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Work Figurine of a seated woman

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Christian Egypt (fourth - twelfth centuries AD)

Figurine of a seated woman

© 2003 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Egyptian Antiquities
Christian Egypt (fourth - twelfth centuries AD)

Author(s):
Lyon-Caen Christiane

Although it is damaged, this female figurine, sitting on a stool, is worthy of interest as her clothing evokes the fashions of the Byzantine Period. Every item of her outfit is well known: rolled headband (for holding a veil), long dress adorned with tapestry motifs, and slipper-style shoes. This figurine - a toy or ex-voto - featured among the grave goods unearthed from a cemetery at Antinoe.

An elegant figurine

The young woman is seated on a stool (whose two small wooden legs are visible at the back). She has a pink complexion and a youthful air, with a look of pleased surprise in her large black eyes. Her brown hair is crowned with an impressive pink headband with black stripes, whose ends touch her shoulders. Traces of yellow in her hair suggest that a veil may once have been fastened to this rolled band. She wears a long, tight, white dress with a black hem, which has two pink hearts at knee level, and other (now faded) pink motifs at chest level and on the shoulders. The arms are missing, but the hands rest on a sort of shawl (?) that is rolled and placed across her knees. The pink slippers no doubt represent the kind of dyed leather shoes that can be admired in certain museum collections.

Purpose

Who is she? Was she a toy? Was she (as French excavator Albert Gayet suggested, impressed by the precision of detail on this figurine that he discovered in a child's tomb) an effigy of the child, buried with her according to ancient Egyptian custom? Or was she a votive offering to a protective deity? If this was a toy, it seems rather fragile for a child's hands. The Pharaonic period is distant indeed, and the idea of an effigy seems audacious - much more so than that of a votive offering, placed near the deceased (a tradition continued by the Christians). The mystery remains; indeed, we might also imagine that this was a favorite knick-knack, chosen to accompany the deceased to her final resting place.

Fashion

During the Byzantine Period, fashionable Egyptian ladies wore long, decorated white linen tunics like this one. Many such tunics have been unearthed by excavations, usually in fragmentary state. The same applies to the cumbersome headband, which was sewn to the edge of a veil or mantle, and no doubt fastened to the hair with pins. The Louvre owns some of these headbands, made either of linen sewn into a roll and padded with tow or flock, or of chenille wool. Shoe leather was often dyed in bright colors. Ladies' outfits were occasionally completed by shawls - long rectangles of linen or wool.

Bibliography

- Egypte, la trame de l’histoire, textiles pharaoniques, coptes et islamiques, Catalogue d'exposition, musée archéologique de Rouen, Paris, 2002, n° 92, p.128

Technical description

  • Figurine of a seated woman

    Byzantine Period, AD 395-643

    Antinoe

  • Modeled stucco, painted and reinforced with plant fibers

    H. 18.7 cm; W. 7 cm

  • Gift (division of excavation finds), 1903

    E 12429, E 11749, E 11906

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Lower ground floor
    Gallery of Coptic art
    Room B

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