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Work Ring with horses

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

Ring with horses

© Musée du Louvre/C. Décamps

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

Author(s):
Sylvie Guichard

This precious piece of jewelry is commonly known as the "ring with horses", because of the two extraordinarily lifelike little horses that prance across its setting. It is a unique design of great technical virtuosity - a veritable masterpiece of New Kingdom gold metalwork. The diameter of the ring and the horse motif suggest that it was designed for a man.

Small in size but large in stature

The ring consists of a triple band ending in two large lotus flowers. It is adorned with a pair of tiny horses, sculpted in the round, that prance among flower petals inlaid with colored stones. There are no inscriptions to indicate the owner of the ring but, thanks to the originality of its design and richness of its inlays, it is generally dated to the Ramesside period - more specifically to the reign of Ramesses II. A popular modern theory is that these animals represent the horses that saved the pharaoh at the famous battle of Kadesh. A passage from a text known as the "Poem of Pentaur" (after the name of a scribe who recopied it) attests to the king's particular fondness for his horses. This text is a romanticized account of the battle in which Ramesses II fought the Hittite army on the banks of the Orontes, in the fifth year of his reign, on the ninth day of the third month of summer. Nine versions of this glorious episode of the reign of Ramesses II are engraved on the walls of the great temples (especially Abu Simbel), and it is also recounted on two papyri. The story notably tells that the king owed his salvation and victory to the bravery of his horses, whose names are cited: "Victory to Thebes" and "Mut Is Satisfied."

A gift from the Pasha of Egypt to the King of France

This ring has often been described as coming from the excavations of the Serapeum at Saqqara, carried out in the 1850s by archaeologist Auguste Mariette. This is totally untrue, however: in reality, it was one of the forty-two pieces of precious jewelry (a list of which has been found in archives) given by Egyptian Pasha Mohammed Ali to French King Charles X in 1827, through the intermediary of the French consul Bernardino Drovetti.

Lost and found

During the revolution of July 1830, the Louvre museum was invaded and many objects - including the famous ring with horses - were stolen from the vitrines by the insurgents. Champollion was subsequently charged with drawing up an inventory of stolen items, and communicating it to the Parisian antique dealing world. Shortly afterward, the ring was returned to the museum by a watchmaker who claimed to have recovered it from the hands of his remorseful apprentice.

Bibliography

- ANDREU G., RUTSCHOWSCAYA M.-H., ZIEGLER C., L’Egypte ancienne au Louvre, Hachette, Paris, 1997, p. 145 et 254.

- BARBOTIN Ch., Le Monde de la Bible, 1992, n° 78, p. 21/2.

Technical description

  • Ring with horses

    New Kingdom, 19th Dynasty, reign of Ramesses II, 1279-1213 BC

  • Gold and carnelian, cloisonné inlays

    Diam. 2.2 cm; W. 2.13 cm; H. of a horse: 7.7 mm

  • Gift of Mohammed Ali, Pasha of Egypt, 1827

    N 728

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    The New Kingdom
    Room 27

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