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Work Head of a sphinx of King Djedefre
Department of Egyptian Antiquities: From the late prehistoric period to the late Middle Kingdom (circa 3800 - 1710 BC)
Head of a sphinx of King Djedefre
© Musée du Louvre/C. Décamps
From the late prehistoric period to the late Middle Kingdom (circa 3800 - 1710 BC)
Djedefre, son and successor of Cheops, is less well known than his father or his brother Khafre. He did not have his pyramid built on the famous Giza plateau as they did, but eight kilometers to the north at Abu Roash. This portrait was among the thousands of fragments of statues and architectural remains found in the early 20th century by the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology, during excavations in the ruins of his pyramid temple.
This lifesize head may not be a realistic portrait, but its sculptor clearly intended to capture the features of his royal model: well-defined prominent cheekbones, almost straight eyebrows, small unmade-up eyes, wide mouth with clearly defined lips, receding chin - features found on every known portrait of this king.
Djedefre wears a plain linen nemes - a royal headdress with a band around the forehead, covering the hair and worn behind the ears. The part of the headdress covering the nape of the neck is broken, but the nature of the break indicates that the head was once attached to the back of a recumbent lion.
The head of a sphinx
This head once belonged to a statue of a sphinx. On the headband is a cobra with spread hood, ready to spit venom; this is the Uraeus, symbol of divine protection for the king. The remains of the right shoulder suggest the beginning of a human arm. Sphinxes with lions' bodies and human arms were usually represented in the attitude of offering; perhaps this king was holding an object intended for a god.
Other sphinx statues (most of which were broken) were found at the same site: together with the head of Djedefre, they constitute one of the oldest known collections of this type of statuary.
Although this fragment bears no inscription, the context in which it was discovered enabled it to be clearly dated, and identified as Djedefre, son and successor of Cheops and brother of Khafre.
Abu Roash, to the north of the Giza plateau, is the northernmost site of the vast necropolis region which stretches fifty kilometers south of Giza to Dashur. This vast cemetery was associated with the Old Kingdom capital city of Memphis.
The site takes its name from the nearby village in the foothills of the limestone plateau on which the funerary complex of Djedefre was built. Both the pyramid and its temples are now eroded. They were ransacked and pillaged over the centuries, their structural and sculptural components being recovered and re-used for the construction of civil or industrial buildings in the Cairo region.
The first excavations were conducted between 1901 and 1914. French archaeologists were particularly active there; they unearthed not only the vestiges of the royal complex, but also many tombs of high dignitaries from the 1st to the 4th Dynasties (3100-2500 BC), and a wealth of funerary material.
Since 1995, Swiss and French teams of Egyptologists have been conducting new investigations at Abu Roash, both in the royal sector and in the private cemetery.
BibliographyLes collections du Louvre, 1999, p. 105, notice n 99
L'art égyptien au temps des pyramides, 1999, p. 135, 212, 213, notice n 57
Andreu, Rutschowskaya et Ziegler, L'Egypte ancienne du Louvre, 1997, p. 56, 57 et 251, notice n 14
Ziegler, Les statues égyptiennes de l'Ancien Empire, 1997, p. 25, 42, 45 et 46, notice n 1
Delange, Trésors du plus grands musée du monde, 1991, p.56
Head of a sphinx of King Djedefre
Old Kingdom, 4th Dynasty, reign of Djedefre (2565-2558 BC)
Sculpture in the round, paint, silicified sandstone
H. 33.5 cm; W. 28.8 cm; L. 26.5 cm
Gift of the Egyptian government, division of excavation finds, 1907
The Old Kingdom, c. 2700–2200 BC
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