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Work Bas-relief of Prince Khaemwaset

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: The New Kingdom (circa 1550 to circa 1069 BC)

Le prince Khâemouaset en costume de grand-prêtre de Ptah

© 1988 RMN / Béatrice Hatala

Egyptian Antiquities
The New Kingdom (circa 1550 to circa 1069 BC)

Author(s):
Barbotin Christophe

This bas relief depicts a high priest of Ptah. The side braid and the necklace featuring a dog with raised paws are characteristic emblems of this rank. An inscription identifies the figure as Khaemwaset, fourth son of Ramesses II, who restored many old monuments. He became known as a scholar and magician for this work, a reputation that lasted more than 1,000 years after his death. A treasure in his name, discovered at the Serapeum of Memphis, is exhibited in the same showcase.

A high priest of Ptah

This bas-relief is a fragment of a wall painting, not a stele. It is sculpted in sunken relief. The man has a short curly wig; a thick braid on his right side curls up at the tip. He is wearing a robe with shoulder straps, the top of which is visible just under his raised right arm. He also has a necklace; on the shoulder is a dog with two raised paws, a sign of adoration. The braid and the necklace are distinctive emblems representing the function of the high priest of Ptah. This immediately situates the monument in the region of Memphis, the capital city whose primary god was Ptah, "beautiful of face," according to Egyptian texts.

The most famous son of Ramesses II

An incomplete hieroglyphic inscription behind the priest provides this information: "... Khaemwaset, who made this so that ..." Linking the name of Khaemwaset to the rank of the high priest of Ptah immediately identifies the individual as Prince Khaemwaset, fourth son of Ramesses II, by far the most famous of all the royal progeny. He was both high priest of Ptah and governor of Memphis, and would have become king in turn except for the extraordinary longevity of his father. He distinguished himself through his efforts to restore ancient monuments as well as by his remarkable scholarship, as reflected in his commemorative inscriptions. Objectively, it is impossible to separate his own personality from the program imposed by Ramesses II or his advisors, yet his actions earned him tremendous prestige, probably even during his lifetime. Over time, this reputation was burnished even further, and this prince was later considered to be both a scholar and a magician. Indeed, Khaemwaset was depicted as such in several stories dating from the Greek-Roman period - in other words, more than 1,000 years after his death.

An unknown monument

The prince's raised arm indicates that he is participating in the cult, either by consecrating offerings or by pouring a libation for a deity. Auguste Mariette, who discovered this relief sculpture, left no information concerning its provenance. We therefore cannot determine whether it came from Memphis or Saqqara, the large cemetery where the prince left so many examples of his activity. We can merely note that the wording of the inscription is similar to that of a form concerning the restorations of a monument.

Technical description

  • Le prince Khâemouaset en costume de grand-prêtre de Ptah

  • calcaire

    H. : 49 cm. ; L. : 49 cm. ; Pr. : 6,60 cm.

  • Prince Khaemwaset dressed as the high priest of Ptah

    N 518

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    The New Kingdom
    Room 28
    Vitrine 3 : Le Sérapéum de Memphis. Le prince Khâemouaset. Grands personnages du royaume.

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