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Work Couple in wood

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: From the late prehistoric period to the late Middle Kingdom (circa 3800 - 1710 BC)

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Deux époux

© Musée du Louvre/C. Décamps

Egyptian Antiquities
From the late prehistoric period to the late Middle Kingdom (circa 3800 - 1710 BC)

Author(s):
Guichard Sylvie

Despite its extensive damage, this statue of a couple walking is one of the masterpieces of wooden statuary from the Old Kingdom. The two figures are standing side by side, the woman to the right of the man. She is much smaller, and, according to the conventions of Egyptian art, is slightly behind her partner; her left arm is wrapped tenderly around her husband's waist.

The importance of the family in ancient Egypt

The family, and especially its central element, the couple, played a predominant role in ancient Egypt. This statue illustrates the attachment to the family unit that was so important in pharaonic Egypt. The man is wearing a simple hemmed kilt and is depicted with his left foot forward. His right arm, which must have held a cane, is held close to his chest. His right arm hangs from his side, and his first is clenched. The woman, probably his wife, stands close to her partner, holding him by the waist. She is wearing a close-fitting dress that reveals her finely carved body. During the early Old Kingdom, statues of couples of family groups represented members of the royal family only; during the 5th and 6th Dynasties, many statues of private Egyptians appeared. While drawing inspiration from stone statues, such as that of King Mycerinos and his wife, the artist also successfully moved beyond the style of the conventional and cold royal versions to create a unique and lively work.

A unique, anonymous couple

This statue is exceptional as it is the only known wooden couple from the Old Kingdom, in that wood is far more fragile that stone. A detailed study of the work even revealed that the man and woman are carved from a single piece of acacia, with a few added elements, such as the man's left forearm. Unfortunately, this statue does not have any inscriptions, so we cannot identify this couple. The base, now missing, probably had an inscription giving the names of the figures. Furthermore, we have no proof that this group, often cited in publications with the title "Memphis civil servant and his wife," actually came from Memphis - although it probably is from this city.

The role of statues in tombs

In Egypt, statues immortalized the physical presence of the deceased, once he or she had undergone the "opening the mouth" ritual that restored the five senses. Many of these statues have been discovered in burial chambers. Their primary function was to receive offerings, particularly food, during the funerary rites, therefore ensuring the survival of the deceased for eternity.

Bibliography

- ANDREU G., RUTSCHOWSCAYA M.-H., ZIEGLER C., L’Egypte ancienne au Louvre, Hachette, Paris, 1997.

- ZIEGLER C., Musée du Louvre, Département des Antiquités Egyptiennes – Les statues égyptiennes de l’Ancien Empire, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, Paris, 1997.

Technical description

  • Deux époux

    6e dynastie ?, 2350 - 2200 av. J.-C.

  • bois d'acacia

    H. : 69,50 cm.

  • N 2293

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    The Old Kingdom, c. 2700–2200 BC
    Room 22
    Vitrine 17

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