Colossal group representing two figures, Ramesses II and Sekhmet
Period: New Kingdom, 19th Dynasty (1279-1213 B.C.)
Material: Golden brown quartzite
Dimensions: 95 x 88 cm
Mr. Noriyoshi Horiuchi private Collection, acquired on the Swiss art market in 1992.
Exhibited: Egypte, Moments d’éternité, Art égyptien dans les collections privées suisses, Antiken Museum, Basle and Musée d’art et d’histoire, Geneva, 1997.
Published: PAGE-GASSER M. and WIESE A.B., Egypte, Moments d’éternité: Art égyptien dans les collections privées suisses, Mainz/Rhine, 1997, pp. 176-178, no. 111.
WIESE A., Antikenmuseum Basel und Sammlung Ludwig, Die Ägyptische Abteilung, Mainz/Rhine, 2001, p. 128.
Now lost: heads, much of the legs and the arms represented on the outside. Surface partially worn, but remarkable artistic qualities still fully apparent. The presence of many holes on the surface is enigmatic; pierced in different places, they might indicate that the block was reused.
Carved from a large monolith of quartzite (a golden-colored stone thought to be gifted, in ancient Egypt, with an important symbolic value and used mainly to represent kings and gods), this group represents two figures, a male and a female, carved in very high relief. Their backs are pressed on a flat background, a sort of very broad dorsal pillar, which, at the back and on the side, bears inscriptions.
The man (whose chin was adorned with a false beard, now lost) is bare-chested and is dressed only in a shendyt loincloth furrowed with regular linear pleats. At the waist, he wears a thick belt with a sharp, pointed dagger, whose handle is modeled in the shape of a falcon’s head; only the outline of the weapon is indicated by fine engraving. The cartouche inscribed on the buckle of the belt encloses the name of the figure, Pharaoh Ramesses II, designated by his throne name, Usermaatre-Setepenre.
The woman on the man’s left is entirely wrapped in a tight, light tunic and wears a tripartite wig, whose side parts only are preserved, covering the upper shoulders. The remains of the circular mane visible on her neck enable us to identify her as the goddess Sekhmet.
The two figures, whose wrists are adorned with bracelets, gently hold hands; this gesture emphasizes their common intentions, clearly expressed already by their physical proximity.
At the rear of the dorsal pillar and on its side, inscriptions again mention the name of the pharaoh and his title of King of Upper and Lower Egypt.
This group is impressive not only for its monumental size and the use of a special stone, but especially for the high quality of the carving. The youthful, idealized body of Ramesses II is beautifully proportioned, with athletic muscles perfectly rendered by fine nuances (chest, stomach, arms), which contrast with the precise geometric lines of the loincloth. Sekhmet has a very feminine, tall and slender figure, with perfect shapes, as evidenced by the sensual modeling under the thin, almost transparent veil of the garment (sinuous outlines, rounded breasts, full hips, pubic triangle only just indicated by fine nuances).
Such a high quality and such beautiful anatomical proportions typically belong, in Egyptian art, to the New Kingdom, especially to the 18th and early 19th Dynasties.
In the great statuary of the New Kingdom, the representation of a pharaoh accompanied by one or more deities is quite widespread. Ramesses II is certainly one of the kings who most used this medium of expression, probably for purposes which would nowadays be described as propaganda. The typology of these images, often large in size, is very diversified, since there are both seated and standing couples leaning against a dorsal pillar, triads, pharaohs accompanied by a falcon, and so on.
In this group, Ramesses II is featured as the equal of the deity. The almost intimate gesture of the clasped hands and the same colossal size showed the faithful that their pharaoh was closely connected to the goddess. The choice of Sekhmet – a fierce, frightening goddess, depicted as a lioness, endowed at the same time with a strong apotropaic and protective nature – was very significant too for a pharaoh who was also famous for his military campaigns and successes. By depicting himself standing upright, flanked by the goddess and of an equally impressive size, the king wanted not only to show that he was her equal, but also to warn and intimidate his enemies and enjoy the protection of Sekhmet.
Among the closest parallels for this group, one should mention a granite group in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, in Copenhagen, typologically very similar (but the goddess is replaced by Ptah-Tatenen and the quality of the work is not as high), which gives a good approximation of how the work would look in its completeness.
JORGENSEN M., Catalogue Egypte II (1550-1080 B.C.), Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, 1998, pp. 196-199, no. 75.
VANDIER J., Manuel d’archéologie égyptienne: Tome III, Les grandes époques: La statuaire, Paris, 1958, pp. 417-420.