A Celebration of Women Writers

"Chapter 4: The Origin of Portrait Sculpture." by Amelia Ann Blanford Edwards (1831-1892)
Publication: Pharaohs Fellahs and Explorers. by Amelia Edwards. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1891. (First edition.) pp. 113-157.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 113]




IT has been said by a celebrated poet that "the proper study of mankind is man." This sweeping proposition was accepted as an axiom by the contemporaries of the ingenious Mr. Pope; but to our nineteenth century ears it sounds, perhaps, too much like an epigram. We should, I think, prefer to say that the most interesting study of mankind is man. Certain it is, that whatsoever concerned man in the past concerns and interests ourselves in the present. Hence the eagerness with which we track his footsteps down the path of the centuries. From that far-distant age when we catch our first glimpse of the prehistoric cave-dweller chipping flint arrow-heads wherewith to wage war against the hyena and the mammoth, down to the pleasant "teacup time" of the day before yesterday, when Adam carried a clouded cane [Page 114]  and Eve wore hoops and patches, we are always eagerly curious to know what our forefathers were like, how they lived, and wherewithal they were clothed. This is why the art of portraiture touches us more nearly than any other. It brings us literally face to face with those who lived and loved and died "in the old time before us." It preserves for us the features, the expression, the costumes of Pharaohs and Cæsars discrowned, of orators long silent, of beauties long faded, of heroes whose swords are rust, of poets whose lutes are dust, and who, but for the accidental preservation of a bas-relief, a bust, a coin, or a painting, would have passed away like shadows and been no more seen.

By the extent of our wealth in the possession of certain portraits we may estimate what our poverty would have been without them. We can scarcely realize, for instance, the difference it would have made to us had we possessed no likeness of Shakespeare. We are as familiar with his honest English face and massive head as if the man himself were yet among the living. But could we have felt the same personal affection for him, or even quite the same personal pride in him, if there had been no bust at Stratford-on-Avon, and no Dreyschout engraving to the folio of 1623 ? Dante, again–Chaucer, Albert Dürer, Raphael, Michael Angelo, and a hundred others whom we could name in a breath–think what our loss would be if their faces were a blank to us! As for history, what would history be without the personality of those kings and captains who have moulded the destinies of nations from Alexander to Wellington ?

But the interest of portraiture is not merely historical; it is also ethnographical. The sculptures of Assyria and Babylon, of Susa and Persepolis, record racial characteristics, and enable us to trace the origin, and sometimes to track the migrations, of peoples and tribes.

Lastly, there is the human interest–that interest which we take in the counterfeit presentment of our fellow-man simply because he was our fellow-man, and because the portrait is stamped with his individuality. He may have lived [Page 115]  fifty or five thousand years ago; his very name may be unknown to us; but if the ancient artist was a master of his craft, and if he has handed down to us a face instinct with power or furrowed by thought, that face arrests us and holds us like the face of a living man. So long, indeed, as such a likeness survives, the man, in a sense, retains his hold upon our sympathies and his place among the living. One could almost say that he is not altogether dead.

All portraiture is in its origin funerary–that is to say, the earliest known specimens of portraiture are found in tombs, and represent the dead. The oldest tombs, I need hardly say, are the tombs of ancient Egypt; and the oldest known specimens of portraiture, whether in sculpture or painting, represent ancient Egyptians.

When saying, however, that all portraiture is in its origin funerary, I must not be understood to mean that such portraiture is of a memorial character. To adorn the last homes of the honored dead with sculptured effigies seems to ourselves a natural expression of respect. We desire that their likenesses as well as their memories shall be handed down to posterity; and we even derive some consolation from the knowledge that our remote descendants will know them as we have known them. But the ancient Egyptians buried their funerary effigies in the darkness and secrecy of the tomb itself. No people were so lavish of statues, of statuettes, of wall-sculptures and wall-paintings, representing the tenant of the tomb, his wife, and his family; yet no people were ever at such pains to hide those works of art from every eye. In the oldest time of all–that is, in the time of the First Empire, when every king had his pyramid, and every great man his stone-built tomb–portrait-statues were invariably buried with the dead. Strange as this custom seems, it is not half so strange as the fact that the Egyptians were wont to bury, not one statue, but several statues, all of the one man and all precisely alike. The average number of portrait-statues found in tombs of the first period is from three to seven; but as many as twenty duplicate statues of [Page 116]  heroic size have actually been taken from a single tomb. Our astonishment culminates, however, when we learn that a hiding-place without inlet or outlet was constructed for the accommodation of these statues in the thickness of the wall of the tomb. Thus they were doubly buried, in a sepulchre within a sepulchre.

