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Work Vase in the form of the god Bes

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Religious and funerary beliefs

Vase in the form of the god Bes

© 1998 Musée du Louvre / Georges Poncet

Egyptian Antiquities
Religious and funerary beliefs

Author(s):
Pierrat-Bonnefois Geneviève

This figure of the god Bes is actually a pot made of fine, pale green faience. Colored inlays enhance the precious appearance of this work, which was probably more decorative than practical. Its exceptional quality testifies to the skill of the faience makers of the Late period.

A seated dwarf

The god Bes is represented sitting on the floor with his knees up, his huge potbelly covering most of the almost square base. His fists, resting on his knees, once held two (now broken) metal snakes. His usual apparel, a panther skin, hangs over his pendulous breasts; he has a simple knotted belt around his fat belly. His disproportionate head is finely detailed: the flowing locks of the mane, the neatly combed beard, the creased forehead and stylized lion-like ears. The protruding tongue is of inlaid red stone; the eyes (now missing) were inserted into a black glass (perhaps obsidian) surround. It is a very valuable object therefore.

The god Bes

Bes is an atypical god — a dwarf, who does not have the elegant appearance of the other Egyptian deities, most of whom have ideal human or animal forms. He first appeared among the magical objects of the Middle Kingdom as a slender creature, always seen full face, bending his legs like a dancer, with a long tail down to the ground and lion-like ears. During the New Kingdom he acquired his definitive appearance: his belly and head grew bigger, he began to grimace, he grew a splendid beard, and he often sported a feather headdress. Bes did not have his own sanctuary. He adorned household objects, which he protected against poisonous animals and other dangers, and was often to be found on toiletry articles. He was a common feature around the eastern Mediterranean at the end of the Pharaonic civilization.

A luxury vase

This sculpture, impressive in subject if not in size, is actually a vase: the thick, flat rim was perhaps inspired by Greek aryballoi. The fine, pale green and glossy siliceous faience with its delicate details is typical of the craftsmanship of the Late period, from the Twenty-Sixth dynasty onward. However, the distinctive style of the lines on the face and the way the ears are shaped would suggest a later date, from the Achaemenid era. Egypt was twice absorbed into the vast Persian empire. Though the sumptuary arts of this period drew from Greek, Oriental, and Egyptian sources, this work is probably Egyptian as the quality of manufacture and preservation are typical of that country.

Technical description

  • Vase in the form of the god Bes

    Late period, 664-332 BC

  • Siliceous faience

    H. 17.5 cm, W. 11.5 cm

  • Purchased in 1901

    E 10929

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    The gods and magic
    Room 18

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