Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Guardian Figure

Middle Kingdom
Dynasty 12
reign of Amenemhat II
ca. 1919–1885 B.C.
From Egypt, Memphite Region, Lisht South, Mastaba of Imhotep, chamber inside the south enclosure wall, MMA excavations, 1913–14
Cedar wood, plaster, paint
H. 57.6 cm (22 11/16 in.); W. 11 cm (4 5/16 in.); D. 26 cm (10 1/4 in.)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund and Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1914
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 111
This figure wears the red crown of Lower Egypt and the face appears to reflect the features of the reigning king, most probably Amenemhat II or Senwosret II. However, the divine kilt suggests that the statuette was not merely a representation of the living ruler. Together with its counterpart wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt, now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, the figure was discovered standing behind a shrine that contained an object sacred to the god Anubis, the so-called Imiut (14.3.18 and .19), and the two figures could be understood to have functioned as guardians of the Imiut. The ensemble was discovered in 1914 in the area surrounding the pyramid of Senwosret I at Lisht South during the Museum's excavation of a mud-brick enclosure surrounding the mastaba of Imhotep, a Twelfth Dynasty official. A chamber had been built into the south part of the enclosure wall and in it the statuettes and shrine were hidden, doubtlessly after having played a part in a dramatic funerary ceremony.

Link to a blog post
My Early Life with the Middle Kingdom
#3330. Funerary Guardian Figure
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This beautifully crafted figure is constructed from 16 separate pieces of wood (14 of which are extant) attached with dowels, mortise and tenons, adhesive, and plaster. Starting at the top, the sections are as follows: crown; head, torso and right leg; left leg; wedge between left leg and body; right arm; left arm; left forearm; right forefoot; left forefoot; wedge between fore and back left foot; front kilt section; back kilt section; beard (now missing); crook in left hand; scepter? (now missing) in right hand; and base. In addition, there is an ancient repair, consisting of an irregularly shaped plug of wood on the back left shoulder.

The kilt sections are covered with a thick layer of white plaster, which was also used to model the shape of the kilt over the legs. The crown is plastered and painted with red ochre; the kilt is painted with yellow orpiment and red ochre; the skin is painted with red ochre over a thin layer of pinkish plaster; and the eyes and eyebrows are painted with Egyptian blue, calcium carbonate white, red ochre, and carbon black. The fingernails are painted white.

The poor condition of the crook, base, and broken fragment of the left hand indicate that these sections were separated from the body and subjected to a different burial environment.

Ann Heywood, Department of Objects Conservation, 2016
Excavated by the Egyptian Expedition of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Acquired by the Museum in the division of finds, 1914. Excavated by the Egyptian Expedition of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Acquired by the Museum in the division of finds.

Metropolitan Museum of Art 1934. A Guide to the Collections, 1. New York, p. 11.

Winlock, Herbert E. 1937. Egyptian Statues and Statuettes. New York, fig. 6.

Pijoán, José 1950. Summa Artis: Historia general del arte, Vol. III. 1950. Madrid, 202, figs. 266-67.

Metropolitan Museum of Art 1952. Art Treasures of the Metropolitan. New York, pp. 20, 217 no. 5.

Hayes, William C. 1953. Scepter of Egypt I: A Background for the Study of the Egyptian Antiquities in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Part I: From the Earliest Times to the End of the Middle Kingdom. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 118, 192; fig. 71, 117.

Metropolitan Museum of Art 1962. Guide to the Collections, 3. New York, fig. 22.

Hibbard, Howard and The Metropolitan Museum of Art 1970. Masterpieces of Fifty Centuries. New York, 84 no. 14.

Arnold, Dieter, Emma Brunner Traut, Henry G. Fischer, Matthias Seidel, Wilfried Seipel, C. Vandersleyen, and Erika Feucht 1975. Das alte Ägypten, Propyläen Kunstgeschichte, 15. Berlin, p. 235, pl. 13.

Aldred, Cyril 1980. Egyptian Art in the Days of the Pharaohs, 3100-320 BC, World of Art, New York: Oxford University Press, p. 137, no. 101.

Hibbard, Howard 1980. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Harper & Row, 32, fig. 46 (color).

Dorman, Peter F., Prudence Harper, and Holly Pittman 1987. Egypt and the Ancient Near East in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, pp. 30-31.

Robins, Gay 2001. Egyptian Statues, Shire Egyptology, 26. Princes Risborough, p. 13, fig. 5.

Arnold, Dorothea 2015. "Guardian Figure and Shrine with an Imiut in a Jar." 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. 230–32, no. 168.

Arnold, Dorothea 2015. "Statues in Their Settings: Encountering the Divine." 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. 18, fig. 23, n. 28.

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