Here, no matter how admirable they might be as works of art–and some are indeed admirable–they were immured, as it was hoped and intended, forever. The National Egyptian Museum of Ghizeh, near Cairo, is rich in statues of this class, all found within the last twenty-five years, and all found in hiding-places such as I have described. The tombs which contain these recesses are peculiar to the great burial-fields of Ghizeh, Sakkarah, and Meydûm, and they belong to the time of the Pyramid kings of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth dynasties–that is to say, from about four thousand to three thousand five hundred years before our era. They had all been plundered, who shall say how many centuries before Mariette and Maspero explored them? The mummies and their funerary belongings had long since been scattered to the winds; but the statues, secure and unsuspected, yet stood erect inside their narrow prisons. And they are, to this day, as perfect, and the colors with which they are painted are as fresh, as if they had left the hand of the ancient artist but a month ago.(31)

But it may be asked, What possessed this people that they should produce elaborate works of art, merely to hide them forever ? Why not have erected them where they might have been seen by the descendants of those whom they commemorated? The answer, however, is that they were not memorial statues. They were not intended to "commemorate" the dead, as our dead are commemorated in modern churches and cemeteries. The ancient Egyptians were actuated by motives altogether different from our motives–by motives arising out of one of the most curious beliefs which ever influenced the mind of man at any period in the history of religious thought. [Page 117] 

If, therefore, we are rightly to apprehend the place which ancient Egyptian portraiture holds in relation to the art of portraiture in other and later civilizations, it is necessary that we should know what that belief was, and in what way it affected the actions of those who entertained it.

Man, emerging from barbarism, is like an intelligent child, full of curiosity about himself. He is puzzled by the mystery of his own existence; and, according to his limited experience, he seeks to account for that mystery. Now, the ancient inhabitant of the Nile Valley accounted for himself in a very elaborate and philosophical fashion. He conceived of man as a composite being, consisting of at least six parts; namely, a body, "Khat"; a soul, "Ba"; an intelligence, "Khou"; a shadow, "Khaïbit"; a name, "Ren"; and another element, called in Egyptian a "Ka." To these six parts, as enumerated by Maspero, * Dr. Wiedemann adds two more–the heart, "Ab," and the "Sahu," which has hitherto been translated as the mummy, but is now defined by Dr. Wiedemann as "the husk," which is, in fact, the same thing; a mummy from which all the internal organs have been removed, being really only the outer shell of the man. Now, the co-operation of these several parts as one harmonious whole constituted the living man; but they were dissociated by death, and could only be reunited after a long probation. When so reunited, it was forever. The man attained immortality, and became as one of the gods. Meanwhile, being dead, the Body lay inert in the depths of the tomb; the Soul performed a perilous pilgrimage through a demon-haunted Valley of Shades; the Intelligence, freed from mortal encumbrance, wandered through space; the Name, the Shadow, and the Heart awaited the arrival of the [Page 118]  Soul when its pilgrimage should be accomplished; and the Ka dwelt with the mummy in the sepulchre.

Now, the Ka is a very interesting personage. He is designated in the Egyptian writing by a special hieroglyph representing a pair of hands and arms upraised as if in adoration.

Such is the pictorial symbol of which the phonetic reading is "Ka." This name, or rather the conception represented by this name, has been variously interpreted by European Egyptologists. Dr. Brugsch, in his Hieroglyphic Dictionary, explains it as "the person, the individuality, the being." Professor Maspero, recognizing its incorporeal character, calls it "the double." Mr. Le Page Renouf (32) likens it to the "eidolon" of the Greeks, the "genius" of the Romans; and Dr. Wiedemann has lately written an interesting paper to show that it was not the person, but what he calls "the personality" or "individuality" of the deceased–meaning thereby that which distinguished him in life from other men; in other words, the mental impression which was evoked when his name was mentioned.

Widely as these definitions differ, their authors agree as to the shadowy nature of the Ka itself. They recognize that it was a Spectral Something, apart from the man's body, inseparable from him during life, surviving him after death, and destined to be reunited to him hereafter. So much is proved by a multitude of inscriptions–chiefly of a funerary character; for, although the Ka occasionally figures in historical texts, and with reference to living persons, he is invariably met with in memorial inscriptions, from the old Pyramid Period down to the comparatively recent time when the ancient religion was superseded by Christianity. Throughout that long time (namely, from about four thousand years before Christ to the reign of the Emperor Theodosius I., three hundred and seventy-nine years after Christ), one special formula, graven on funerary tablets, remained almost word for word the same. That formula was neither more nor less than an invocation addressed by the [Page 119]  deceased to all who might visit or pass by his tomb, imploring them to offer up a prayer on his account to Osiris, the god of the dead. This sounds curiously modern, reminding us of a similar prayer which we have all seen many a time in little village church-yards on the continent of Europe. The resemblance, however, does not go very far.

Jacques Bonhomme petitions you to say a Pater-noster for the repose of his soul; but the ancient Egyptian appealed to passers-by on behalf, not of his Soul, which was performing its pilgrimage in Hades, but of his Ka, which was the companion of his mummy in the tomb.

And what may we suppose he wanted for his Ka ? Peace, after the battle of life ? Loving remembrance on the part of those who survived him ?

Not at all. His supplication was of a far more material character. It was literally for the good things of this world–in a word, for what is expressively termed "a square meal." Take, for example, the literal translation of one of these post-mortem petitions from the funerary tablet of one Pepi-Na, who lived in the early part of the Sixth Dynasty, some three thousand five hundred years before our era.

