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Work Offering-bearer

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

Woman bearing offerings

© Musée du Louvre/C. Décamps

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

Delange Elisabeth

Standing with left foot forward, the female figure carries a basket with a leg of beef and a vessel of water. This model of a female offering-bearer comes from a tomb of the Early Middle Kingdom. The large sculpture, formed of several pieces of wood, is entirely covered in polychrome paint.

The sculpture

Stepping forward on a base painted in dark ocher, this female offering-bearer has a short wig on her head and wears a narrow, close-fitting dress decorated with feathers. Above the neckline is an usekh-collar. With one hand she steadies the basket carried on her head. There is a cut of beef on the lid. With the other, she holds out a sizeable vessel. But who is she?

A funerary "model"

In the Middle Kingdom, the walls of tombs, often cut in friable rock, were not suitable for relief decoration. This is why the most important funerary subjects were in that period sculpted in wood, in the form of statuettes or "models," to be placed inside the vault. The provision of food-offerings, the essentials of a meal, was necessary for life in the hereafter. Even knowing nothing of whom she was intended to serve, this figure of an offering-bearer stands out by its size, the quality of the workmanship, and the fine vessel of water that she carries. In this, the figure recalls some of the most beautiful models from Thebes, products of the royal workshops that combine a great mastery of form with spontaneity of execution.

A model for Picasso, too

The only known model of its kind for several decades, this rapidly became established as a reference object. The material, of course, influences the very form of a work. The fact that it is assembled from twelve pieces of wood facilitates the articulation of the statue, giving a new freedom of movement, in the arms that stand free of the body, in the youthful silhouette. Each part of the body is carefully carved: the long neck, the arm bent at a right-angle. The projecting, pointed breasts, too, are a very uncommon feature in Egyptian art. The muscles of the buttocks, emphatically treated, are almost angular in profile. The geometrical simplicity of the finest of these models did not escape Picasso's eye in his Cubist period, and his own drawings of the Louvre's statuette are in the Musée Picasso in Paris.

Technical description

  • Woman bearing offerings

    C. 1950 BC (beginning of 12th Dynasty)

  • Coated and painted ficus wood

    H. 1.08 m; W. 0.14 m; L. 0.32 m

  • E 10781

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    The Middle Kingdom, c. 2033–1710 BC
    Room 636
    Display case 10

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