Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History



  • Magical stela, Late Period, Dynasty 30, reign of Nectanebo II, ca. 360–343 b.c.
    Egyptian
    Greywacke; H. 32 7/8 in. (83.5 cm)
    Fletcher Fund, 1950 (50.85)

    The top half of this stela was skillfully carved in a hard dark stone. On the part below the central figure panel, rows of hieroglyphs record thirteen magic spells to protect against poisonous bites and wounds and to cure the illnesses caused by them. The stela was commissioned by the priest Esatum to be set up in the public part of a temple. A victim could recite or drink water that had been poured over the magic words and images on the stela. As a mythic precedent, the hieroglyphic inscription around the base describes the magic cure that was worked upon the infant Horus by Thoth, the god of wisdom and writing.

    On the stela, Isis speaks and recounts that while she and Horus were still hiding in the marshes, the child became ill. In her despair, she cried for help to the "Boat of Eternity" (the sun boat in which the god travels over the sky), "and the sun disk stopped opposite her and did not move from his place." Thoth was sent from the sun boat to help Isis and cured Horus by reciting a catalogue of spells. The spells always ended with the phrase "and the protection of the afflicted as well," indicating that by using these spells, any type of affliction in human beings would be healed.

    In this detail of the stela, Horus emerges from the background in such high relief that he is posed as an actual three-dimensional statue, with his left leg striding forward and his head directly facing the viewer. He is portrayed in the conventional Egyptian form for youth; that is, he is nude and wearing his hair in a side lock. The soft, rounded forms of the bodies of Horus and the other deities are typical of the style of the period.

    To symbolize his magic powers, Horus holds snakes and scorpions as well as an antelope (by its horns) and a lion (by its tail) in his closed fists. His feet rest on two crocodiles. Above him is the head of Bes, the dwarf deity with leonine features who had traditionally protected households but by this time had become a more general protective deity. Horus is flanked by three deities who stand upon coiled snakes. On the right is Thoth, identified by his ibis head, and on the left is Isis. Both protectively hold the walls of a curved reed hut, a primeval chapel, in which the Horus child stands together with a figure of Re-Harakhty, god of the rising sun, and two standards in the form of papyrus and lotus columns. The lotus standard supports the two feathers of Osiris' headdress.

    The images incised into the stone at the top of the stela portray the perilous nighttime journey of the sun as it passes through the netherworld under the earth. Its rebirth each morning is shown at the uppermost point of the stela, where Thoth, four baboons, and the kneeling King Nectanebo II lift their arms in the gesture of adoration and prayer. Nectanebo II (r. 360–343 B.C.) was the last indigenous king of ancient Egypt. He struggled valiantly against the Persian empire only to be defeated in the end. After the lost battle, he fled to Upper Egypt, and nothing is known about his end.

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  • Magical stela, Late Period, Dynasty 30, reign of Nectanebo II, ca. 360–343 B.C.
    Egyptian
    Greywacke; H. 32 7/8 in. (83.5 cm)
    Fletcher Fund, 1950 (50.85)

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