(Sixth Dynasty.)

"O ye who live upon the earth!
Ye who come hither and are servants of the Gods!
Oh, say these words:

"Grant thousands of loaves, thousands of jars of wine, thousands of jars of beer, thousands of beeves, thousands of geese, to the Ka of the Royal Friend Pepi-Na, Superintendent of the Royal Household, and Superior of the Priests of the Pyramid of King Pepi!"

This is a very early specimen. We will now take a great leap of nearly three thousand years, to the Saïte Period–the period of Psammetichus and his dynasty–and turn to the tablet of one Napu, a priest of Thebes who lived and died about two thousand four hundred years ago. [Page 120] 

(Twenty-sixth Dynasty.)

Adoration to Osiris,
The Great God,
Lord of Abydos!

" May he grant sepulchral meals, beeves, geese, burnt incense, wine, beer, linen vestments, vegetables, and all good, pure, and sweet things to the Ka of the Holy Priest of Maut, Napu, Son of the Holy Priest of Maut, Asi, and of the Lady Mautemhatmest."

To multiply examples would be easy. Such funerary tablets are accumulated by hundreds in European museums. Some are elaborately carved in granite and basalt; some are painted on panels of acacia-wood. Some are from five to seven feet in height; others are about the size of an ordinary octavo volume. Few travellers come back from Egypt without one of these smaller tablets, and few private collections are without a specimen. But from the earliest to the latest, in the largest as well as in the smallest, the one most remarkable feature of the formula is the voracious appetite of the Ka. He is invariably clamoring for "beeves and geese, wine and beer," fruits, bread, and the like. And the proportions of his bill of fare put the most stupendous of civic banquets to shame. He asks for "thousands" of all these good things. An ox roasted whole would be of no more account to him than a beef-lozenge to an alderman. And it is yet more extraordinary that the Ka actually got what he asked for; though not, perhaps, to the full extent of his demands. The four oxen who dragged the funeral sledge to the tomb on the day of burial were slaughtered and cut up on the spot; gazelles and geese were also slain; and these, together with great sheaves of onions and cucumbers, and basket-loads of bread, corn, dates, nuts, and other eatables, as well as a number of large jars filled with wine, milk, water, and barley beer, were deposited in the sepulchral chamber, and there walled up with the mummy.

Now this, it is to be remembered, was not by way of a [Page 121]  sacrifice to the gods, nor yet for the benefit of the mummy. It was for the sustenance of the Ka. The mummy, in fact, is a very secondary personage in comparison with the Ka. The tomb itself is called the "House of the Ka"–not the house of the mummy. The food offerings thus buried were not supposed, however, to last the Ka for very long. They had to be periodically renewed. This was sometimes done by the descendants of the dead, who at stated dates deposited food and drink in the votive chapel attached to the tomb. But the wealthy Egyptian more commonly provided for the future of his Ka by bequeathing a portion of his estate to the priesthood, in prepayment for sepulchral meals in perpetuity. There are inscriptions in the Museum of Naples, and in the Louvre, which prove that these endowed offerings were kept up for many centuries.

From a tomb of the Fifth Dynasty.

Supposing, however, that unforeseen circumstances caused the endowment to lapse, the Ka had still a last resource in the piety of strangers. Such was the magical power of the formula engraved upon his funerary tablet that its mere repetition by a passer-by sufficed to insure a supply of ideal beeves and geese, ideal jars of wine and beer, ideal onions and cucumbers for the nourishment of the hungry Ka. By simply reading aloud the invocations of Pepi-Na and Napu [Page 122]  we may therefore at any moment replenish the larders of that worthy pair–a piece of good-fortune which has probably not befallen either of them for a considerable time.

And now a very curious question suggests itself, namely, why should the immaterial Ka stand in need of material meats and drinks ? It may, perhaps, be asked in return what that question has to do with the subject of ancient Egyptian portraiture ?

It has everything to do with it. It has to do with the portrait-statues immured in the walls of the tomb. It has to do with the portraits sculptured in bas-relief, or painted in distemper, on the inner chambers and passages of the tomb. It lies at the bottom of the whole history of portraiture.

Those statues and paintings, as it has already been said, were not memorial. When once the tomb was closed, they were never again to be seen by mortal eyes. With what object, then, were they fashioned ?

They were fashioned for the purpose of providing an artificial body for the Ka.

Opinions may differ as to the nature of the Ka itself–one regarding it as a ghost, another as a double, another as an "eidolon" or genius; but no Egyptologist doubts that all forms of portraiture in ancient Egypt were funerary, or that they were expressly designed for the accommodation of the Ka.

The Ka and the Body were inseparable till death dissolved their partnership. Once dead and mummified, the body was exposed to many dangers. The tomb might be broken open; the mummy might be burned, and scattered to the four winds of heaven; but so long as the statues remained intact in their hiding-places–so long as the painted portraits on the walls were not utterly defaced–the Ka had still a body to depend upon. Professor Maspero, conceiving of the Ka as a "double," supposed this double to need a material support on which to extend itself–as a glove, for instance, is extended on a wooden hand in a glove-maker's shop. But I have recently ventured to suggest another [Page 123]  explanation of the nature of the Ka, which seems to me not only more satisfactory from a metaphysical point of new, but which also places in our hands a key to the interpretation of many texts which till now have been hopelessly obscure.

