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Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Religious and funerary beliefs

Four baboons adoring the rising sun

© 2006 Musée du Louvre / Christian Décamps

Egyptian Antiquities
Religious and funerary beliefs

Author(s):
David Elisabeth

This 5.7-ton block formed part of the base of one of the obelisks of the temple at Luxor: it comes from the back of the one that remains there, whose twin is on the Place de la Concorde in Paris. On their arrival in Paris, the Louvre's baboons, standing on their hind legs and lifting their arms to honor the sun, caused a scandal that seems somewhat amusing today.

Shameless creatures

Brought to France at the same time as the obelisk that originally stood on the right of the entrance to the Luxor temple, they were intended to adorn its base when it was re-erected on the Place de la Concorde. In the characteristically puritanical climate of Louis-Philip's reign, however, it was thought impossible to show such manifestly male baboons in a public place, visible to passers-by. So they were sent to the Louvre, which had no hesitation in exhibiting them.

Sun-worshippers

The animals were in fact honoring the sun. The obelisk is the most slender form of an extremely ancient Egyptian symbol, the "ben-ben," which stands for the primeval mound of earth that emerged from the original chaos as the world was created by the sun. In front of the pylon at Luxor, the two obelisks stood on monolithic cubes that rested in turn on a pedestal. The front and back of the cubes were sculpted, or bore sculpted plaques, with figures similar to these. The Egyptian texts, and more particularly the hymns to the sun, make the meaning of the scene clear: the baboons are raising their hands, singing, and dancing in homage to the rising sun, which they guide and assist in its passage through the gates of day.

The baboons of Ramesses II

Each of the baboons has as a pectoral the birth or coronation name
(alternately) of Ramesses II. The king seems to have been fond of this
baboon motif, which during his reign was also used, sculpted in the
round or in very high relief, on the sun altar and crowning the facade
of the temple of Abu Simbel. According to one hypothesis, it also was
featured on the base of two obelisks erected east of the Temple of
Karnak. The baboons' adoration of the sun had come to be given special
prominence by the time of Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) at
the latest.

Technical description

  • Four baboons adoring the rising sun

    New Kingdom, 19th Dynasty, reign of Ramesses II (1279-1213 BC)

    Luxor, Temple of Amun, base of East obelisk

  • Sculpture (high relief), granite

    H. max 1.59 m; H. baboons 1.4 m; W. max 3.25 m

  • Gift of the Egyptian Government, 1831

    D 31

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    The temple square
    Room 11

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