- Gallery Text
Egyptian sculptors employed bronze and precious metals as well as stone and wood. The art of bronzecasting reached new heights in the Third Intermediate Period (c. 1070–712 BCE), when statues and statuettes were embellished with intricate inlays of precious metal or were partly overlaid with gold. These two lion-headed deities may be assigned to the subsequent 26th, Saite dynasty. Like the bronze falcon nearby, they served a votive purpose, and might have contained sacrificed ichneumons (Egyptian mongooses). The female figure on the left, identified by an inscription as the goddess Wadjet, wears a long dress and a crown composed of two tall feathers and a sun disk between cow horns. Her throne is incised with a Horus falcon and lion-headed figures. Though most feline deities are female, the other bronze, crowned by a cobra, is recognizable as male by its short kilt. The pierced hands of both statues once held attributes, such as scepters.
- Identification and Creation
- Object Number
- Lion-Headed Deity with Atef Crown
- Work Type
- sculpture, statuette
- mid 7th-late 6th century BCE
- Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Africa, Egypt (Ancient)
- Late Period, Dynasty 26
Level 3, Room 3740, Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Art, Ancient Egypt: Art for Eternity
View this object's location on our interactive map
- Physical Descriptions
- Leaded bronze
- Cast, lost-wax process
- h. 67.8 cm x w. 14 cm x d. 26.7 cm (26 11/16 x 5 1/2 x 10 1/2 in.)
- Technical Details
Chemical Composition: XRF data from Tracer
Alloy: Leaded Bronze
Alloying Elements: copper, tin, lead
Other Elements: iron
Comments: The eye and collar of this deity do not have detectable silver or gold. The main alloy has the same elements as 1943.1121.A.
K. Eremin, January 2014
Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Leaded Bronze:
Cu, 80.45; Sn, 7.93; Pb, 11.25; Zn, 0.017; Fe, 0.2; Ni, 0.06; Ag, 0.02; Sb, 0.05; As, less than 0.10; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, 0.012; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, less than 0.001
Technical Observations: The lion-headed deity is a hollow lost-wax cast. The skirt is not completed at the back, and the legs behind the skirt end at the knees. Black core material is present in crevices of the base under the feet. Burial accretions, including a fragment of charcoal (0.5 x 1.0 cm), are also present under the base. Evidence of eight core pins is visible at the surface and in the x-radiographs: at the top of head, back, chest, both sides of the upper base, both sides of the lower base, and the front of the base. The rectangular pins ranged from 1.5 x 3.0 mm to 2.0 x 4.0 mm in size. The remains of a possibly ancient fabric are present at three sides of the interior of the base. The fluid nature of the fine incised lines in the surface indicates that they were drawn directly in the wax model.
The headdress is fractured off at its base, and the join at the break shows that it belongs to this sculpture. It is repaired with a modern brass pin. Crude cleaning abrasions are present at the legs and head. The patina is green with areas of brown and some red. Interior surfaces exhibit large areas of dark blue azurite and areas of a light bluish green identified by R. Gettens as chalconatronite.
Henry Lie (submitted 2000)
- Inscriptions and Marks
inscription: in hieroglyphic, on the upper back of the throne:
"Horus, the great god, Beḥdetite"
- inscription: in hieroglyphic, on the upper back of the throne:
- Ex collections Dourighello, W. Randolph Hearst, Grenville Lindall Winthrop.
Bought by Winthrop from Brummer Gallery, Inc. (NY) June 5, 1939 (Brummer inv. no. N4453); bill in file.
- Acquisition and Rights
- Credit Line
- Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop
- Accession Year
- Object Number
- Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
The lioness deity, identified by an inscription as Wadjet, wears an ankle-length sheath typical of this class of bronzes. The upper part merges completely with the form of her torso, so that it appears as if her upper body is unclothed. Her crown is a composite of two tall feathers fronted by a sun disc cradled between two cow horns, the entirety of which was set on top of a modius with a large flaring uraeus at the front. Such headdresses are associated with the nurturing goddess Hathor, who is syncretized with the primeval lioness-goddess Tefnut. This example displays a rounded feline face with a short muzzle; the whiskers are indicated by thick, curving engravings. Her eyes are set deep within the face, with highly placed lids. The eyes may have originally been inlaid, as on 1943.1121.A, but the inlay has been lost. Her legs display a thin, flat profile with a sharply angled bend at the knees that differs from the rounded execution of the male deity’s legs. She holds her proper right hand open and palm down above her knee; her left hand, attached to the leg by a small strut, retains its clenched fist which probably originally held a separately worked scepter.
