Work Nude Male Statuette
Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Religious and funerary beliefs
© 1997 Musée du Louvre / Christian Larrieu
Religious and funerary beliefs
The relatively large numbers of human representations from the late predynastic period in Egypt are not always highly detailed or very realistic, and we do not know their purpose. They were discovered in tombs, when the origin is known with certainty. This male statuette is an exceptional example, due to its size and refined execution; it was dated by comparing it to another extremely similar work.
A spectacular figure
This ivory sculpture is nearly 25 centimeters high. The man is standing, nude, and has an erection. His arms, now broken off, must have hung straight against the body. The legs are straight and stop at the ankles; the feet were never sculpted. The small head is round and clean-shaven, and the face is very flat; it narrows down to a pointed chin, probably to evoke a beard. The large round eyes were inlaid with a piece of ivory or bone; the pupil in the middle was indicated by a hole (the inlay of the left eye has fallen out). Delicate ivory dowels at the ears indicate that these elements were made separately and attached to the statuette. The body is long and elegant, with simplified forms.
The beginnings of statuary
Human figures, made of clay and especially ivory, became fairly common by the late predynastic period. Indeed, we know of an entire series of ivory tusks that are engraved to varying degrees with male or female features. Sculptures in the round are more unusual, but a half-dozen nude male statuettes have been identified recently. Like the Louvre statuette, most come from the art market and can therefore not be used as a basis of comparison for dating other works. But one of them, located in the Cairo Museum, was discovered during excavations at a well-documented cemetery.
This man is nearly 6,000 years old
The statuette in the Cairo Museum, extremely similar to the Louvre piece, is even taller (35 cm). The position of the man is the same, but he is wearing a penis sheath, a common accessory in Egypt and the Middle East in the fourth millennium BC. It has the same inlaid eyes, rounded, clean-shaven head, and long, slender body. The shape of the beard is different, but the two figures are so similar that these statuettes must have been fairly contemporaneous. The Cairo statuette comes from the richest tomb in the Mahasna cemetery (some fifteen kilometers downstream from Abydos), which contained the skeletons of a man and a woman. It has been accurately dated, via the ceramic, from the Naqada I period, to between 4000 and 3700 BC.
BibliographyJ.-L. de Cenival, "Une statuette d'homme en ivoire de la civilisation de Nagada, offerte par la Société des Amis du Louvre au département des Antiquités égyptiennes" , in la Revue du Louvre et des Musées de France, tome 1, 1992, p. 7-9, fig. 1-6
G. ANDREU, M. H. RUTSCHOWSCAYA, C. ZIEGLER, Ancient Egypt at the Louvre, Hachette, Paris, 1997, p. 36-37, notice n 2.
Naqada I period
Incisor tooth of hippopotamus
H. 24 cm W. 4.30 cm
Gift of the Société des Amis du Louvre
The Thinite era, c. 3100–2700 BC
Display case 1/study gallery : Prehistory
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