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Senwosret III as a Sphinx

Period:
Middle Kingdom
Dynasty:
Dynasty 12
Reign:
reign of Senwosret III
Date:
ca. 1878–1840 B.C.
Geography:
From Egypt; Possibly from Upper Egypt, Thebes, Karnak
Medium:
Gneiss
Dimensions:
L. 73 cm (28 3/4 in.); W. 29.5 cm (11 5/8 in.); H. 42.5 cm (16 3/4 in.)
Credit Line:
Gift of Edward S. Harkness, 1917
Accession Number:
17.9.2
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 111
Because of their strength, ferocity, imposing mane, and awesome roar, lions were associated with kingship since prehistoric times. As divine guardians against evil, they also symbolized in cosmic myths the place on the horizon where the sun was reborn every day. With the body of a lion and the head of a human, the sphinx symbolically combined the power of the lion with the image of the reigning king. In this magnificent example, the face belongs to Senwosret III of Dynasty 12 whose features are very distinctive (see 26.7.1394). He wears a pleated linen headcloth, called a nemes headdress, which is symbolic of kingship. The nemes is surmounted by a cobra, which represents the goddess Udjo, one of the protectors of the king. The cobra's hood and head were either carved separately or they were repaired in antiquity, for there is an ancient dowel hole drilled into the place where the cobra's upright body would be.

While the Egyptians viewed the standing sphinx as a conqueror, the crouching sphinx was a guardian of sacred places. Thus pairs of sphinxes flanked avenues or entrances to important buildings. This sphinx was carved from a single block of beautifully grained anorthosite gneiss from quarries in Nubia. The sculptor has used the pattern in the stone to great effect on the body of the lion and has masked the potentially awkward transition from animal body to human head with the headdress and the stylized pattern representing the lion's mane. Note the difference between the ordered long strands of the mane in front and the short, overlapping tufts on the back of the shoulders. Below the beard, a palace facade (serekh) is incised topped by a falcon and the symbol for the sky. Both the king's Horus name (divine of thrones) and his throne name (shining are the life forces [kas] of Re) are written in the serekh.
Purchased in Cairo from Maurice Nahman, 1917.

Metropolitan Museum of Art 2012. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, p. 44.

Oppenheim, Adela 2015. "Statue of Senwosret III as a Sphinx." In Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom, edited by Adela Oppenheim, Dorothea Arnold, Dieter Arnold, and Kei Yamamoto. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, pp. 79, 81–83, no. 24.

Oppenheim, Adela 2015. "Introduction: What Was the Middle Kingdom?." In Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom, edited by Adela Oppenheim, Dorothea Arnold, Dieter Arnold, and Kei Yamamoto. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 5.

Oppenheim, Adela 2015. "Artists and Workshops: The Complexity of Creation." In Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom, edited by Adela Oppenheim, Dorothea Arnold, Dieter Arnold, and Kei Yamamoto. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 23.

Arnold, Dorothea 2015. "Pharaoh: Power and Performance." In Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom, edited by Adela Oppenheim, Dorothea Arnold, Dieter Arnold, and Kei Yamamoto. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, pp. 69, 71.

Gabolde, Luc 2015. "Thebes: East Bank (Karnak and Luxor)." In Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom, edited by Adela Oppenheim, Dorothea Arnold, Dieter Arnold, and Kei Yamamoto. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 316.

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