Egyptian Wood and Bronze Sculpture of an Ibis - X.0555
Origin: Egypt
Circa: 664 BC to 525 BC
Dimensions: 8.625" (21.9cm) high x 4" (10.2cm) wide x 9" (22.9cm) depth
Collection: Egyptian
Style: 26th Dynasty
Medium: Bronze and Wood

The 26th Dynasty, also known as the Saite Period, is traditionally placed by scholars at the end of the Third Intermediate Period or at the beginning of the Late Dynastic Period. In either case, the Saite Period rose from the ashes of a decentralized Egyptian state that had been ravaged by foreign occupation. Supported by the assistance of a powerful family centered in the Delta town of Sais, the Assyrians finally drove the Nubians out of Egypt. At the close of this campaign, Ashurbanipal’s kingdom was at the height of its power; however, due to civil strife back east, he was forced to withdraw his forces from Egypt. Psamtik I, a member of the family from Sais, seized this opportunity to assert his authority over the entire Nile Valley and found his own dynasty, the 26th of Egyptian history. Known as the Saite Period due to the importance of the capital city Sais, the 26th Dynasty, like many before it, sought to emulate the artistic styles of past pharaohs in order to bolster their own claims to power and legitimize their authority.

The ancient Egyptians pioneered the creation of what a modern would term “multi-media” works of art, as the wood and bronze components of this ibis demonstrate. Its body is sculpted from a single piece of wood, perhaps cedar, to which its legs and head, both of bronze, were affixed. It is possible that the original was also provided with a triangular tail-feather section also in bronze. The eyes were inlaid, as their hollow sockets reveal. On the basis of parallels, one might even suggest that the wooden body was sheathed in gold leaf.

The ibis represents a hypostasis, or manifestation, of Thoth, god of wisdom and inventor of the hieroglyphs. The patron of scribes and recorder of the judgment rendered in the Hall of Justice when the soul of the deceased was weighed against a feather of truth, Thoth became a very popular deity during the Late Period. At that time his principle cult center was located in Middle Egypt at the site of Ashumnein. Nearby at Tuna el-Gebel was enormous complex of catacombs. Pious pilgrims would visit Tuna el-Gebel and dedicated images of the god Thoth, similar to ours, as well as mummified ibises in anticipation of prayers to be granted or in thanks for prayers having been fulfilled.

Our ibis is a very representative example of the type. In keeping with all animal sculptures created in ancient Egypt, this example captures the essence of the ibis which, for the ancient Egyptians, was the embodiment of one aspect of Thoth, the god of wisdom.


Richard A. Fazzini, et al., Art for Eternity. Masterworks from Ancient Egypt (London 1999), page 140, no. 87.

- (X.0555)