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Work Colossal statue of Ramesses II

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Religious and funerary beliefs

Le Roi Ramsès II

© 2006 Musée du Louvre / Christian Décamps

Egyptian Antiquities
Religious and funerary beliefs

Author(s):
Barbotin Christophe

This statue represents a king, sitting on a throne covered in inscriptions in the name of Ramesses II. The original identity of this work was the subject of much heated debate: traces of modifications to the crown, face, torso, and throne were long thought to indicate that the king had re-used an older work. It is almost certain, however, that these changes resulted from the monument being moved to another site during the course of the great pharaoh's sixty-seven-year reign.

A statue surrounded by doubts

This statue represents a figure in traditional pharaonic pose: seated on a cubic throne, his hands flat on his thighs, wearing the nemes headdress with a (broken) cobra, and a false beard. The names and titles of Ramesses II are inscribed on the belt buckle, and on the back and sides of the throne. The surface of the stone shows traces of modifications to the crown, face, neck, and part of the torso and throne. Some specialists therefore accused Ramesses II of having re-used the work of one of his predecessors, namely Amenophis III.

A hieroglyph-statue

Ramesses has not been proven guilty however: the round (somewhat smug) face of this king corresponds exactly to the iconography of Ramesses II. To achieve this result, the face of Amenophis III would have had to be totally resculpted - such a complex and delicate plastic surgery operation would have entailed the risk of scrapping a block weighing several tons. Moreover, the inscriptions are obviously intact, with no signs of scalpel work or traces of a previous name. According to Egyptian belief, an image only acquired an identity once it was given a name; its physical resemblance to the original was of secondary importance. A king's image was his hieroglyph rather than his portrait. When Ramesses II re-used an existing statue (which he often did), he had only to replace the victim's name with his own.

Ramesses II, revised and updated by himself

Consequently, there must be a different explanation for the modifications to this sculpture. Ramesses II probably had this effigy carved a few years after his accession, according to an aesthetic very similar to that of Amenophis III, whose reign was considered a political model. Each side of the throne was decorated with the motif representing "the union of two lands"; we know for sure that this featured on the original work. The statue was modernized at a later date during the course of Ramesses II's sixty-seven-year reign, no doubt for one of the festivals ("jubilees") held to confirm royal power: the statue's crown and beard were decorated with gilding, the sides of the throne inscribed with the royal names (facing the goddess of the South on the right side and the goddess of the North on the left); the back was covered with similar inscriptions.
At the time of this beautification, it seems that the colossus was transported from its initial site to Pi-Ramesses - the great capital, which we know from texts to have been the center of jubilee celebrations. Perhaps the modifications to the face and torso were due to an accident that occurred on this occasion, or during the subsequent (and certain) transfer of the statue during the 21st Dynasty, from Pi-Ramesses to Tanis, where it was discovered together with hundreds of other monuments of the same pharaoh, also taken there from Pi-Ramesses.

Bibliography

Dhaussy Martinez, Rois et reines de l'Égypte ancienne, 2001, p. 5.
Barbotin et David, L'ABCDaire de Ramsès II, 1997, p. 93.
Collectif, Les Antiquités Égyptiennes, guide du visiteur, 1997, p. 64.
Barbotin, Catalogue de l'exposition Néfertari, luce d'Egitto, Rome, 1994, pp. 146-149.
Catalogue Aménophis III, Le Pharaon Soleil, 1993, p. 143.
Catalogue Tanis, l'or des pharaons, Grand Palais, Paris, 1987, notice n 52.
Barguet, Revue des Arts, 1960, pp. 242-248.
Vandier, Manuel, 1958, T. III, p. 216.
Muller, Journ. Eg. Archæology, 1939, T. 25, p. 53, n 3, citation.
Porter et Moss, Topographical bibliography, 1934, T. IV, p. 22.
Boreux (Musée national du Louvre, Département des Antiquités Égyptiennes, guide catalogue sommaire, 1932, T. I, p. 40.
Deveria (Rrv. Arch.), 1861, T. IV, p. 249.

Technical description

  • Le Roi Ramsès II

    1279 - 1213 avant J.-C. (19e dynastie)

    statue trouvée à Tanis

  • diorite

    H. : 2,59 m. ; L. : 0,80 m. ; Pr. : 1,20 m.

  • A 20

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    The temple
    Room 12

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