symbolic of Lower Egypt, although it may actually be the double crown indicative of the unified Upper and Lower Egypt. Since the majority of this crown has broken away, it is impossible to fully tell. His facial features are masterfully represented with an idealized delicacy. Most stunning are his eye and ear. This fragment was likely once part of a larger decorative scheme that would have adorned the walls of a temple of palace. Once Ramses II himself might have walked through the corridors of this structure and stopped to admire this gorgeous portrait as we continue to do today. Published: Varia Aegyptiaca 10/1 (1995)=The Egyptian Royal Image in the New Kingdom [catalogue of an exhibition at the San Antonio Museum of Art, January 6th-April 9th, 1995), catalogue number 37. This portrait of Rameses II, who is often identified as the pharaoh of The Exodus, depicts the mighty pharaoh in an unstriated nemes-headdress, originally worn by priests of the sun god, and later incorporated into the regalia of kings. The nemes is fronted by a uraeus, or sacred cobra, its coils curled into a horizontally-aligned figure-8 above the king’s forehead. He wears a composite crown on top of the nemes, consisting of the Red Crown of Upper Egypt which is clearly preserved and distinct, above which are traces of White Crown of Lower Egypt. He appears to be wearing a ceremonial, false-beard as well. His features are designed in the idealizing idiom so characteristic of ancient Egyptian representations and these are intended to perpetuate his vigorous health and well-being forever. These features include the hieroglyphic eyes with their cosmetic stripe and the plastic, or sculpturally defined, eye brow. Rameses the Great is here shown against a back slab which was anciently inscribed with his name and titles. There are traces of the cartouche, or royal ring, preserved in the field above his head which contains the last sign of the first part and four signs of the second part of his royal name. These can be translated, with the missing portions within parenthesis, as, “[Ra-]mesu Mery-[Amun],” that is, “Rameses, the one beloved of the god Amun.” The back slab suggests that this portrait of Rameses the Great was part of a group statue in which Rameses was represented in the company of one or more gods. We may even suggest that these figures were standing, as are the majority of such group compositions in which the figure of Rameses II is so depicted. References: For related examples see both R. E. Freed, Rameses the Great. An Exhibition in The City of Memphis (Memphis1987), page 57, for a group statue of Rameses II, inscribed, standing between Ptah and Sakhmet of Memphis; and J. Vandier, Manuel d’Archéologie Egyptienne III. La statuaire égyptienne (Paris 1958), pls. CXXV,3; CXXIX, 1; and CXXXII, 6. Kenneth A. Kitchen, Pharaoh Triumphant. The Life and Times of Ramesses II (Cairo 1982), pages 70-71, for the connection between Rameses II and The Exodus. - (X.0434)


 

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