Maatkare Hatshepsut (ca. 1479–1458 b.c.) was not the only female pharaoh in the history of ancient Egypt. Nitocris (at the end of Dynasty 6), Nefrusobek (at the end of Dynasty 12), Tawosret (at the end of Dynasty 19), and of course, Cleopatra VII also come to mind. But Hatshepsut was arguably the most important woman ever to occupy the throne of Egypt. Her ascension to power initially came about because of the early demise of her husband and half-brother Thutmose II, whose son by another wife (Isis), Thutmose III, was still an infant. An ancient text described it thus: [Thutmose II] ascended into heaven and united with the gods, while his son (Thutmose III) stood [officially] in his place as king of the two lands,… while his sister (actually, aunt), the god’s wife, Hatshepsut, was conducting the affairs of the country, the two Lands being in her care. At first, Hatshepsut’s rule had indeed the character of a regency, and during that time, she was usually depicted as a queen. Then, step by step, attributes of male kingship entered the representations of Hatshepsut. From about the seventh year (ca. 1473 b.c.) after her husband’s demise, she appeared in the full regalia of a male pharaoh and began to claim to be the actual daughter of the supreme god of Thebes, Amun, as well as to have been chosen by him through an oracle. Until the end of Hatshepsut’s days, however, the young Thutmose III continued to function as the junior partner on the throne. Hatshepsut’s reign was, above all, a peak period for the arts in Egypt. The last vestiges of Hyksos rule having been eliminated by this time, goods and ideas flowed freely among all regions of Egypt, and close relationships with neighboring countries opened the gates to the outside world. In an eastern Delta royal palace or stronghold, for instance, painters from the Aegean island of Crete were employed to decorate walls according to their Minoan style and iconography, while in Thebes, Egyptian artists initiated the fine tomb decoration that became a glory of New Kingdom art. By coordinating and aligning the sacred buildings along the processional routes in the area of Thebes (present day Luxor), Hatshepsut’s architects created an unprecedented example of ancient spatial planning, and the temples at Karnak and Deir el- Bahri gained a grandeur and beauty still admired today. Hatshepsut’s reign saw military campaigns into countries south and east of Egypt, but the female pharaoh appears to have been most proud of an expedition she sent into the land of Punt (perhaps in the region of modern Somalia), from which myrrh trees and gold were brought back as offerings to the god Amun. The expedition was depicted in narrative reliefs in her temple at Deir el-Bahri, which also housed the sculptures exhibited in this room.
Excavated at Deir el-Bahri by the MMA, 1922-23. Acquired in the division of finds, 1923.