Wadjet sits on a richly decorated throne. A hieroglyphic inscription, which begins on the proper right side of the throne with the sign for Horus (a falcon) and continues in the upper left corner on the back, reads “Horus, the great god, Beḥdetite” (1). As the Beḥdetite, Horus is represented in the form of a hovering falcon or winged solar disc who protects the individual king and is closely related to the renewal of kingship (2). The inscription naming the goddess Wadjet appears in the upper right hand corner of the proper left side of the throne. The back panel is divided into two rectangular zones. The upper zone, which occupies the slightly protruding ledge of the throne back, depicts the Horus-falcon with outstretched wings. It grasps the shen rings of eternity and feathers of maat (cosmic order) in its claws and wears a sun disc as a headdress. Below this scene, a lion-headed figure, perhaps male, wearing a large disc on its head is shown kneeling in profile to the right. Extending both arms, it holds the sides of an enclosing arch and appears to balance upon a diamond-shaped element, which may be the central element of the heb “festival” basket glyph. The arch, which is rendered by a single line with a parallel row of stippled dots along the outside, may be an abstraction of two notched palm branches, symbols of one hundred thousand years of reign. The two throne sides show similar imagery: that on the proper right depicts a lion-headed figure wearing the Double Crown, while on the left side a lion-headed figure carries a large disc on its head. In both, the figure squats on an open lotus flower from which seven smaller tendrils extend. The entire scene surmounts a geometric design representative of the niches and buttresses of palace facades.
The two magnificent statues of enthroned lion-headed deities represent Late Period Egyptian bronze working at its finest. They may belong to Dynasty 26 (c. 664-525 BCE) based on comparisons with dated examples (3). The two figures depict a female deity (1943.1121.B) and a more rarely found male deity (1943.1121.A); they do not, however, constitute a matched pair, as the workmanship and stylistic features distinguish them as products of different artists. A study of similar bronzes in the Berlin museum revealed that they were often used as containers for sacrificed ichneumons, although the Harvard examples are empty (4). The ichneumon, as the hunter of dangerous serpents with which the lioness goddesses are connected, transforms the potentially destructive nature of the divinity into a tamed protector.
The lion (or more accurately lioness) head is the most common animal head for female deities and it is associated with several different ones. In the absence of an inscription, it can be difficult to determine which goddess is represented. In the New Kingdom, one goddess who was represented in large stone sculptures of lion-headed goddesses was Sakhmet, whose name literally means “She who is Powerful.” Similarly forceful goddesses assume the leonine attributes, including Matit (“She who Dismembers”), Mehit (“She who Seizes”), and Pakhet (“She who Scratches”) (5). Inscriptions on Late Period lion-headed bronzes most commonly name the goddess Wadjet, associated with the Delta site of Buto, as is the case with 1943.1121.B. As the regional goddess of Lower Egypt, she appears in the form of a fire-spiting serpent and was paired with Nekhbet, the vulture-goddess of Upper Egypt. Together they appear as protomes on royal headdresses, Wadjet taking the form of the cobra-head (known to us through the Greek name, uraeus). Wadjet also encompasses a solar aspect and, along with Sakhmet, is equated with the fiery eye of Re, hence the common occurrence of the solar disc in the iconography of lion goddesses. There is also evidence that the destructive qualities of these goddesses were softened by their syncretism with more benign goddesses such as Bastet, Hathor, and Mut. A bronze seated lion-headed goddess in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, that is quite close iconographically to 1943.1121.B, is inscribed with a prayer to Mut (6).
Most feline deities are female, and the depiction of lion-headed male deities is unusual. The identification of 1943.1121.A as male is based on the fact that the deity wears a short kilt instead of the tight-fitting long dress (7). The leonine heads are not differentiated between the male and female, since both have a slightly flaring mane that surrounds the face and a long tripartite wig, which conceals the junction between animal and human forms. Inscribed examples of male lion-headed deity statuettes are much less common than inscribed female examples; Roeder notes one example with a prayer to Horus, Son of Wadjet in Berlin (8). A second piece inscribed with epithets of Horus is in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem (9). Such inscriptions, however, may also be associated with Wadjet, as is the case for Harvard’s female deity 1943.1121.B. In addition, the lion-headed gods can be connected with Shu, the son of the creator-god Atum and brother of Tefnut. The brother-sister couple, who began the sexual cycle of reproduction through their mating, were identified with the lion and worshipped at Leontopolis (Tell Muqdam in the Delta). Also worshipped in leonine form at Leontopolis was Mahes (Greek: Miysis or Mios), a war god and guardian of sacred places (10). A Greek commentary mentions sacred enclosures and catacombs for mummified lions at this site, but no archaeological finds have confirmed this practice (11).
