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Work Woman in a Cloak

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

Woman in a Cloak

© Musée du Louvre/C. Décamps

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

Author(s):
David Elisabeth

This statuette of a woman huddled in her cloak, as if against the cold, no doubt dates from the Early Dynastic Period. It is one of a fairly numerous series of ivory figurines of men and women, clothed or unclothed. Like all the others, this statuette was one element in a larger ensemble: beneath the feet is a tenon that allowed it to be fitted to a hole in a support, and the top of the head has a hole bored through it.

Egypt: a Cold Country where the Sun is Hot

The images on the walls of temples and tombs might suggest that the Egyptians were always lightly dressed. This is far from the truth: at dawn it is icy cold, and the cloak was a very common item of clothing. Alongside robes and loincloths of various kinds, tombs have also yielded large pieces of cloth that must have served as cloaks. Most often neither shaped nor sewn, they were wrapped around the body in the manner of a shawl.

The Art of Wrapping Up

The cloak here is worn in a sophisticated fashion: the cloth is wrapped around the body, passing beneath the woman's right arm, held against the body, and then draped over the left shoulder. The left-hand side is held in front of the body by the left hand, entirely hidden beneath it. The woman would also have been wearing a tunic of thick or bouclé fabric, one of the sleeves of which can be seen at the right shoulder, while the other shows beneath the cloak on the left.

Difficulties in Dating

Opinion as to the age of the figurine is divided: ivory statuettes are known to have existed from at least the Badari Period (4500-3800 BC). A series of male and female (and animal?) figurines has been discovered in a depository on the site of Hierakonpolis, but has not been dated with certainty. This statuette has neither archaeological pedigree, nor any exact parallel elsewhere, dated or otherwise. The hair, with its ribbon-like tresses on either side of the head gathered at the back by a loosely tied band at shoulder level, is similar to that of another ivory statuette at the Louvre. Unfortunately, in that case too the context of discovery is unknown. The rigidity of the figure, with its head sunk down into the shoulders, would suggest a date in the Thinite Period (First and Second Dynasties, 3100-2700 BC).

Technical description

  • Woman in a Cloak

    Thinite Period, 3100-2700 BC

    Abu Roach (not confirmed)

  • Sculpture (in the round), hippopotamus ivory, originally painted

    H. 13.5 cm

  • Purchased 1926

    E 11888

  • Egyptian Antiquities

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