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Work Statue of the god Bes

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Religious and funerary beliefs

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Le dieu Bès

© Musée du Louvre/G. Poncet

Egyptian Antiquities
Religious and funerary beliefs

Author(s):
Bridonneau Catherine

This statue of a misshapen nude dwarf with overly long arms, bowed legs, and a face combining leonine and human features is the god Bes. Despite his rather unattractive appearance, he was a benevolent deity, and protected people during vulnerable periods by keeping malevolent spirits at bay. He was a particular favorite among pregnant women.

Description

Bes is portrayed standing atop short legs, his hands resting on his upper thighs, sticking out his tongue at the viewer. Only the lower part of his headdress remains; it has a hole, perhaps for attaching feathers. His hybrid face features imposing eyebrows carved in relief and a broad nose. It is flat, with jowls that disappear into a generous beard that spirals down on either side of his mouth. The position of the deeply set eyes suggests that they may have held inlays, as did the tongue. The two small, round ears with tufts of hair are those of a lion. He is clad in a lion pelt carved in light relief that falls from his shoulders to his round buttocks. The lion's tail is clearly visible. The small head of a feline appears on his torso, its front paws on his shoulders; the back paws on his upper thighs. The beast's mane on his back forms the shape of a wig. A serpent's body, knotted around his navel serves as a belt.

You can't judge a book by its cover

Bes's repulsive and even terrifying appearance put all harmful spirits to flight. He was extremely popular and was portrayed often. His image decorated the wall of certain rooms of a house such as the bedroom. It also appeared on beds and headrests, where he watched over people as they slept. His image was also used on certain toiletry objects, including mirrors and recipients for cosmetics and unguents, to increase their protective powers. His most important role, however, was to watch over woman throughout their entire pregnancies and during childbirth, just as he watched over the birth of the sun god.
He danced and played the harp, the tambourine, and the pan pipes, while making faces: all this noise and his grimacing drove away troublesome spirits. During the Late Period, he became a formidable composite god. He was also invoked in temples where he would send dreams to worshippers in response to their questions. He was a deity with multiple powers and was also considered to be a healing god.

Mariette discovers Bes and brings him to Paris

Auguste Mariette discovered this statue in 1851 during excavations at Saqqara, as he was searching for the Serapeum. It was one of some 5,000 objects unearthed by the French Egyptologist and given by Egypt to France, where it joined the collection of the Louvre Museum. It was found on the ground below its base in the court of a temple dedicated by King Nectanebo II to Apis, south of the Serapeum. Mariette had it put back on the base and observed a procession of workers and residents who came from the nearby villages of Abusir and Saqqara. He noted the different reactions to this discovery: "It is noon, and when the sun accentuates the already expressive features of Bes; the Egyptians take it for the devil, the women curse it, the men spit on it, and a few 'Negro' workers ran away, roaring with laughter.""

Technical description

  • Le dieu Bès

    30e dynastie, 379 - 341 avant J.-C.

    Sérapéum de Saqqara

  • calcaire

    H. : 92 cm. ; L. : 62 cm. ; Pr. : 28,50 cm.

  • N 437

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    The gods and magic
    Room 18
    Vitrine 3

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