Work Statuette: Isis Nursing Horus
Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Religious and funerary beliefs
Statuette: Isis suckling Horus
© 1998 Musée du Louvre / Georges Poncet
Religious and funerary beliefs
Countless bronze figures of Isis nursing her son Horus exist from the later periods of ancient Egypt. The wife of Osiris represented both the feminine ideal and the grandmother of the royal heir. During the first millennium BC, she was the object of a strong religious fervor, as illustrated in her Nubian temple on the island of Philae and the expansion of her cult around the entire Mediterranean basin.
The goddess, wife and mother
Isis was both wife and sister of Osiris, and as such, contributed her feminine attributes to the god. She was therefore goddess of the dead but also of rebirth. According to her myth, she gathered up all the parts of Osiris, who had been dismembered and dispersed by his brother Seth to usurp the throne. She then conceived a son, Horus. This statuette is a direct reference to her maternal role. Horus, heir to the throne of Egypt, here represents the royal function.
A hieratic mother and child
This statuette of Isis is made of bronze. She was once seated on a throne or seat, now missing. The work consists of two intersecting planes: the mother and the child. The goddess is wearing an unadorned, tight-fitting robe and is holding Horus's head in her right hand, while offering her left breast with the other. The young god seems to be welded to her knees. With his arms against his body, his open palm on his knees, and legs held together, he lacks the natural softness of a child. Indeed, the pose in this high hieratic composition is fairly unrealistic.
Isis is wearing a necklace with gold inlays, a wig and a uraeus crown topped with a solar disk placed between two cow horns. Two uraeus on her forehead frame a vulture's head whose pelt sits atop the wig: this is the insignia of the mother-goddess. The white of Isis and Horus's eyes are gold-plated, and the pupils have been darkened.
Thousands of bronze objects
During later periods, Egyptians produced many small bronze statuettes of their deities, which they then gave as tributes during pilgrimages to holy sites. Thousands of them have been found in concealed areas, where they were placed to make room for others.
This image of Isis nursing her child only appeared during the last millennium BC. Prior to this time, this role was attributed to other goddesses, such as Mut and Hathor, the Celestial Cow, also called the Temple of Horus, whose cow horns were usually attributed to Isis at the time. This is a good example of a common image that was reproduced in varying degrees of craftsmanship. It is difficult to accurately determine the geographical provenance or the precise date for most of these objects, as Isis was viewed as the universal mother from an early time. During the Christian era, the Virgin assumed this role, although in a much different style.
BibliographyAubert Jacques-François, Aubert Liliane, Bronzes et or égyptiens, Paris, Cybèle, 2001.
Michaelides G., "Contribution à l'étude de la grande déesse en Égypte : II. Isis déesse de l'amour", in Bulletin de l'Institut d'Égypte, n 37, 1956, pp. 191-213.
Müller H. W., "Isis mit dem Horuskind : ein Beitrag zur Ikonographie der stillenden Gottesmutter in hellenistischen und römischen Ägypten", in Münchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst, n 14, 1963, pp. 7-38.
Roeder Günther, Ägyptische Bronzefiguren, Berlin, Graphische Werkstätten, 1956.
Statuette: Isis suckling Horus
Late Period, 664-332 BC
H. 27.40 cm
The Louvre is open every day (except Tuesday) from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.