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Work Ramesses II Breastplate

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: The New Kingdom (circa 1550 to circa 1069 BC)

Pectoral au nom de Ramsès II

©1987 RMN / Les frères Chuzeville

Egyptian Antiquities
The New Kingdom (circa 1550 to circa 1069 BC)

Élizabeth David

Auguste Mariette discovered this breastplate, named for Ramesses II, in 1852 during excavations of the Serapeum in Saqqara, under the coffin of a tomb of an Apis bull. The shape - a temple pylon with a cloisonné and openwork design - is traditional for this type of jewelry from the mid-Twelfth Dynasty (circa 1850 BC). The deities represented inside the architectural frame were intended to protect the amulet's wearer.

Three protectors are better than one

A vulture and a cobra stand side by side within the frame in the form of a temple pylon topped by a grooved cornice. They share a single set of outspread wings. These animals are Nekhbet and Wadjet, patrons and goddesses of Upper and Lower Egypt. A ram-headed bird over them, also with outstretched wings, is a form of the solar god. Ramesses II's king or throne name is written in a cartouche above what is already a dense composition. Finally, two djed pillars fill in the lower corners of the rectangular frame; they symbolize stability and the rebirth of Osiris.

A lavish object

Analysis of the material used for the breastplate revealed it to be a silver (62 percent) and gold (35 percent) alloy, to which a little copper was added, forming electrum. One side, probably the back, was decorated simply with engraving on the metal leaf, while the other side has a cloisonné pattern. The cells, formed by thin metal partitions, were filled with colored glass in imitation of precious stones: turquoise, cornelian, and perhaps lapis lazuli. It is difficult to judge the harmony of the colors because some of the colored glass inlays may have altered over time.

Unfinished details

A fairly large number of these openwork breastplates, shaped as chapels, have been found; the oldest of them date from the reign of Sesostris III (1862-1843 BC, Twelfth Dynasty). These early naos-breastplates were also the most refined, with compositions featuring a light and balanced decor, skillful inlays of semi-precious pieces of stone, and impeccable details. This is not the case with this object: the decor is heavier and the inlays less luxurious. Yet it is a good example of goldwork from the Ramesside period, especially as few such samples exist.


G. ANDREU, M. H. RUTSCHOWSCAYA, C. ZIEGLER, L'Egypte au Louvre, Hachette, Paris, 1997, p. 146-147, notice n 67

Catalogue de l'exposition Gold der Pharaonen, Vienne, 2001, p. 92-93, notice n 99.

Ch. Ziegler, "l'Egypte pharaonique : l'exemple des bijoux du Sérapeum", Actes du colloque Cornaline et pierres précieuses. La Méditerranée, de l'Antiquité à l'Islam, Paris, 1999, p. 15-41

Catalogue de l'exposition Egyptomania, Paris, 1993, p. 352-353

H.W. Müller et E. Thiem, L'Or de l'Egypte ancienne, Paris, 2000, p. 196, fig. 414

Connaissance des Arts Hors série, 1995, n 68, p. 22-23, pl. 19-20, commentaires des analyses du centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France.

Le Monde de la Bible, 1992, n 78, p. 47, fig. 50

Technical description

  • Pectoral au nom de Ramsès II

  • or cloisonné, verre, turquoise

    H. : 13,50 cm. ; L. : 15,70 cm. ; Pr. : 0,25 cm.

  • E 79

  • Egyptian Antiquities

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