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Work Statues of Sepa and Nesa

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

Statues of Sepa and Nesa

© Musée du Louvre/C. Décamps

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

Author(s):
Lili Aït-Kaci

Old Kingdom pharaohs, from the 3rd Dynasty (2700-2620 BC) onward, constructed tombs for their afterlife whose superstructures, the famous pyramids, towered above the necropolises where their relatives and courtiers were buried.
The statuary of the period echoed this grandiose architecture with monumental works, of which these three statues are among the earliest known examples.

Members of the king's entourage

These statues are the oldest known Egyptian examples of life-size statues of private individuals. Both figures are standing; the man, Sepa, has his left leg forward, while Nesa stands with feet together in the traditional pose of female effigies.
Their clothing and adornments reflect their social status: they wear wigs and linen clothes, and their eyes are outlined with green and black kohl. Nesa also has rows of bracelets, and Sepa holds a scepter at his right side.
The titles inscribed on the flat of the base confirm their high social rank. Sepa, who was close to the king, held important administrative posts, being "responsible for Royal Matters" and "Greatest of the ten of Upper Egypt." His titles of "Priest of the god Kherty" and "Herdsman of the White Bull" attest to his religious responsibilities.Nesa's title, "Royal Acquaintance", suggests that she too frequented the palace.

The beginnings of great statuary

Although the scale of these statues reflects new vigor and daring, they still bear the influence of the archaic style. To preserve the monolithic quality of the limestone block, the sculptor did not hollow out the spaces between the arms and body, or between the legs. He avoided weakening the neck by keeping it short, and even consolidated it by joining the wig to the shoulders. He modified Sepa's posture too: in his striding position, his cane would normally be placed in front of his left foot, but the sculptor chose to keep both arm and cane close to the body. Finally, he stabilized the statues by giving extra weight to the lower part of each, with legs that are oversized in relation to the body. To avoid technical difficulties of this sort, the sculptors of the following dynasty often left their statues attached to a back pillar which ensured their vertical stability and overall solidity.

Dating and provenance

The transition from the Thinite Period to the Old Kingdom (which witnessed the emergence of monumental art) is indicated here by a number of factors: the figures' stiff and massive appearance, the simple contours of the bodies (with a few linear details such as collarbones, shinbones, and shoulder blades), the thick lines of green kohl under the eyes, and the crowded hieroglyphs without clear rows or columns.
The function of effigies such as these, which were placed in Old Kingdom mastabas, was to perpetuate the earthly lives of the deceased so that they might benefit from the rites carried out on their behalf.
These works were acquired by the Louvre in 1837 together with sculpted wall fragments from Saqqara, the royal necropolis of the 3rd Dynasty. Perhaps these three statues also came from Saqqara, and Sepa and Nesa were buried there.

Bibliography

Christiane Ziegle, Marie-Hélène Rutschowscaya, Le Louvre, les antiquités égyptiennes, 2002, Scala, p. 25

C. Ziegler, J.-L. Bovot,L'égypte ancienne, 2001, Ecole du Louvre, pp. 104-105

Collectif, L'Art égyptien au temps des pyramides, 1999, Le Rocher, catalogue d'exposition, p. 159-160

Collectif, Les Collections du Louvre, 2000, Réunion des musées nationaux, p. 104

Collectif, Les Antiquités égyptiennes, guide du visiteur Réunion des musées nationaux, 1997, p. 116

Christiane Ziegler, Les Statues égyptiennes de l'Ancien Empire, 1997, Réunion des musées nationaux, p. 32, pp. 141-144

G. Andreu, M.-H. Rutschowskaya, C. Ziegler, L'Egypte ancienne au Louvre, 1997, Hachette, pp. 49-52

G. Andreu, M.-H. Rutschowskaya, C. Ziegler, Le Louvre, les antiquités égyptiennes, 1990, Scala, pp. 21, 24

Collectif, La Naissance de l'écriture, 1982, catalogue de l'exposition du Grand Palais, Réunion des musées nationaux

Technical description

  • Statues of Sepa and Nesa

    Old Kingdom, 3rd Dynasty, 2700-2620 BC

  • Sculpture in the round, painted limestone

    Statue of Sepa: H. 1.65 m; W. 0.40 m; D. 0.55 mStatue of Sepa: H. 1.69 m; W. 0.44 m; D. 0.50 mStatue of Nesa: H. 1.54 m; W. 0.41 m; D. 0.39 m

  • Purchase, Minaut Collection, 1837

    A 36, A 37

  • Egyptian Antiquities

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

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