I believe that the Ka stood, not for the genius or double, but for the life –in other words, for the vital principle. I have been led to this conclusion by the evidence of certain sculptures and inscriptions of which the exact sense seems, from my point of view, to have escaped observation. If, however, the nature of this evidence is to be explained, no matter how popularly and briefly, it becomes necessary to enter into a few preliminary details.

I must first point out that every reigning Pharaoh had three names: (1) his personal, or family name, being the same by which he was known when but a prince; (2) his "throne-name," or "solar-name," assumed on his accession, and indicating his divine descent from the god Ra; (3) his "banner-name," or "standard-name," so called because enclosed in an upright rectangular frame, like a banner, decorated with a margin of vertical strokes at the lower end, somewhat resembling a fringe. Now, Mr. Petrie * has recently shown that this misnamed "standard" is neither more nor less than an abridged representation of the "false door" of a tomb–such a door as was sculptured, or painted, on the walls of the upper chamber in which funerary food-offerings were deposited. These fictitious doors were supposed to lead to the equally fictitious apartment of the Ka; and it was through them that he passed to and fro to feed upon the "beeves and geese" and other good things provided for his sustenance. Mr. Petrie has conclusively demonstrated the accuracy of his interpretation by numerous examples from monuments of all periods, some of these "standards" actually showing the hinges, bolts, and bars of the imitation [Page 124]  door. The so-called "standard" being the abridged representation of the door supposed to give access to the imaginary chamber of the Ka, Mr. Petrie was at once led to the further discovery that the standard-name was in reality the Ka-name of the King. Hence it followed that each sovereign, on succeeding to the throne, not only assumed a throne-name, but took also a name for his Ka. The throne-name was enclosed in a royal oval, or cartouche, like the family-name; but the Ka-name was represented as if inscribed above the false door-way, just where the name of a deceased person would be inscribed above the actual door of his sepulchre. It may seem strange, perhaps, that a living Pharaoh should emblazon part of the decoration of his tomb among the insignia of his royalty; but that tomb, it is to be remembered, was the destined abode, not only of his mummy, but of his Ka. Consequently, no better device could be employed by way of substitute for a royal oval than the rectangular framework enclosing a representation of the false door inscribed with the Ka-name. The tomb itself, as already stated, is known in funerary texts as the "House of the Ka"; and as each king on his accession began immediately to build his pyramid or excavate his rock-cut sepulchre, it followed that he was as much interested in providing for the future accommodation of his Ka as in providing for the future accommodation of his mummy. Many texts point, however, to the fact that Ka-houses were erected by the Egyptians for the worship and service of their Kas, independently of their tombs; * so that, after all, the false door represented in a royal Ka-name may as probably stand for the false door of a Ka-chamber in a royal votive chapel, as for the false door of a Ka-chamber in the sepulchre. It would seem, from the absence of any record to the contrary, that the Kas of private persons were either nameless, or called by the names of those persons; and that the King alone was [Page 125]  entitled to a special and separate name for his Ka. Some Pharaohs, indeed, took more than one Ka-name, Amenhotep III. indulging in no less than seven.

Now, as I have already said, the Ka occasionally figures in historical texts, and with reference to living persons. This is especially true of royal persons, the King or Queen being frequently represented as attended by his or her Ka, which is sometimes shown as a duplicate, or alter ego, of the individual, and sometimes as a male figure with the Ka-arms, and Ka-name on its head. In the Museum of Leyden, for instance, there is a group of three figures, representing Queen Mertetefs, * her Ka, and her secretary, the Queen and her Ka being in all respects duplicate statues. At Dayr el-Bahari, on the other hand, Queen Hatasu is shown in Pharaonic costume, her Ka standing behind her in the guise of a small bearded man crowned with the Ka-arms and Ka-name of the Queen. He grasps the ankh and feather of Ma in his right hand, and a human-headed staff in his left. The features of the Ka, and of the head upon his staff are identical with the features of the Queen. In a very curious series of tableaux sculptured on the walls of one of the inner halls of the Great Temple of Luxor, we find, however, the most interesting and instructive of all these royal Ka subjects. They relate to the birth and bringing-up of Amenhotep III., the founder of the temple, and they date, consequently, from the latter half of the Eighteenth Dynasty. In the first of these bas-reliefs we see the Queen-mother Mautemua kneeling on a kind of dais, having just given birth to the royal infant. Hathor kneels facing her, with the babe in her arms, and a second Hathor, with a second babe in her arms, kneels behind the first. This second babe is the Ka of the first babe. Over the head of the first (the actual [Page 126]  Amenhotep) are engraved his two royal ovals, while the space above the head of the infant-Ka is left vacant. Most curious of all, however, is the Ka of the Queen-mother, represented as a kneeling female figure with the Ka-arms on its head; while from each of these Ka-arms is suspended an ankh, or symbol of life. The meaning here is obvious. The child is but just born, and the maternal Ka presides over the lives of both mother and child. Below the dais we see the child Amenhotep and the child-Ka, both in the act of being suckled by Hathor, in the shape of the divine cow. *

