ART FROM ANCIENT LANDS

Limestone Stele Depicting the God Heh - X.0110
Origin: Egypt
Circa: 380 BC to 200 BC
Dimensions: 26" (66.0cm) high x 16" (40.6cm) wide x 4.875" (12.4cm) depth
Collection: Egyptian
Style: 30th Dynasty/Early Ptolemaic Period
Medium: Limestone

This monument is in the form of a niche stela, its top crowned by a cavetto cornice fronted by a sun disc flanked on each side by a uraeus, the protective cobra of ancient Egypt. Below is a framed panel depicting a male figure wearing a belted kilt, with a prominent central flap perhaps representing a decorative apron, who kneels on a nebu-sign, the hieroglyph for “gold.” There is a sun disc atop his head and he holds a notched palm frond in each hand. The palm fronds represent the hieroglyph for “year” and are notched. Each notch symbolically represents a number of years. Taken together the figural decoration within the niche is a rebus, or visual pun, which can be “read” as a hieroglyphic phrase to be translated something on the order of, “millions upon millions of years [of life].”

The nebu-sign is a frequent base for support deities in ancient Egyptian two- dimensional art, and inclines one to identify the kneeling figure as the god, Heh, a personification of infinity. Heh came to be identified as the god of eternal life. His image is often associated with pharaohs not only as an expression of their eternal existence in the Hereafter but also as an expression of the desire that their rule over Egypt would be both long and prosperous. The pharaoh associated here with Heh has not been named, as the blank rectangle, intended to hold an inscription, in the field to the upper right of the figure reveals.

The design of the niche stela and the style in which the god Heh is rendered can be paralleled in any number of similar stelae in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, which are dated to the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods, to which time this example certainly belongs. Its virtually perfect, unblemished state of preservation enhances its significance as an eternal monument and would convey expressions of longevity on its owner.

- (X.0110)


 

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