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Work Statue of Raherka (inspector of scribes) and of his wife Meresankh

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: From the late prehistoric period to the late Middle Kingdom (circa 3800 - 1710 BC)

Statue of Raherka (inspector of scribes) and of his wife Meresankh

© Musée du Louvre/C. Décamps

Egyptian Antiquities
From the late prehistoric period to the late Middle Kingdom (circa 3800 - 1710 BC)

Author(s):
Aït-Kaci Lili

The group sculpture of Raherka and his wife Meresankh was carved from a block of beautiful limestone which still bears significant traces of its original colors. Two hieroglyphic inscriptions on the base, facing each figure, indicate their names and titles. This group was originally placed in the chapel of the couple's tomb, perhaps in the great Giza necropolis.

A man and a woman

Meresankh holds her husband close, standing just behind him in a position which softens the figures' conventional hieratic attitude. The sculptor rendered Raherka's musculature and Meresankh's feminine form with subtle modeling. Polychromy contributed to the quality of this sculpture: the husband stands out in the foreground with his red flesh tones, forming a lovely contrast with the yellow ocher of his wife's complexion which is well-suited to her gentle presence at his side. These were the conventional colors for men and women, just as black was generally used for wigs and eyeliner, white for linen clothing, and blue for precious jewelry. The back pillar which reinforces the monument stops at waist height, providing a support for Meresankh's elbow.

The image -

Many statues were found in tomb chapels, where they served to perpetuate the presence of the deceased, who could then receive the offerings of food brought by relatives and funerary priests. The craftsmen who made these statues therefore had a weighty responsibility, and had to scrupulously respect the rules pertaining to such works. The use of stone - an eternal material - guaranteed the perpetuity of the work.
The sculptors' aim was not to create portraits: the faces did not reproduce individual features, and the figures were stereotyped men and women in the prime of life, sculpted according to the aesthetics of the day. The characters' social status was expressed through their attitude, attributes, and clothing, and their relationship was communicated through their pose. Raherka and Meresankh stand so close together that their wigs seem to intertwine, indicating the intimacy of this couple.

- and the text

Monuments were individualized by their inscriptions, which specified the characters' identities and functions. The inscription on the flat of the base of this statue presents "the inspector of the scribes of the jackal" and "his wife, the King's acquaintance." Raherka therefore held high administrative responsiblities; his wife held no particular office, but had access to the royal palace.
Art and writing complemented each other during the Old Kingdom; texts and statues were interdependent. The base thus bears only the phonetic signs of the characters' names, and the sculpted figures are the ideograms that determine them.

Bibliography

Andreu, Rutschowskaya et Ziegler, L'Égypte ancienne au Louvre, 1997, pp. 59-62, p. 251.
Ziegler, Les Statues égyptiennes de l'Ancien Empire, 1997, p. 13,
pp. 123-127.

Technical description

  • Statue of Raherka (inspector of scribes) and of his wife Meresankh

    Old Kingdom, 4th-5th Dynasty, c. 2350 BC

  • Sculpture in the round, limestone, paint

    H. 52.8 cm; W. 17.6 cm; D. 21.3 cm

  • Gift of L., I. and A. Curtis

    E 15592

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    The Old Kingdom, c. 2700–2200 BC
    Room 22

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