In the next subject, the two Hathors present the two children to the goddess Safekh, the patron deity of libraries, who dips her reed-pen in an inkpot, preparatory to recording the name of the Ka-infant in the royal archives; the names of the actual prince being already inscribed above his head in two ovals. The Ka-child, meanwhile, carries his name-frame on his head, but the field is vacant. Lastly, the child-prince and the child-Ka are presented by Ra to Amen-Ra, the great god of Thebes; while behind Ra stands the god Nilus, also carying the child-prince and the child-Ka, the former with his two royal ovals above his head, and the latter crowned with the Ka-stand and Ka-name. Behind this Nilus advances yet another Nilus, carrying three "ankhs" tied together in his right hand–an "ankh," evidently, for each of the royal names, i.e., the family-name, throne-name, and Ka-name of the infant Amenhotep.

Now, in these tableaux it is to be observed that there is a close and significant association of the Ka with the "ankh;" the "ankh" figured thus, being the current hieroglyph for "life."

If we next turn to the storied walls of the Great Temple of Karnak, and examine some of the famous battle-pieces illustrating the career of Seti I., about a century later, we [Page 127]  find this connection between the Ka and the ankh yet more distinctly emphasized.

In these elaborate chronicles in stone, we see the hero attacking fortresses, charging the enemy, trampling the vanquished under his chariot-wheels, and slaughtering all before him. The goddess Maut, in the form of a vulture, and the "hut," or disk of Horus, hover above his head: while behind him, floating apparently in mid-air, we see the "ankh" and Ka conjoined, the Ka-arms grasping a lotus-star surmounted by an ostrich feather. * In some scenes, the united "ankh" and Ka become the head and arms of a tiny figure which holds a parasol or feather-fan outstretched towards the King. Now, the "hut" (which is the sun-disk flanked on either side by the uræi, or royal basilisks) is the emblem of Horus the Victor, and it symbolizes the triumph of the King; while Maut, the mother-goddess, protects the royal warrior with her outspread wings. What, then, is the meaning of the fantastic little figure which waves a feather-fan, or holds a parasol ? As I take it, the meaning is very obvious.

The Ka no longer carries the "ankh," as before, but is identified and made one with it, thus standing for the life of the King. The flabellum or parasol, frequently represented as carried over the King's head in processional subjects, is not only used in religious texts to symbolize the Shade or Shadow (one of the essential and immortal parts of the man), [Page 128]  but it also signifies protection, defence, shelter, etc. * Held thus in the arms of the Ka, it means protection to his life in the peril of battle–such protection as is also symbolized by the out-spread wings of the vulture-goddess above.

There is yet another class of monuments, connected with neither birth nor peril of death, in which the Ka figures very conspicuously; namely, in scenes of worship. In these, the Ka appears as if in attendance upon the King, and always with the "ankh" in one or both hands. Also–and this is a point of great importance–he has generally a short inscription over his head. In this inscription he is expressly designated as "Suten Ka, Ankh Neb Taui;" i. e., "Royal Ka, Life [of the] Lord of the Two Lands"–an inscription of which the meaning is absolutely clear, and which is of itself, I venture to think, a positive testimony to the correctness of my interpretation. Thus, in a bas-relief group in the Great Temple of Luxor, Amenhotep III., followed by his Ka, is depicted in the act of advancing towards the god Khem with a libation-vase in each hand, his Ka standing behind him in human form, with the Ka-name on his head, surmounted by the pschent-crowned hawk, emblem of Horus. The Ka-figure carries the "ankh" in one hand, and in the other, the customary staff terminating in a bust of the King. Over his head is graven the above-named formula: "The Royal Ka, Life of the Lord of the Two Lands." So also at Dayr el-Bahari, the Ka-figure standing behind Queen Hatasu bears the Ka-name on his head, the "ankh" in his right hand, and the staff surmounted by the royal bust in his left hand. Above him is engraved the self-same inscription: "The Royal Ka, Life of the Lord of the Two Lands."

In addition to this close and invariable association of the Ka and the "ankh," there is yet another corroborative point to be noted, namely, the persistent recurrence of the bull [Page 129]  (also called Ka, and expressive of vital energy) in royal Ka-names, beginning with the Ka-name of Thothmes I., and continuing to be incorporated in the Ka-name of almost every succeeding Pharaoh of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth dynasties. *

The evidence is abundant and uniform. The Ka-figure always carries the "ankh;" the bull (Ka) figures significantly in a large number of royal Ka-names; and the Ka-figure in the titular inscription by which it is invariably accompanied, is expressly defined as the "life" of the King. The words of this inscription are of elementary simplicity, and admit of no other interpretation.

It is for these reasons–supported by many more illustrations than can be crowded into this volume–that I have ventured to define the Ka as the life, or vital principle. In other words, I mean that transmitted energy which must undoubtedly have descended from the primal source of life to all who live, or have lived, upon earth.

