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Work Ramesses II Breastplate

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: The New Kingdom (circa 1550 to circa 1069 BC)

Pectoral au nom de Ramsès II

©1987 RMN / Les frères Chuzeville

Egyptian Antiquities
The New Kingdom (circa 1550 to circa 1069 BC)

Author(s):
Élizabeth David

Auguste Mariette discovered this breastplate, named for Ramesses II, in 1852 during excavations of the Serapeum in Saqqara, under the coffin of a tomb of an Apis bull. The shape - a temple pylon with a cloisonné and openwork design - is traditional for this type of jewelry from the mid-Twelfth Dynasty (circa 1850 BC). The deities represented inside the architectural frame were intended to protect the amulet's wearer.

Three protectors are better than one

A vulture and a cobra stand side by side within the frame in the form of a temple pylon topped by a grooved cornice. They share a single set of outspread wings. These animals are Nekhbet and Wadjet, patrons and goddesses of Upper and Lower Egypt. A ram-headed bird over them, also with outstretched wings, is a form of the solar god. Ramesses II's king or throne name is written in a cartouche above what is already a dense composition. Finally, two djed pillars fill in the lower corners of the rectangular frame; they symbolize stability and the rebirth of Osiris.

A lavish object

Analysis of the material used for the breastplate revealed it to be a silver (62 percent) and gold (35 percent) alloy, to which a little copper was added, forming electrum. One side, probably the back, was decorated simply with engraving on the metal leaf, while the other side has a cloisonné pattern. The cells, formed by thin metal partitions, were filled with colored glass in imitation of precious stones: turquoise, cornelian, and perhaps lapis lazuli. It is difficult to judge the harmony of the colors because some of the colored glass inlays may have altered over time.

Unfinished details

A fairly large number of these openwork breastplates, shaped as chapels, have been found; the oldest of them date from the reign of Sesostris III (1862-1843 BC, Twelfth Dynasty). These early naos-breastplates were also the most refined, with compositions featuring a light and balanced decor, skillful inlays of semi-precious pieces of stone, and impeccable details. This is not the case with this object: the decor is heavier and the inlays less luxurious. Yet it is a good example of goldwork from the Ramesside period, especially as few such samples exist.

Bibliography

G. ANDREU, M. H. RUTSCHOWSCAYA, C. ZIEGLER, L'Egypte au Louvre, Hachette, Paris, 1997, p. 146-147, notice n 67

Catalogue de l'exposition Gold der Pharaonen, Vienne, 2001, p. 92-93, notice n 99.

Ch. Ziegler, "l'Egypte pharaonique : l'exemple des bijoux du Sérapeum", Actes du colloque Cornaline et pierres précieuses. La Méditerranée, de l'Antiquité à l'Islam, Paris, 1999, p. 15-41

Catalogue de l'exposition Egyptomania, Paris, 1993, p. 352-353

H.W. Müller et E. Thiem, L'Or de l'Egypte ancienne, Paris, 2000, p. 196, fig. 414

Connaissance des Arts Hors série, 1995, n 68, p. 22-23, pl. 19-20, commentaires des analyses du centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France.


Le Monde de la Bible, 1992, n 78, p. 47, fig. 50

Technical description

  • Pectoral au nom de Ramsès II

  • or cloisonné, verre, turquoise

    H. : 13,50 cm. ; L. : 15,70 cm. ; Pr. : 0,25 cm.

  • E 79

  • Egyptian Antiquities

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