Egyptian wood Statuette of a Standing Egyptian Dignitary
Period: Middle Kingdom, 11th - 12th Dynasty, ca. 2040-1785 B.C.
Dimensions: H: 28 cm
Ex-Dr. A. L. collection, Switzerland; acquired from him in 1994.
The statuette, made from many assembled elements, is carved from a rather hard and dark-colored wood, which could be cedar imported from Lebanon. The surface of the wood, marked by extensive graining, is smooth and in very good condition.
The arms (the tenon for the right arm and the hole to insert the left one are visible) and the right leg (the left one was broken and replaced) are missing; the right eye is chipped. The surface of the wood was covered with a layer of whitish stucco, traces of which can be seen on the face, the neck and the shoulders. The nipples and the eyelashes are indicated in black, traces of copper are visible in the eyes.
The base is perfectly rectangular and probably carved from a different wood; covered with a reddish-brown pigment, it bears no inscription indicating the name of the figure.
The man depicted is of middle age: represented strictly frontally, he is standing and steps forward on his left foot, his arms probably hungalong the body (the thumb of the right hand was inserted into the fold formed by the upper part of the loincloth, on the side of the thigh).
He wears a smooth, typical knee-length loincloth, which perfectly hugs the buttocks and thighs of the man. His bare chest, with well-modeled though somewhat flabby musculature (stomach, chest), as well as the rendering of the face and of the back, where only the spine is marked by a long vertical depression, indicate that the figure is not youthful. His hair is short, with no indication of individual locks: the straight edge of the hair is clearly visible on the forehead and around the ears.
Wooden sculptures appear very early in Egyptian art, from the beginning of the Historical Period, but it is mostly from the Old Kingdom onwards that they were produced in great numbers. Small size examples were particularly popular during the First Intermediate Period and the Middle Kingdom. At that time, the custom of buying oneself a funeral statue, even of reduced size, spread from high dignitaries to the class of newly rich people who appeared after the troubled period that followed the Old Kingdom.
From a typological point of view, among the closest parallels to the statuette, one should mention the life-size pieces found in Asyut, now at the Louvre and dated to the First Intermediate Period (11th Dynasty) and those from Meir, small in size, housed in the Cairo Museum, which were carved during the following dynasty.
Tomb furniture, even for relatively modest people, often included wooden statuettes, which were placed in a niche at the bottom of the grave: their main function was to receive the funerary offerings, especially foodstuffs.
Even if wood is more perishable than stone, its use provides significant advantages: lighter and easier to work with, it also allowed the composition of statues made from several elements that were assembled at the end (arms, legs, feet, loincloth). The limbs can have a more natural and free position, separated from the body, and the dorsal pillar, which always exists in stone works, is no longer necessary: the figures were thus becoming much more lively and realistic than those carved from stone.
The few systematically carried out scientific studies (Louvre) indicate that acacia wood was most frequently used by Egyptian sculptors. Other woods, in particular of the jujube tree, the fig and, more seldom, the cedar of Lebanon or ebony are also attested to.
VANDIER J., Manuel d’archéologie égyptienne, Tome III, Les grandes époques, La statuaire, Paris, 1958, pp. 155ff., pp. 225ff., pl. LIII, 4, 6; pl. LXXV-LXXVI.
BORCHARDT L., Statuen und Statuetten von Königen und Privatleuten, Teil 2 (CGC 39, 2), Berlin, 1925, n. 433, 435, 440, 445, 506,
JORGENSEN M., Catalogue Egypt I (3000-1550 B.C.), Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, 1996, n. 37, pp. 100-101.