This ivory depicts a fettered captive. His pointed beard, facial creases, and elaborately patterned garment clearly mark him as an Asiatic. He stands with bent legs, the lower body shown in profile facing to his left, the upper body and face presented in frontal view.
Egyptian representations of captives often show the upper body in profile with arms bound together in back. Because the upper body of this captive is presented frontally, the arms are pulled into a curious position over the head so that they remain visible. Fetters are usually wound around the elbows, but in this case they tie wrists to shoulders.
In ancient Egypt, foreigners were a symbol of chaotic and evil forces threatening maat, world order and justice. It was the duty of the king to maintain maat. To portray a foreigner as a bound prisoner not only served to demonstrate the victory over such forces by the king; it was also symbolical reassurance that these threatening forces were defeated and controlled. In the New Kingdom, bound Asiatics were often depicted on the king’s throne together with bound Nubians. The extension at the top and the bar at the bottom of this figure demonstrate that it was originally part of another object, perhaps one in a row of fettered captives that embellished a piece of furniture–a wooden chair or footstool.
Isabel Stünkel 2017
Purchased by Albert Gallatin for his collection from Spink & Son, London, July 1954. Gallatin Collection purchased by the Museum, 1966.
Stünkel, Isabel 2008. "Asiatic Captive." In Beyond Babylon: art, trade, and diplomacy in the second millennium B.C., edited by Joan Aruz, Kim Benzel, and Jean M. Evans. New York; New Haven and London: Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 267, no. 167.