Seeing how subtly the ancient Egyptians resolved the living man into what may be called his constituent parts, it would be strange if they had omitted that informing principle which alone makes of those constituent parts a co-ordinate whole. And if the Ka is not the life, then the Egyptians altogether omitted the life from their careful analysis, which is inconceivable. [Page 130] 

It has, however, been said, and with truth, by Dr. Wiedemann that the ancient Egyptian was incapable of conceiving abstract ideas; hence it follows that he necessarily conceived of vitality as a separate entity. We ourselves speak figuratively of the life as "going out of the body" at the moment of death; but the Egyptians believed not only that it went out, but that it thenceforth led an independent existence. They knew that the living man nourished his life–his Ka–with meats and drinks; and they naturally and naively concluded, from their concrete point of view, that meats and drinks were necessary to the existence of the Ka when its partnership with the body should be dissolved. It was, in fact, because the Ka was the life that it required nourishment; and because it was of divine origin that it survived the death of the body. The starvation of the Ka was therefore a more grievous calamity than the destruction of the body. The body could be replaced by a statue, or even by a painting; but the extinction of the Ka meant the extinction of the divine spark–the annihilation of the dead man's prospects of ultimate reunion with his Ka. In a word, it meant the loss of immortality.

Translate Ka, then, as "life," and the Ka-statue becomes more intelligible than heretofore. The life needed a body in which to abide, just as it needed bread, meats, fruit, wine, and milk for its sustenance. The Ka informed the statue, dwelt within it, felt through it, just as the life informs, dwells in, and feels through the living body. Lacking funerary offerings, it suffered all the pangs of starvation; and it was to guard against this dreaded possibility that the Egyptians provided for its material nourishment by means of pious foundations in perpetuity.

The astonishing way in which these foundations were maintained from age to age, from dynasty to dynasty, is proved by the funerary inscriptions of priestly personages who officiated for kings of bygone periods. The Museum of the Louvre, for instance, contains the tablet of one Psammetichus of the Twenty-sixth Dynasty, who flourished [Page 131]  about 600 B.C., and held the office of Priest of Khufu, the builder of the Great Pyramid; Khufu having reigned and died at least two thousand six hundred years before.

Now, it is a most remarkable and interesting truth that the ancient Egyptians were the first, the very first, people of antiquity who believed in the immortality of the soul. That is a cardinal fact which we must never omit to place to their credit. But they believed also in the immortality of the rest of the man–in the literal resurrection of the body, and in the ultimate reunion of Body, Soul, Intelligence, Name, Shadow, and Ka–which last I venture to call the Life. What they conceived the life to be, I cannot say.

We ourselves, with all our science, have never yet solved the physical problem of vitality. The Greeks conceived of it as a spark of divine fire, stolen by Prometheus from heaven. Probably the Egyptians believed it to be an emanation from Ra, the great solar god, from whom their Pharaohs claimed direct descent. It may be that the Greeks borrowed this "vital spark," as they borrowed so much else, from the Egyptians; and I do not doubt that the Hebrews–who carried away even more intellectual spoils than spoil of silver and gold and raiment out of the Land of Bondage–were indebted to their taskmasters for their doctrine of the "Khai," or life. They in fact borrowed not only the notion but the word, for "Kha" and "Khai" are surely one and the same.

One of the most solemn judicial oaths which an Egyptian could take was by the Ka of the Pharaoh; and to take that oath lightly was punishable by death. Seeing that the Ka was the life, and that the King's life was from Ra, the greatest of the solar gods, the tremendous character of this oath is easily understood. It was in this sense, and the more to impress his brethren with the extent of his power, that Joseph twice invoked the life of the King his master; and for my own part, I have not the slightest doubt that what he actually said was, "By the Ka of Pharaoh, surely [Page 132]  ye are spies !" * If I appear to dwell at too much length upon this sermon on the text of the Ka, I at all events hope to show that it explains much which would otherwise be inexplicable in the origin of the art of portraiture. It explains, for instance, the reason why Egyptian portrait sculpture differs in its primary conception from the portrait sculpture of all other nations. Elsewhere, men began by making images of their gods that they might fall down and worship them. The earliest works of Chaldean and Assyrian art represent deities and demons. The archaic sculptors of Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Greece first tried their 'prentice hands on gods, demigods and deified heroes. But the fine art of the first period of Egyptian history–the period of the Pyramid Kings–is exclusively funerary; and it reproduces, with extraordinary fidelity, the men and women of that age.


