© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
1957.165
Title
Falcon
Other Titles
Alternate Title: The God Horus in Hawk Form
Classification
Sculpture
Work Type
statuette, sculpture
Date
mid 7th-late 1st century BCE
Places
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Africa, Egypt (Ancient)
Period
Late Period to Ptolemaic
Culture
Egyptian
Persistent Link
https://hvrd.art/o/312253
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Leaded bronze
Technique
Cast, lost-wax process
Dimensions
15.2 x 6.3 x 14.9 cm (6 x 2 7/16 x 5 7/8 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Leaded Bronze:
Cu, 73.24; Sn, 5.46; Pb, 20.65; Zn, 0.01; Fe, 0.06; Ni, 0.04; Ag, 0.07; Sb, 0.07; As, 0.3; Bi, 0.09; Co, 0.01; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, less than 0.001
J. Riederer

Technical Observations: The patina is mottled olive green and brown with areas of light greenish white. The neck, back, and right wing of the figure have been distorted by a blow, which resulted in a large dent on the back of the figure and the loss of a large piece of metal from the top and right side of the bird’s head. There is also a crack in the metal on the right side of the head. A smaller bit has chipped off the left shoulder. Since the figure’s excavation, much of the surface has been smoothed to remove corrosion accretions, leaving visible chatter marks and fine parallel scrapes. The right side of the bird is more pitted by corrosion than the rest of the figure. Burial accretions cover the underside of the base and parts of the figure (e.g., the feet). Earthen material, which may be core material, fills the tail of the figure. The burial accretions, corrosion material, and perhaps core material conceal the cast’s inner surface, making it difficult to judge how the bronze was made. A layer of cast-in metal—probably a repair—covers the inside of the belly. Fragmentary remains of fabric that are presumably from the mummified bird survive on the inside of the piece.

The hollow figure (c. 0.2 cm thickness in head) is cast in one piece with a tongue shaped (3.59 x 3.2 cm) opening on the underside of the belly and behind the legs. This would have been sealed with a separately fashioned copper-alloy plate, which is missing. Without further evidence, it is not possible to say how the patch would have been fastened to the opening. A rectangular base (c. 0.9 cm high) was cast integrally to the claws of the figure. It preserves a tang on the underside, which would have served to fasten the piece to a larger mount. Remains of a sprue that may also have served as a tang are visible on the end of the tail.

The features were drawn or engraved in the surface and inlayed, perhaps with silver wires. Remains of a black inlay material of mineralized silver sulfide fill most of the grooves. The bird’s convex pupils are delineated by an engraved circle.


Francesca G. Bewer (submitted 2001)

Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of the Estate of William and Frances White Emerson
Accession Year
1957
Object Number
1957.165
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
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Descriptions

Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
A small rounded, curving beak and the conventional markings define the face of this falcon. Simplified feathers are indicated through incised grooves that show traces of dark metal inlay. A broad collar made up of three bands of geometric ornamentation graces the neck. The body of the bird is almost entirely covered with feather-shaped patterns. More geometrical patterns decorate the chest and underside of the tail. The figurine stands on a trapezoidal base with a round peg in its center bottom for attachment. A break at the tip of the tail feathers and a semi-ovoid hole underneath reveal the hollow-casting procedure as well as a now-empty receptacle. Part of the proper right side of the head, including the eye, is broken, which suggests the former presence of a headdress, such as a sun disc. A deep dent mars the back of the neck.

The soaring flight and predatory character of the falcon linked the mighty raptor to the god of the living king, Horus, early in the pharaonic tradition. The living king of Egypt was identified as an earthly Horus, and from the late Predynastic Period (c. 3100 BCE), the king bore a special royal “Horus name.” The falcon, as the sacred animal of Horus, came to symbolize divine kingship, as the king was the earthly representation of Horus. The common appearance of the Double Crown and uraeus on bronze figurines of falcons reinforces this royal connection. The falcon was also associated with the sky, with its eyes representing the sun and the moon and its large wings outspread to protect the earth below. Later, the falcon became associated with the sun god Re, bearing a sun disc on its head (known as Re-Harakhty). Other gods also had falcons as their sacred animals, such as Montu the god of war, who is distinguished by a double-plume headdress.

As with so many animals associated with the divine realm, during the later periods the falcon became the focus of mummification, burial, and votive offerings. The numerous bronze falcon statuettes are characterized by their upright, yet resting, stance with wings folded at the side. They range in size from small ornaments to large, freestanding figures. Many of the larger examples, such as 1943.1118, were hollow-cast with an inner compartment in which an actual bird could be deposited. Hundreds of thousands of mummified falcons were buried in extensive catacombs at sacred sites throughout Egypt. The Greco-Roman period temples at Philae and Edfu represent the final flourishing of the cult. The more elaborately decorated figures include engraved and inlaid detailing of the feathers and facial markings. The facial patterning, seen on 1943.1118, 1957.165, and 1957.166, follows the conventions established early on with the feathered eye and moustachial stripe. Although the representation of falcons remained constant throughout Egyptian history, it is not zoologically accurate and cannot be identified with any particular species (1).

NOTES:

1. See discussion of the falcon in Egyptian art and Egypt in P. F. Houlihan, The Birds of Ancient Egypt, The Natural History of Egypt 1 (Warminster, 1986) 46-48. See also R. Bailleul-LeSuer, ed., Between Heaven and Earth: Birds in Ancient Egypt, exh. cat., Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (Chicago, 2012) 178-88, which includes discussion of modern scientific analysis of mummified bird remains from Egypt.


Marian Feldman

Subjects and Contexts

Ancient Bronzes

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 am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu