Egyptian Bronze Statuette of Osiris
Egyptian · 26th Dynasty, Saite Period, ca 600 B.C.
H: 47.8 cm
This statuette is remarkable for its size, far larger than the average bronze ﬁgurines of Osiris. The body is slender and well-proportioned, the crown covering the head is very tall.
This image follows the canonical iconography of Osiris: the god is wrapped in a shroud that perfectly hugs the contours of his body. In his hands, he holds the ﬂagellum (the nekhekh scepter, visible in the left hand) and the hekat scepter, the shepherds’ crook. The position of the arms (wrists crossed on the chest) is a clue to the origin of the statuette, which would have been manufactured in a center of Upper Egypt.
On his head he wears his usual headgear, the atef crown, com-posed of the white crown of Upper Egypt, ﬂanked by two ostrich feathers; a snake descends down the front of the headgear, where, just above the forehead, the head of the uræus would have been attached. Under the chin, a square opening would have been used to insert the false beard.
Originally, the ﬁgure of Osiris was linked to the fecundity of the Egyptian soil, the renewal of vegetation and the world of shepherds, as evidenced by the hekat scepter (which reproduces the shepherds’ crook). He embodied the fertile land and the arable ﬁelds, and became therefore the guardian of the order of the universe and the cycles of nature. But the most famous myth concerning him is the one in connection with his death, known through many versions: the son of Geb (the earth) and Nut (the sky), and the husband of Isis, the god primarily was a pharaoh. With Isis, they were a pair of royal benefactors who taught man-kind farming and ﬁshing (Osiris), weaving and medicine (Isis). Jealous of the sovereign, his brother Seth assassinated him, cut up his body and disposed of the pieces in the Nile. However, Isis, his wife and faithful widow, found and reassembled the body of her husband and, with the help of her sister, Nephtys, and of Anubis, she embalmed the corpse. After breathing life into him for a short instant, Isis was impregnated by Osiris: this union resulted in the birth of Horus, who, following in the footsteps of his father, became Pharaoh.
And so, after having survived the ordeal of death, Osiris triumphed thanks to the magic of his wife and became the ruler of the underworld, which contained the seeds of life and, at the same time, was the protector of the deceased, to whom he would promise life after death.
These two closely related characteristics linking the god of fecundity and the funerary divinity were certainly the basis for the success Osiris enjoyed in the Egyptian world: from the New Kingdom on, and especially during the entire 1st millennium B.C., statuettes of Osiris were among the most important funerary oﬀerings.
The lower part of the legs is lost; the head, although entirely preserved, is bro-ken at the neck, but the two breaks match up perfectly. Many examples were inlaid and/or made of other materials: the eyes, the brows, the feathers of the crown, the false beard, the head of the uraeus.
Art market, prior to 1965;
Ex- Altonyan Gallery, Macon, France;
Ex- N. Koutoulakis, Paris-Geneva, acquired in France, ca. 1965;
Ex- UK private collection, London;
US private collection, Colorado; acquired in London, 2 November 1994
Biennale des Antiquaires, Paris, 2010
PAGE-GASSER M. – WIESE A. B., Egypte, Moments d’éternité, Genève, 1997, pp. 260-261, n. 172.
SCHOSKE S. – WILDUNG D., Gott und Götter um alten Ägypten, Mayence/Rhin, 1992, pp. 123-124, n. 83.
On Osiris, see:
WILKINSON H.R., The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, London, 2003, pp. 118-123.