In order that the Ka should feel at home in his new body of stone or wood, the statue was bound to be as exactly like the man as the sculptor's art could make it. If the man was ugly, the statue must also be ugly. If he had any personal defect, the statue must faithfully reproduce it; as, for [Page 133]  instance, in this funerary statue of Nemhotep, a deformed dwarf who held a high office at court under a Pharaoh of the Sixth Dynasty. The sculptor of a Ka-statue dared not flatter. He might not model the best side of the sitter's face, and then make the other side to match it, like our fashionable artists. That is not nature's way of working. Put the loveliest woman in the world before a looking-glass, peep over her shoulder, and you will see that one eye is larger than the other; or that her nose, or her mouth, is a little to one side. Our powers of observation are, however, so blunted, that without the looking-glass we should not find this out. But those old Egyptian artists lived while the world was yet young. Their eyes were not vitiated by custom, and their sitters (actuated by a motive in which personal vanity had no part) were not anxious to be flattered. The welfare of the Ka was at stake; and the portrait was destined, not for the annual exhibition of a Memphite Royal Academy, but for the tomb.

That these early funerary portrait-statues were studied from the life, admits of no doubt. The technical treatment proves that point. And it is this certainty–the certainty that the living man sat to the artist for his likeness–which makes the unique value of the early Memphite school. Later on, when Asiatic influences were at work in Egypt, an element of Asiatic conventionality makes itself felt in Egyptian portraiture. But the singular skill with which Egyptian artists of all periods seized upon, and reproduced, the ethnic types of foreign races has never been surpassed. It shows that however they may have been influenced by fashion in their treatment of historical portraiture, their power of literal portraiture remained unimpaired.

The leading schools of Egyptian art are classified under the heads of either dynasties or capitals, a change of dynasty generally involving a change of capital. It thus followed that Memphis was at one time the centre of government; at another time Tanis; at another time Thebes, Bubastis, and so on. Thus we have the Memphite school of art, [Page 134]  which was the earliest; the Twelfth Dynasty school, the Theban school, the Saïte school, and some minor schools of less note. The rise and fall of these various schools mark a succession of decadences and renaissances of art, each renaissance being distinguished by its own special characteristics. All these schools, all these renaissances, had, nevertheless, one essential principle in common: they were primarily exponents of the religious idea. In the hands of the sculptor and the painter, the gods were made manifest to the eyes of their worshippers; the terrors of Hades and the delights of Elysium were depicted with curious minuteness of detail; and the art of portraiture continued to be, from first to last, the concrete expression of one of the most singular, obscure, and fantastic religious beliefs which was ever inculcated by a priesthood, or by which the mind of a people was influenced. For every sculptured statue, every painted portrait, whether of a living person or of a dead person, was regarded as a supplementary body dedicated to the service of the Ka.

And this strange dogma which we have traced from its earliest known beginnings, four thousand years before the Christian era, retained its hold upon the minds of the Egyptians, and continued to be enforced as a cardinal article of faith by the Egyptian priesthood, till the abolition of the ancient national religion by the edict of Theodosius, A.D. 379.

One of the most surprising facts by which we are confronted when beginning the study of ancient Egyptian portrait sculpture is the immense superiority of the earliest school, when compared with the schools of later periods. It is in this respect that the history of art in the Valley of the Nile differs most strikingly from the history of art in any other country of the ancient world. When we speak, for instance, of an archaic Greek statue, we mean by implication a stiff figure with a vacant expression of face, eyes set aslant, a meaningless smile, rigid limbs, and muscles abnormally developed. But when we speak of an Egyptian statue of the time of the Ancient Empire–that is to say, of the most ar- [Page 135]  chaic period known–we refer to a figure modelled direct from the life, and treated on ultra-naturalistic lines. We now know why the art of the Memphite school was so essentially realistic. We now know that these statues are, one and all, Ka-statues, and that the sculptors who produced them were governed by the necessity of providing a faithful likeness for the benefit of the Ka. But the marvel of their execution remains the same. We in vain ask how long a period of foregone civilization must have elapsed before the art can have attained to this high degree of excellence. We only know that the earliest work of Egyptian sculpture to which it is possible to put an approximate date is a funerary tablet in bas-relief belonging to the remote period of the Second Dynasty, * and that it is not inferior to similar works executed under the Fourth Dynasty. It is impossible even to conjecture the length of time during which the Egyptians must have been gradually working their way upward through higher and higher levels of civilization, in order to arrive at these results. When we first become acquainted with them as sculptors and builders, they are already adults; and as yet we have found no relics of their infancy.

The oldest historical portrait-statue yet discovered is that of Queen Mertetefs, wife of Seneferu, the last king of the Third Dynasty, and wife, by her second marriage, to Khufu, the first king of the Fourth Dynasty, who was no less famous a personage than the builder of the Great Pyramid. The statue is one of a limestone group of three figures, representing Queen Mertetefs, her Ka, and a priest named Kennu, who was her private secretary. The Queen and her Ka [Page 136]  sit side by side, and are exactly alike, the flesh-tints being painted buff, and the hair black. Queen Mertetefs survived her second husband, and lived to hold three important offices under her nephew Khafra, who was the second king of the Fourth Dynasty, and builder of the second pyramid of Ghizeh. She was "Administrator of the Great Hall of the Palace, Mistress of the Royal Wardrobe, and Superintendent of the Chamber of Wigs and Head-dresses." Her name, Mertetefs, signifies "beloved of her father."

From a bas-relief sculpture in hits tomb at Ghizeh. Photographed by Mr. W. M. Flinders Petrie.

