Egyptian Faience Pendant with the Head of Bes
Period: Third Intermediate Period (ca. 10th-8th century B.C.)
Dimensions: D : 5.2 cm
Price: CHF 19'800
Ex-Baron Empain (1852-1929) collection, Belgium.
The plaquette is complete, but it has been reassembled. It was horizontally pierced for a suspension string, which would have allowed the amulet to be worn as a necklace, for example.
This disk-shaped object with a fl at back shows an indented pattern on the edge. In the center, the medallion is occupied by a head of Bes, which as a pars pro toto (part for the whole) represents the whole figure of the deity; it is partly decorated in openwork and partly carved in sunk relief. This type of disk is known from many parallels distributed throughout the eastern Mediterranean as far as Cyprus.
Despite the stylization, the mask of the god appears here with his usual grotesque features: a flattened face seen frontally, a deeply wrinkled forehead, eyes wide open, pug nose, leonine ears, wide crushed cheeks, a big mustache, and a long beard. Only the mouth, surprisingly small and without visible fangs, is slightly unusual. On his head, Bes wears his traditional headdress made of feathers, which are alternately painted in black.
This genie, known as early as the Old Kingdom but whose popularity significantly rose from the New Kingdom on, became one of the most famous figures of the Egyptian pantheon from the Third Intermediate Period onward and then throughout the first millennium B.C. Primarily a protector of women and children, Bes aided women in labor and watched after newborns. His terrifying ugliness warded off evil spirits and diseases. Bes was also the patron of musicians and dancers. Privileged witnesses of popular piety, figurines and images of this god were very widespread in the Egyptian world. Used as talismans, they could, for instance, be worn as a jewel pendant, suspended from a door or in a room, threaded on a stick or on a pole, or placed at the corners of a bed. Some pieces might have served as rattles for children.
HERMANN, C. and T. STAUBLI, 1001 Amulett, Altägyptischer Zauber, monotheisierte Talismane, säkulare Magie, (Fribourg, 2010), pp. 69-73.
REISNER, M.G.A., Amulets (CGC, vol. 29/2), (Cairo, 1958), nos. 12961, 12963-63, pp. 17-18, pl. 4 and 23.
VON FALK, M. and C. FLUCK, Die Ägyptische Sammlung des Gustav-Lübke-Museums Hamm, (Kettler, 2004), p. 161, no. 73.
WILKINSON, R.H., The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, (London, 2003), pp. 102-104.