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Work Great Sphinx of Tanis
Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Religious and funerary beliefs
Great Sphinx of Tanis
© 2003 Musée du Louvre / Erich Lessing
Religious and funerary beliefs
The sphinx is a fabulous creature with the body of a lion and the head of a king. This one was successively inscribed with the names of the pharaohs Ammenemes II (12th Dynasty, 1929-1895 BC), Merneptah (19th Dynasty, 1212-02 BC) and Shoshenq I (22nd Dynasty, 945-24 BC). According to archaeologists, certain details suggest that this sphinx dates to an earlier period - the Old Kingdom (c. 2600 BC).
This is one of the largest sphinxes outside of Egypt. It was found in 1825 among the ruins of the Temple of Amun at Tanis (the capital of Egypt during the 21st and 22nd dynasties). This impressive stone sculpture with its precise details and polished surfaces is a work of admirable craftsmanship. The recumbent lion, with tense body and outstretched claws, gives the impression of being ready to leap. The shen hieroglyph sculpted on the plinth under each paw evokes a cartouche, confirming the royal nature of the monument.
The legible inscriptions are all "usurpations", i.e. traces of subsequent modifications to the monument. The names of Merneptah (19th Dynasty) and Sheshonq (22nd Dynasty) are legible. The original texts (traces of which are still visible in places) were deliberately erased and replaced. It is therefore impossible to date this statue with certainty, especially as the face does not resemble any known, well-documented royal portrait. In view of this uncertainty, Egyptologists are divided: some date the sphinx to the 12th Dynasty, others to the 6th or even the 4th.
The Greek word "sphinx", commonly used to refer to the Egyptian statues representing a lion with a human head, was not the original term. The appropriate Egyptian appellation for a statue or image of this kind was shesep-ankh ("living image"). The creature was a symbolic representation of the close relationship between the sun god (the lion's body) and the king (the human head), and was the "living image of the king", demonstrating his strength and his close association with Ra.
The sphinx was always positioned either as (recumbent) guardian and protector of places where gods appeared - such as the horizon, and temple entrances - or as (upright) defender of Egypt against hostile forces, whom he trampled underfoot.
BibliographyChristiane Ziegler, Les Statues égyptiennes de l'Ancien Empire, 1997, Réunion des musées nationaux p. 39
G. Andreu, M.-H Ruthscowskaya, L'Egypte ancienne au Louvre, 1997, Hachette, pp. 52 à 54
Nadine Cherpion, "En reconsidérant le grand sphinx du Louvre (A 23)", in Revue d'égyptologie, 1991, t. 42, pp. 25 à 41
Jean Leclant, Le Temps des pyramides, 1978, Gallimard, coll. "L'univers des formes", t. 1, p. 213
Jacques Vandier, Manuel d'archéologie égyptienne, 1958, Picard, t. 3, p. 56
Great Sphinx of Tanis
Old Kingdom, c. 2600 BC
Sculpture in the round, granite
H. 1.83 m; W. 4.80 m; D. 1.54 m
Lower ground floor
Crypt of the Sphinx
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