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Work Statue of King Nectanebo II protected by a falcon

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: The final Pharaonic dynasties and the Ptolemaic period (circa 1069 - 30 BC)

Statue of King Nectanebo II protected by a falcon

© Musée du Louvre/C. Larrieu

Egyptian Antiquities
The final Pharaonic dynasties and the Ptolemaic period (circa 1069 - 30 BC)

Author(s):
Guichard Sylvie

This limestone statue representing a massive and majestic life-size falcon radiates a sense of power. This feeling is accentuated by the sculpted image of diminutive king hidden between the enormous talons of the bird of prey, which both overwhelms and protects the smaller figure. This statue illustrates to perfection the protection provided by the dynastic god Horus to the Egyptian pharaohs over three thousand years.

A protective god

In ancient times, the peregrine falcon was a common sight in the skies of Egypt. This bird of prey enjoyed high esteem and, starting with the earliest dynasties, was assimilated to the image of the god Horus, a royal protector and symbol. Indeed, a falcon wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt is depicted above redan-shaped rectangle that encloses the first of the five royal names, the Horus name. Yet Horus is not the only deity that appears as a falcon. Others, among the best known, include Monthu, Ra, and Sokar, represented as a mummified falcon. A slot notched into the head of this statue indicates the position of the pschent, or double crown, now missing, which must have crowned the bird god. The falcon's eyes and sockets are deeply hollowed, an indication that they must have once contained inlays. A king wearing the nemes, his hands flat on his thighs in a classical pose of adoration, stands within the protection of the bird's feet. Egyptian statuary often adopted the theme, in imaginative variations, of a divine animal offering protection to a figure. The most charming are the statues featuring a scribe with a baboon, the symbol of the god Thoth, the patron god of scribes and writing, climbing on his master's shoulders to protect his head.

A nameless king

This statue has no inscriptions; it was probably placed within a base, engraved with a text identifying the portrayed king. It is probably Nectanebo II, a king of the Thirtieth Dynasty, the last independent Egyptian dynasty before the Ptolemaic kings took over the country. The Thirtieth Dynasty produced several large iconographic groups representing the pharaoh standing between the talons of a falcon; those that include dates also have Nectanebo II's cartouche. The most remarkable of these groups is now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. It forms a rebus with the king's name: the small royal effigy nestled under the "Hor" falcon holds a scimitar, a symbol of strength called "Nakht," and in the other, the sign of the jubilation festival, "Heb."

A new interpretation

An analysis of certain titles of priests from this period, along with a study of the dedications written on the statues of Nectanebo II - which highlights the absence of Horus' name - offer another interpretation than that of Horus merely protecting the sovereigns of Egypt. The imposing falcon in these different statues may not represent the god Horus, but the king himself, deified in the form of this bird. As a divine falcon, King Nectanebo II during his lifetime would have been the subject of a cult in certain Egyptian sanctuaries. Egypt was prosperous during the Thirtieth Dynasty, and many temples were renovated extensively.

Bibliography

Bénédite, Monuments Piot tome XVII, 1909, p.5-28, fig. 1-3, pl. I.
Yoyotte, "Nectanebo II comme faucon divin ?", Kêmi XV, 1959, p. 70-74.

Technical description

  • Statue of King Nectanebo II protected by a falcon

    Thirtieth Dynasty Nectanebo II (358-341 BC)

  • Limestone

    H: 50 cm; W: 18.2 cm; D: 46.2 cm.

  • Purchase 1908

    E 11152

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    From the last Egyptian pharaohs to Cleopatra, 404–30 BC
    Room 30

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