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Work Relief from the temple of Monthu at Tod

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Religious and funerary beliefs

Relief from the temple of Monthu at Tod

© 2009 Musée du Louvre / Angèle DEQUIER

Egyptian Antiquities
Religious and funerary beliefs

Author(s):
Pierrat-Bonnefois Geneviève

The late 11th Dynasty witnessed the revival, after more than two centuries, of the difficult art of bas-relief sculpture. It can be admired on vestiges from one of the earliest stages of construction of the temple at Tod. This bas-relief and the blocks that are exhibited beside it were found buried beneath the foundation sand of the later sanctuary, which explains why they escaped the fate of most limestone works: disappearing into the lime kilns.

Vestiges of a very ancient temple

Most of the temples from Egyptian cities date back to early Antiquity. However, we usually only know them in their final form, typically realized between the New Kingdom and the Roman Period. This particular fragment comes from the temple of the god Monthu at Tod, 25 kilometers south of Thebes. The archaeologist F. Bisson de la Roque began to uncover the temple ruins in 1934. He continued excavations beneath the sanctuary floor and there discovered blocks from the earliest stages of the temple's construction (dating from the Old and Middle Kingdoms), which had been buried beneath subsequent reconstruction work. Thanks to the division of excavation finds, visitors to the Louvre can now admire fragments dating from the early Middle Kingdom-a period from which very few edifices have survived.

A king's offering to a god

This decoration originally stood on a plinth fifty-eight centimeters high. The end of a line of hieroglyphs in front of the crown indicates that the figure seen here is the king: "Given all life, stability, power, like Ra forever!" He is advancing toward someone whose foot is visible-no doubt the god Monthu, who dwells in the temple at Tod. The table between them, decorated in openwork with the signs "all life, stability, power," is piled high with food and drink. From bottom to top, we can distinguish bread and cakes, a basket of figs, a leg of beef, onions, and an enormous romaine lettuce on top of the pile. The king's arm is outstretched to consecrate these offerings to the god. In his other hand, he is holding a long stick and a club (a very ancient royal attribute). He has a smith's apron over his finely chiseled kilt and a dagger at his belt. A white crown (symbol of his rule over Upper Egypt), bracelets, and a necklace with several rows of beads complete his outfit. Behind an apparent simplicity, there are many indications that he is the master of Egypt.

A sudden artistic renaissance

You have to stand in front of this relief to fully appreciate its subtlety. Photographic reproductions cannot do justice to the extraordinary delicacy of the bas-relief work, chiseled into very fine limestone. This fragment (together with many others found in the same context) dates back to the reign of S'ankhkare Mentuhopte, one of the last kings of the 11th Dynasty. The decoration in this little temple was limited and small-scale, but the draftsmanship and composition were of rigorous and elegant precision. This fragment reflects the sudden blossoming of a new classicism after the First Intermediate Period, when the Egyptian art produced in the royal workshops of the Old Kingdom declined, in the absence of official large-scale construction projects.

Technical description

  • Relief from the temple of Monthu at Tod

    Middle Kingdom, 11th Dynasty, reign of S'ankhkare Mentuhotpe (c. 1982-1970 BC)

    Temple of Monthu at Tod, Upper Egypt

  • Limestone bas-relief

    H. 1.02 m; W. 0.81 m; D. 0.15 m

  • Gift of Egyptian government (division of excavation finds), 1936

    The king consecrates a food-laden table to the god

    E 15113

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    The temple
    Room 12

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