1. Inscription translated by the late C. Keller, formerly Professor of Egyptology, University of California, Berkeley.
2. Thanks are due to E. Russo, Brown University, for clarification of this aspect of Horus.
3. See, for example, B. V. Bothmer, “Statuettes of W3d.t as Ichneumon Coffins,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 8 (1949): 121-23, esp. 121 n.2 (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, inv. no. 11867, excavated at Sais in the Delta).
5. A. K. Capel and G. E. Markoe, Mistress of the House, Mistress of Heaven: Women in Ancient Egypt, exh. cat., Cincinnati Art Museum; Brooklyn Museum (New York, 1996) no. 67.
6. M. Saleh, The Egyptian Museum Cairo: Official Catalogue (Mainz, 1987) no. 254, thought to come from Sais.
7. For comparable male deities, see G. Roeder, Ägyptische Bronzefiguren, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin Mitteilungen aus der Ägyptischen Sammlung 6 (Berlin, 1956) 66-68, pls. 11.1 and 12.a-b, .d-e) (Berlin inv. nos. 13131 and 13788).
8. Ibid., 68 (Berlin inv. no. 13788).
9. Although with an elaborate hmhm headdress consisting of three papyriform columns, maat feathers, uraei, and sun discs; see A Glimpse into the Past: The Joseph Ternbach Collections, exh. cat., The Israel Museum, Jerusalem (1981) 154-55, no. 120.
10. “Miysis,” in Lexicon der Ägyptologie, Pt. 26, vol. 4, pt. 2 (Wiesbaden, 1980) 163-64.
11. P. F. Houlihan, The Animal World of the Pharaohs (London, 1996) 95.
- Publication History
Dows Dunham, "The Egyptian Antiquities", Bulletin of the Fogg Art Museum (1943), Vol. 10, No. 2, 40-43
Clifford Frondel, "On Paratacamite and Some Related Copper Chlorides", Mineralogical Magazine (1950), Vol. 42, 34-45, p. 42.
Clifford Frondel and Rutherford John Gettens, "Chalconatronite, a new Mineral from Egypt", Science (1955), Vol. 122, No. 3158, 75-76, p. 75.
Rutherford John Gettens and Clifford Frondel, "Chalconatronite: An Alteration Product on Some Ancient Egyptian Bronzes", Studies in Conservation (1955), Vol. 2, No. 2, 64-75
Jacques Vandier, “Quadjet et l’Horus léontocéphale de Bouto", Monuments et Memoires, Fondation Eugène Piot (1967), Vol. 255, 17-21, figs. 3a, 4.
Dorothy W. Gillerman, Gridley McKim-Smith, and Joan R. Mertens, Grenville L. Winthrop: Retrospective for a Collector, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1969), p. 256 (checklist).
Rutherford John Gettens, "Patina: Noble and Vile", Art and Technology: a Symposium on Classical Bronzes, ed. Suzannah F. Doeringer, David Gordon Mitten, and Arthur Steinberg, M.I.T. Press (Cambridge, MA, 1970), 57-68, p. 63.
Kristin A. Mortimer, Harvard University Art Museums: A Guide to the Collections, Harvard University Art Museums/Abbeville Press (Cambridge, MA; New York, NY, 1985), p. 94, no. 102, ill.
Séan Hemingway and Julie Wolfe, "Art and Technology: The Study of Ancient Bronzes at the Harvard University Art Museums into the 21st Century", Proceedings of the XVth International Congress of Classical Archaeology, Amsterdam, July 12-17, 1998, ed. Ronald F. Docter and Charlotte Moormann, Allard Pierson Series (Amsterdam, 1999), 196-99, p. 197.
Stephan Wolohojian, ed., Harvard Art Museum/Handbook (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2008)
- Exhibition History
Re-View: S422 Ancient & Byzantine Art & Numismatics, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 04/12/2008 - 06/18/2011
Ancient to Modern, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/31/2012 - 06/01/2013
32Q: 3740 Egyptian, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/01/2014
- Subjects and Contexts
- Related Works
This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at email@example.com