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Work Horus on horseback

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

Horus cavalier

© 1987 RMN / Les frères Chuzeville

Egyptian Antiquities
Christian Egypt (fourth - twelfth centuries AD)

Author(s):
Meurice Cédric

This object was obviously designed as part of a window. The subject of the sculpture is highly original and reflects the blending of Egyptian and Greco-Roman traditions. A horseman, who is none other than the god Horus, is stabbing his spear into a crocodile, the animal that symbolized the god Setekh. This strange combat represents the victory of Good over Evil.

A fragment of a window

Egyptian deities were never portrayed on horseback. This representation, which dates from the fourth century AD, reflects the influence of Greco-Roman models and of the Christian symbolism of Good conquering Evil. The scene in question is complete, although the object itself is not: it was undoubtedly part of a window, of which only the left part remains, with a section of molded frame. Several of the components of the scene (the horse's head and the crocodile's mouth) are joined to the frame for both technical and artistic reasons, contributing, with the sculpted scrolls, to the liveliness of the scene.

Horus on horseback

The god Horus, a man with a hawk's head, is dressed like a Roman soldier. He is portrayed in full profile, on a horse which is also in profile with its head turned full face. Horus is sitting on a saddle attached by a bellyband to his richly appointed mount. He is controlling his steed with his left hand and holding a spear in his right (the hand is missing). He is about to stab a crocodile, which is pinned between the horse's forelegs and under his own left foot (which is not in its stirrup). The horse appears to be looking down at the crocodile, while the latter's wide open eye reflects his sorry plight. The horse's position and bearing, and the god's calm assurance, contrast with the slumped body and hunched legs of the crocodile.

The precursor of St. George

According to Egyptian mythology, the god Setekh murdered his brother Osiris. Horus, the son of Osiris, avenged his father's death by killing Setekh. The episode is depicted here with all the symbolism and freedom of expression proper to the Greco-Roman period. The iconography of the horseman overcoming Evil with his spear was widespread throughout the Christian period: representations of St. George, in particular, are direct descendants of objects such as this. It should be added that the present work does not actually portray a fight, as the crocodile and horse are facing the same way. Horus has caught up with Setekh, who adopts the form of a crocodile to escape his nephew; this ruse, however, will not be enough to save his life.

Bibliography

Rutschowscaya M.-H., La sculpture copte, Musée du Louvre, Petits guides des grands musées 84, p. 5.
Chevaux et cavaliers arabes dans les arts d'Orient et d'Occident, Paris, 2002, p. 20 et n 22.
Bénazeth D., "La sculpture copte", Dossiers d'archéologie 226, sept 1997, p. 28 et ill. p. 29.

Technical description

  • Horus cavalier

    IVe siècle après J.-C.

  • grès

    H. 46.1 cm; W. 42 cm; D. 7.5 cm

  • E 4850

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Lower ground floor
    Gallery of Coptic art
    Room B

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