Egyptian Serpentine Figure of a Falcon (Horus)
Egyptian · Predynastic - Early Dynastic Period; ca. 3150 – 3050 B.C.
H: 8.5 cm
This falcon is a very rare and unusual pieces of Egyptian sculpture that can be considered among the most important works in any collection of antiquities, public or private. Its abstract qualities make it attractive to a modern eye familiar with the simplified forms of Arc or Brancusi. As one of the earliest three-dimensional representations of the falcon, an animal sacred to the god Horus, it is truly elegant in its simplicity. The object’s general outline clearly suggests the attributes of a falcon; the wings are articulated, the beak delineated, and even the claws indicated on the underside.
A number of animal images in stone have been identified from the late Predynastic Period, including cows, elephants, hippos, lions and even pigs. These are generally highly stylized, compact pieces of sculpture that capture a creature’s characteristic contours but offer little intricate detail. Representations of the falcon, however, do not appear until near the end of the Predynastic or the beginning of the Early Dynastic period. Scholars have suggested that this development resulted from the growing strength of Hierakonpolis, the ancient capital of the early southern kings and the cult of their patron god, Horus. Falcon images of the god would naturally have become more numerous as votive objects as the god’s cult center grew in importance. Because of its unusually large size, this image could have been either an important offering to the god or even a cult statue in his temple.
Another falcon representation of comparable size is part of the Guennol Collection and has been on loan to the Brooklyn Museum for some time. It was once in the collection of the sculptor Jacob Epstein, attesting to the attraction such early nearly abstract pieces can command as works of art in their own right. The work’s art-historical significance, however, has proven to be even greater than its visual appeal, since it was found to balance perfectly on its claws, “nodding” at a slight touch to the tail. This unusual feature helped to explain the oracular response of deity images, which were described in ancient texts as nodding. Prior to this discovery, the notion of such statues being able to nod was difficult to imagine, since there was no evidence of mechanical aids that would have enabled them to physically “respond” to prayers and entreaties.
A great masterpiece, the falcon sculpture featured here possesses an almost unparalleled importance as both an artwork and a cultural and sacred artifact. It evokes a time early in the ancient Egyptians’ development of iconic images, when they were beginning to shape their civilization and codify their religious beliefs and rituals.
Ex- Alan May collection;
Galerie Nefer, Zürich, 1987.
Art of the two Lands, Egypt from 4000 B.C. to 1000 A.D., New York, 2006, n. 1.
The Dallas Museum of Fine Art, Eternal Egypt, September 1990-March 1991
Am Beginn der Zeit, Ägypten in der Vor- und Frühzeit, Münich, 2000, pp. 41-43, n. 54-58.
DONANDONI ROVERI A.M. et al, Kemet, Alle sorgenti del tempo, Milan, 1988, pp. 176-177, n. 106 (stone amulette).