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Work Torso of a Ptolemaic King

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

Un roi ptolémaïque

© Musée du Louvre/C. Décamps

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

Author(s):
Letellier Bernadette

The style of this fragmentary statue clearly indicates a Ptolemaic king.
Ptolemaic sculptors were highly skilled in the use of black basalt, a material that was favored from the end of the Late Period. The treatment of the surface of the stone is another clue to its date: the king's body, clothing and headdress were all highly polished, giving the stone a shiny, almost metallic finish.

The Greeks in Egypt

Subsequent to the conquests of Macedonian king Alexander the Great, one of his generals, Ptolemy, founded a dynasty (305-30 BC) that was to accelerate the hellenization of Egypt. Although the Greeks who settled in the country adopted elements of its native culture, their princes lived in Alexandria according to Greek customs. However, by maintaining and encouraging the Egyptian clergy, who exercised considerable influence over the people, they imposed their propaganda and presented themselves as gods. The members of the clergy, increasingly ossified and cut off from reality, shut themselves away in the temples, which became conservatories of pharaonic tradition where the Hellenistic rulers were still portrayed (on the walls, or in the statuary) as if they were Tuthmosis or Ramesses.

An anonymous effigy

We do not know who this king is. The back pillar of the statue is of a rather refined, non-classical shape (ending in a point that projects from a rectangular field) but it bears no inscription. There is no doubt, however, that this is a Ptolemaic king. He is represented in a stiff, frontal pose and is dressed Egyptian-style with a kilt and "nemes" headdress adorned with a cobra; even in pharaonic times, this was ritual rather than everyday wear. One detail indicative of the Ptolemaic Period is that the nemes headdress was worn higher on the head, or at least formed a more pronounced curve which exposed more of the forehead. The portraits showing the most obvious Greek influence (especially during the Roman Period) even included curls of hair escaping from the headdress.
This face with its broad forehead appears youthful; the smile on the mouth is accentuated by the treatment of the eyes. The statue was made from highly polished stone, popular during the Late Period, and the smooth, unridged appearance of the clothing accessories is typical of the Ptolemaic style.

Dating the statue

It is very difficult to date this statue with precision. Specialists in Ptolemaic art consider the height of the head and a certain dissymmetry to point to a relatively late date, and thus suggest that it was made in the 1st century BC.

Bibliography

Catalogue, Cleopatra of Egypt, 2001, p. 54, photo couleurs, notice n 20.
Porter et Moss, Topographical bibliography, 1999, T. VIII, n 1, p. 197, bibliographie.
Catalogue, Pharaohs, treasures of egyptian Art from the Louvre, Cleveland museum of Art, 1996, pp. 88-89, p. 98, commentaire, photos et bibliographie.
De Putter et Karlshausen, Les pierres utilisées dans la sculpture et l'architecture de l'Égypte pharaonique, 1992, p. 53.
Catalogue, Cleopatra's Egypt, Brooklyn, 1988, p. 157, notice n 59, photo.
Bothmer, Egyptian sculpture of the late period, 1960, p. 162.
Stanwick, Egyptian sculpture of the ptolemaic period, p. 297, p. 303, p. 305, p. 306, pp. 487-489, publication, document E 16.

Technical description

  • Un roi ptolémaïque

    Ier siècle avant J.-C. ?

  • basalte

    H. : 82 cm. ; L. : 39,50 cm.

  • A 28

  • Egyptian Antiquities

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

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