Ritual Figure

Period: Late Period or Early Ptolemaic Period

Dynasty: Dynasty 30 or later

Date: 380–246 B.C.

Geography: From Egypt

Medium: Wood, formerly clad with lead sheet

Dimensions: H. 21 cm (8 1/4 in.); W. 14.3 cm (5 5/8 in.); D. 11 cm (4 5/16 in.)

Credit Line: Purchase, Anne and John V. Hansen Egyptian Purchase Fund, and Magda Saleh and Jack Josephson Gift, 2003

Accession Number: 2003.154


The fluid pose and chest-beating gesture of this extraordinary figure evoke a stately performance. Egyptian relief representations depict such figures as part of a troupe of similarly genuflecting divine beings with falcon and jackal heads. This troupe is usually seen attending the sunrise or the birth and coronation of a king; three-dimensional figures of the same type were set around the processional shrines of certain gods, doubtlessly to accompany the epiphany of the deity during a procession.

It is not easy to explain the presence among the animal-headed divinities of the human-headed figure wearing—as seen here—the regalia of a pharaoh. Some scholars interpret the figure as the representation of an actual king. Others understand it as a mythical being that introduces royal aspects into the otherworldly ritual. Whatever its exact meaning, this masterpiece of wood carving was certainly part of a temple's equipment. Its ritual character was further emphasized by a covering of lead sheet, now vanished.