Egyptian Bronze Statuette of Osiris
Period: Late Period (ca. 600 B.C.)
Material: Gilded Bronze
Dimensions: H: 39 cm
Ex- Philip E. Mitry, Cairo; Ex- UK private collection, acquired in Cairo April 28th 1938; Ex- Sotheby’s London, November 16, 1938, lot 30.
Published: Sotheby's London, November 16, 1938,Lot 30
Conditions: This hollow cast statuette (under the crown, remains of the blackened core, made of an unknown material, are still visible) is larger than average. It is complete and in good condition: the surface of the metal is dark brown with patches of green patina in places. The gilding, which covered the whole figure, still appears on the front of the body, on the neck, and on the crown. The feathers of the crown and the god’s attributes are inlaid; the eyes were made of another material.
This image follows the canonical iconography of Osiris: the god is wrapped in a shroud that perfectly hugs the contours of his body, which proportions are slender and elegant. In his hands, he holds the flagellum (the nekhekh scepter, visible in the left hand) and the hekat scepter, the shepherds’ crook. The position of the arms (wrists crossed on the chest) is a clue to the origin of the statuette, which would have been manufactured in a center of Upper Egypt.
On his head he wears his usual headgear, the atef crown, composed of the white crown of Upper Egypt, flanked by two ostrich feathers; a snake descends down the front of the headgear, where, just above the forehead, the head of the uræus would have been attached. The chin is adorned with a long false beard with braided locks, terminating in a ringlet. He wears, as an ornament, a large circular necklace composed of different types of beads and provided with a small trapezoidal counterweight.
Originally, the figure of Osiris was linked to the fecundity of the Egyptian soil, the renewal of vegetation and the world of shepherds, as evidenced by the hekat scepter (which reproduces the shepherds’ crook). He embodied the fertile land and the arable fields, and became therefore the guardian of the order of the universe and the cycles of nature. But the most famous myth concerning him is the one in connection with his death, known through many versions: the son of Geb (the earth) and Nut (the sky) and the husband of Isis, the god primarily was a pharaoh. With Isis, they were a pair of royal benefactors who taught mankind farming and fishing (Osiris), weaving and medicine (Isis). Jealous of the sovereign, his brother Seth assassinated him, cut up his body and disposed of the pieces in the Nile. However, Isis, his wife and faithful widow, found and reassembled the body of her husband and, with the help of her sister, Nephtys, and of Anubis, she embalmed the corpse. After breathing life into him for a short instant, Isis was impregnated by Osiris: this union resulted in the birth of Horus, who, following in the footsteps of his father, became Pharaoh. And so, after having survived the ordeal of death, Osiris triumphed thanks to the magic of his wife and became the ruler of the underworld, which contained the seeds of life and, at the same time, was the protector of the deceased, to whom he would promise life after death.
These two closely related characteristics linking the god of fecundity and the funerary divinity were certainly the basis for the success Osiris enjoyed in the Egyptian world: from the New Kingdom on, and especially during the entire 1st millennium B.C., statuettes of Osiris were among the most important funerary offerings.
BibliographyBERMAN L. M., The Cleveland Museum of Art, Catalogue of Egyptian Art, Cleveland, 1999, pp. 431-433, n. 326-328.
HILL M. (ed.), Offrande aux dieux d’Egypte, Martigny, 2008, pp. 128-130.
PAGE-GASSER M. - WIESE A. B., Egypte, Moments d’éternité, Geneva, 1997, pp. 260-261, n. 172.
SCHOSKE S. - WILDUNG D., Gott und Götter um alten Ägypten, Mainz / Rhine, 1992, pp. 123-124, n. 83.
On Osiris, see:
WILKINSON H. R., The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, London, 2003, pp. 118-123.