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Work Funerary Statue of a Priestess of Isis

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Roman Egypt (30 BC - AD 392)

Funerary Statue of a Priestess of Isis

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Christian Décamps

Egyptian Antiquities
Roman Egypt (30 BC - AD 392)

Author(s):
Aubert Marie-France

This funerary portrait shows the deceased as a priestess of Isis. A niche figure carved in high relief, it seems to have come from a mausoleum at Oxyrhynchos, an Egyptian city built during the Roman period, 300 kilometers south of Alexandria.

A richly-detailed high relief

The sculpture presents a somewhat worn appearance, due to the poor quality of its medium - a soft, friable limestone. The figure, truncated at the ankles, stands out in high relief against the back surface of a niche, cut away in a trapezoid shape around the upper section. The woman adopts a pose from the Greek sculptural canon, with her right leg bent and the other straight. Her clothing is typical of women's garb during the New Kingdom: a tunic, over which is draped a cloak tied at her chest. A long, fringed scarf is thrown over her left shoulder. A sash, consisting of a garland of rose leaves and petals on a fabric support, is slung across her chest from shoulder to hip. Her right arm hangs down beside her body, and she is holding a situla (a type of bucket) by the handle. With her left arm bent, she holds a spherical "nu" vase in the palm of her hand. Her neck is deeply lined, while her face is characterised by youthful, regular features. She has a prominent, slightly hooked nose and a small, thin mouth. Her eyes and eyebrows are painted, and her head is covered with tight waves of hair that extend into braids along the neck. Simplified "barrette" earrings conform to a popular third-century AD design featuring a double band with three pearl pendants. The neckline of her tunic reveals a close-fitting torque necklace.
The background of the niche is painted yellow, in imitation of gold, as are the earrings, the situla and the "nu" vase. The face and neck are pink; the garland is painted alternately pink and green. The eyes and eyebrows are dark red.

An analysis of the costume

The figure's costume, like her hair, is a combination of Hellenistic and Egyptian styles. The garb is typical of that worn by devotees of Isis Hathor during the Ptolemaic Period. The long scarf, called a "mantele," is an accessory of the Roman cult of Isis. The "nu" vase, which holds the offering of wine traditional to the Pharaonic cult, and the pear-shaped situla used for offerings of milk or Nile floodwaters, were accoutrements in the worship of Isis during the Greco-Roman era. The garland, worn crosswise, evokes nude figurines of Isis Aphrodite, which were similarly adorned.

The deceased as a priestess of Isis

This funerary figure represents the deceased as a priestess of Isis. During the Roman Period in Egypt the worship of Isis, "the goddess with a thousand names," gained in importance and extended to the outer edges of the Roman Empire as a whole.

Bibliography

J. Vandier, "Nouvelles acquisitions, Musée du Louvre, Département des antiquités égyptiennes", in La revue du Louvre et des musées de France, 3, 1972, p. 190-192, fig. 15

Technical description

  • Funerary Statue of a Priestess of Isis

    Third century BC

    Oxyrhynchos (Egypt)

  • Carved and painted limestone

    H. 1.36 m; W. 0.45 m; D. 0.27 m

  • Purchased 1971

    E 26928

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Lower ground floor
    Roman Egypt (room closed for renovation)
    Room A

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