Bust of a dignitary with pectoral
Period: Late 6th-5th century B.C. (26th-27th Dynasty, late Saite period-Persian period)
Dimensions: Height: 18.4 cm
Ex-Lady Iya Abdy collection, Paris (1901-1967); Drouot-Richelieu, Paris, November 10, 1993, Lot 171; Jean-Luc Chalmin, London, 1994; Clarence Day Collection, Memphis, Tennessee (1927-2009)
Conditions: Bust and head carved from a block of greenish gray graywacke. Both arms and legs lost, nose chipped. The modern base bears the stamp of Inagaki, the Paris-Based Japanese base-maker who was mainly working between the two world wars.
The image represents a youthful male figure with a muscular and finely modeled chest, who was probably standing upright. At the back, a large pillar that served to strengthen the balance of the statuette retains an inscription in two columns, still perfectly decipherable on the upper part, but which no longer enables us to identify the figure. The translation is: “The companion, the administrator of the palace, in charge of the secret (...) the master of the Oaubet, master...” (the term Oaubet, meaning “pure room”, concurrently indicates a sacred workshop, the place of embalming and the secret sanctuary of Osiris).
The back of the wig bears a modern graffito reproducing three Latin characters, which read “POE”, but whose meaning remains obscure: it might have been incised by an unknown traveler of the 19th century, who would have seen the figure in Egypt, perhaps on a kôm in the Nile Delta.
The head is covered with a long thick wig, not tripartite but in one piece, whose outline is rounded on the shoulders and in the back, following a rare type attested in the 18th Dynasty. The remarkable modeling of the face is rendered by finely rounded volumes: the almond-shaped eyes are large, the brows are in light relief, the lips are full, the nose is broad and the ears are clearly visible. The expression, with the idealized features, is serene and calm.
Suspended from a necklace, the man wears a rectangular, engraved breastplate representing a small scene. On the right, a divine figure, Neith (a goddess who embodies the liquid world from which all life originates, recognizable by the red crown), is seated on her throne. In front of her, a standing king (wearing the blue crown which is the battle helmet of the Pharaoh) shows her a small cup containing a seated figure characterized by the feather on the head. The image depicts the central moment of the daily ritual with the offering of Maat (the goddess of justice and cosmic balance), which summarizes all the special offerings. Along with its religious meaning, this scene may also convey a historical value: Neith, the goddess of Sais, the capital city of the 26th Dynasty, was indeed a warlike figure, who also would be linked to Athena, hence the blue crown (especially prized by the kings of this dynasty) of the sovereign. These considerations enable us to confirm the dating of this work to the middle of the first millennium B.C., as a direct testimonial of the late Saite period or a slightly later “nostalgic” work which recalls a period known for its independence.
VANDIER J., Manuel d’archéologie égyptienne, Tome III, Les grandes époques: La statuaire, Paris, 1958, p. 483, g (wig).
VON BOTHMER B. et al., Egyptian Sculpture of the Late Period, New York, 1960, pp. 67-68, pl. 54-55.
On rectangular pendants in sculpture, see:
DE MEULENAERE H. and VANLATHEM M.P., Pendentifs portés par des particuliers dans la statuaire de Basse Epoque, in Chronique d’Egypte, 85, 2010,
On Neith, see:
Lexicon der Ägyptologie, Vol. IV, Wiesbaden, 1982, col. 392-394.