Work Figurine of a naked woman
Department of Egyptian Antiquities: From the late prehistoric period to the late Middle Kingdom (circa 3800 - 1710 BC)
© Musée du Louvre/C. Décamps
From the late prehistoric period to the late Middle Kingdom (circa 3800 - 1710 BC)
This delightful statuette resembles a bright blue faience doll. Its elegant nudity and totally unrealistic color make it an attractive object, but the raison d'être of this anonymous character, fashioned without legs, remains something of a mystery.
Sign-laden female images
Naked female figurines of this kind were modeled in terracotta or siliceous faience - this is one of the best preserved. They have certain distinctive characteristics: although they have no legs, their naked bodies are tattooed like those of the dancers that were painted in the tombs, and they wear a belt of cowry shells (symbol of femininity) around their waists. Their hair was attached through the holes in their heads; a profusion of elaborate locks was considered especially erotic. No name is inscribed, which indicates that this statuette does not represent any particular person.
A world of faience figurines
This statuette is made of faience with a silica base - usually quartz or quartz sand - heated to 850 C. The surface was enameled with a copper blue glaze; the details in black were painted with manganese oxide. These were the only two colors that could be obtained in faience at the time; white was produced from high-purity quartz. Apart from the dolls made during this period, all kinds of animal figurines were created, including cats, mice, monkeys, puppies, hippopotami, and ducks, which were modeled from life rather than in the hieratic postures attributed to the animal forms of the gods. Such statuettes have been found in the ruins of dwellings, or in tombs and temples. No doubt they were part of the everyday environment, before perhaps being offered as gifts to the dead or the gods.
Unwritten popular practices
These figurines are commonly referred to as the dead person's "concubines" and may have accompanied the deceased to perpetuate his sex life. The erotic characteristics of which the ancient Egyptians were fond are accentuated here: large hips and thighs, necklaces, numerous and detachable locks of cloth hair, belts, and tattoos. Somewhat strangely for dancers, they appear to have been modeled without legs, to stop them from running away. Some of these figurines were found in female tombs, so it may be wiser to regard these naked ladies as images of femininity. We should not underestimate the Egyptians' profound belief in the ability of art to recreate reality by magical means. The function of such statuettes probably lays somewhere between the decorative and the religious; no doubt they correspond to popular practices of which we have no written trace.
BibliographyCh. ZIEGLER, J.-L. BOVOT, Art et archéologie : L'Egypte ancienne, Ecole du Louvre/RMN/Documentation française, Paris, 2001, p. 138-139, fig. 51.
H. 13.80 cm
The Middle Kingdom, c. 2033–1710 BC
Display case 6: Glazed earthenware
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