A statuette of a nude female, holding her arms and hands close to her sides and thighs. She is depicted in a standing position, but her legs end in rounded stumps at the knees, as is frequent in such figurines of the period. She is wearing a curled wig and has large, almond shaped eyes and a wide, full-lipped mouth. She has a pendant necklace around her neck and is wearing bracelets and a body chain; in addition to this her body is decorated with several tattoos. Turquoise blue glaze with the facial features and wig are defined in purplish black, as are her jewellery, tattoos and emphasized pubic triangle.
Figurines of nude and often tattooed women, usually made of Egyptian faience but sometimes also of stone, wood, clay or ivory, have been found in burials dating to the Middle Kingdom, which gave rise to the idea that they were concubines, intended to give their master sexual pleasure in the hereafter. Usually these figures lack the lower legs, which long ago has been explained by Egyptologists as a method to prevent the concubine from escaping from their master in the hereafter.
However, similar statuettes have also been found in the tombs of women and, more importantly, in a non-funerary context such as household shrines. As a result they are now explained as representing a more general idea of female fertility and sexuality. These were powers that could imbue a deceased with new life, and in the world of the living could enhance a husband’s potency and a wife’s fruitfulness.
The fertility symbolism of such figurines could even be intensified, as is the case with a statuette in the Berlin museum (inv. no. 14.517; Schott 1930, p. 23; Desroches Noblecourt 1953, p. 34-36; Gnirs 2009, p. 138), depicting a woman carrying a child on her hip and inscribed with the wish that a certain man’s daughter will give birth, in analogy to the woman depicted. Given the fact that several animal hieroglyphs in its inscription are mutilated, the figure was clearly intended to be put in a tomb, and since a male possessive pronoun was used it must have been the tomb of a man. Obviously the deceased father was asked to use his influence from the hereafter and to intervene in the world of the living. A similar notion can be found on a statuette in the Louvre Museum (inv. no. E8000; Desroches Noblecourt 1953, p. 37-40).
The bright blue colour of the statuette is another indication of the fertility function of the statuette, because in ancient Egypt blue was the colour of water and of the fertility deities (see Schoske-Wildung 1985, p. 42).
Other interpretations of the function of these figurines have been put forward as well, such as votive statuettes, or objects that were ritually manipulated in rites to repel venomous creatures and to heal; possibly the owners and users of such figurines were priests or magicians. For an overview see Waraksa 2008.
München 1985: Entdeckungen, Ägyptische Kunst in Süddeutschland, Ausstellung 30 August 1985 - 6 October 1985 (Galerie der Bayerischen Landesbank; Staatliche Sammlung Ägyptischer Kunst München).
Sylvia Schoske - Dietrich Wildung (Hrsg.), Entdeckungen, Ägyptische Kunst in Süddeutschland (Mainz am Rhein, Verlag Philipp von Zabern; München, Staatliche Sammlung Ägyptischer Kunst, 1985), p. 42, no. 29;
Isabel Grimm-Stadelmann (ed.), Aesthetic Glimpses. Masterpieces of Ancient Egyptian Art. The Resandro Collection (Munich, 2012), p. 20, no. R-051.
Literature and parallels:
Christiane Desroches Noblecourt, “«Concubines du mort» et mères de famille au Moyen Empire. À propos d’une supplique pour une naissance”, Bulletin de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale 53 (1953), p. 7-47;
Andrea M. Gnirs, “Nilpferdstosszähne und Schlangenstäbe: Zu den magischen Geräten des so genannten Ramesseumsfundes” in Dieter Kessler et al. (Hrsg.), Texte - Theben – Tonfragmente. Festschrift für Günter Burkard (Ägypten und Altes Testament, 76) (Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz Verlag, 2009), p. 128-156, esp. p. 138-139;
Carolyn Graves-Brown, Dancing for Hathor: Women in Ancient Egypt (London, Continuum, 2010), p. 60-61; 116-118;
William C. Hayes, The Scepter of Egypt. A Background for the Study of the Egyptian Antiquities in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Volume 1: From the Earliest Times to the End of the Middle Kingdom (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1953), p. 218-221 and fig. 137;
Nira Kleinke, Female spaces. Untersuchungen zu Gender und Archäologie im pharaonischen Ägypten (Göttinger Miszellen, Beihefte, 1) (Göttingen, Seminar für Ägyptologie und Koptologie der Universität Göttingen, 2007), p. 33-36;
Geraldine Pinch, “Childbirth and Female Figurines at Deir el-Medina and el-‛Amarna”, Orientalia, Nova Series, volume 52, no. 3 (1983), p. 405-414;
Geraldine Pinch, Votive Offerings to Hathor (Oxford, Griffith Institute, 1993), p. 211-225;
Gay Robins, The Art of Ancient Egypt (London, British Museum Press, 2008), p. 114-116, fig. 125;
Siegfried Schott, “Die Bitte um ein Kind auf einer Grabfigur des frühen Mittleren Reiches”, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 16 (1930), p. 23;
Elizabeth A. Waraksa, Female Figurines from the Mut Precinct. Context and Ritual Function (Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis, 240) (Göttingen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht; Fribourg, Universitätsverlag, 2009);
Elizabeth A. Waraksa, “Female Figurines (Pharaonic Period)” in Jacco Dieleman - Willeke Wendrich (eds.), UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology (University of California, Los Angeles, 2008);
Christiane Ziegler - Jean-Luc Bovot, Art et archéologie: l’Egypte ancienne (Petits Manuels de l'Ecole du Louvre) (Paris, La Documentation Française; Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 2001), p. 138-139, fig. 51.
Middle Kingdom, 12th Dynasty, circa 1976-1793 B.C.
Height 12.4 cm.
German private collection, Hamburg, acquired from Christie’s London, sale of 6 December 2016, lot 106; before that Resandro collection, acquired from Christie’s London, sale of 11 July 1984, lot 137; before that private collection, Sussex, UK.
Intact, with some minor encrustation.