Contemporary with Queen Mertetefs was Khufu-Ankh, a great nobleman of the time of Khufu, whose tomb is in the shadow of the Great Pyramid, and whose magnificent sarcophagus is preserved in the Museum of Ghizeh. Khufu-Ankh was keeper of the Royal Seal; and he is represented in the bas-relief sculptures on the walls of his tomb attended [Page 137]  by his servants. Later in point of date, but on the same plane as regards technique, is the example below of bas-relief sculpture from the tomb of one Semnefer, also in the Necropolis of Ghizeh. Semnefer lived about two hundred and fifty years later than Queen Mertetefs; and we have here the profile portraits of himself and his wife, the Lady Hotep-hers. The heads of all these Fourth Dynasty personages are marked by that child-like simplicity which distinguishes the archaic school, and they place before us with much fidelity the ethnological type of the earliest Egyptians. There is not a drop of negro blood in this race. Their noses are slightly arched; their lips are full and well turned; their chins are short; their jaws are delicate; their heads high, and well rounded.

From a bas-relief sculpture in the tomb of Semnefer at Ghizeh. Photographed by Mr. W. M. Flinders Petrie.

To about the same date belong the statues of General Ra-hotep and his wife, Princess Nefert, on the following page. [Page 138]  This old-world couple have been largely popularized of late years in various illustrated books treating of ancient Egyptian art; but they cannot be spared from any typical series of the Memphite school. In General Ra-hotep we behold a stalwart, square-cut, sturdy man of the same racial type as Semnefer. The brow is well developed; the nose is sharply cut and slightly arched; the cheek-bones are high; the lips are full; the chin is small; the brain-case is of ample size. He was a man, one would say, of strong common-sense and determination of character.

Painted limestone statues, life-size, discovered at Meydûm, and attributed by Mariette to the time of Seneferu, Third Dynasty. Professor Maspero assigns them, however, to a later period.

The features of his wife, Princess Nefert, though cast in a more delicate and aristocratic mould, are marked by the [Page 139]  same physiological traits; and it is evident, from these and other examples of the same period, that the Egyptians of the Ancient Empire were a strongly built, massive-headed race, with well-defined noses, high cheekbones, and full lips.

These statues are carved in fine limestone, seated, and colored. The flesh-tints of Nefert are buff, and those of Ra-hotep reddish-brown; the buff representing the fairer complexion of the woman, while the darker hue of the man is intended to convey the results of exposure to the sun. The eyes of both are inserted, the whites being of opaque white quartz, and the iris of transparent crystal. A small silver nail fixed behind the iris receives and reflects the light, thus imitating the shifting light of the living orb.

Called "The Wooden Man of Bûlak."

The famous statue known as the "Wooden Man of Bûlak" is about half life-size. It represents a stout, commonplace, elderly Egyptian named Ra-em-ka, who was an overseer of public works in the time of the Fourth Dynasty. He must have witnessed the building of one or other of the great pyramids of Ghizeh, and he probably superintended the workmen at their toil. It is a good-natured, contented face, carefully studied from the life; and the eyes, like those of Ra-hotep and Nefert, are inserted.

Long admixture with Asiatic blood has so thinned down the race that a fat native is now one of the rarest of Egyptian curiosities; but elderly men of very comfortable proportions are frequently represented in the sculptures of the early school. The treatment of this admirable head is so masterly that one scarcely notices how the wood is split [Page 140]  in every direction; but that it should be thus split is not wonderful if we remember that the tree which was felled to make this statue, and the man who sat for it, flourished nearly six thousand years ago.

In marked contrast to the plebeian type of Ra-em-ka is the limestone statue of one Ti, a courtly gentleman of the Fifth Dynasty. No less than nineteen statues of Ti were found immured in the substance of the walls of his tomb, which is one of the most beautiful in Egypt. The figure stands about seven feet high, the flesh-tints being of a pale brick-dust color, and the wig yellow. The pose of the head is spirited, and the expression of the face is open and lifelike. Ti's shoulders are very square, his arms long, his body slender; this being the characteristic type of the well-grown fellah of the present day. The muscles of the arms and thorax are excellently rendered. With the statues of the master were frequently buried statues of his servants, that they might continue to wait upon him and work for him in the world beyond the tomb.(35) These statues generally represent the servant as engaged in his or her daily work–making bread, carrying burdens, washing out wine-jars, and the like. Our next example was found in the tomb of a gentleman of the Fifth Dynasty, and it represents a household scribe. This humble dependent kneels with crossed hands, as though awaiting his lord's instructions. His vacant and deprecating smile expresses the patient resignation of a life of servitude. He has no will, and no opinions of his own. His back is well acquainted with the time-honored "stick," and he is so well trained in the virtues of obedience and submission that he not only takes his punishment without a murmur, but is ready to kiss the hand by which it is administered.

The "Cross-legged Scribe" (p. 143) belongs to the same class and the same period. He is a man of about forty years of age, plain-featured, intelligent, a little more fleshy and less muscular than one who has lived the life of the fields, yet hardy and active. He is writing to dictation, and he [Page 141]  waits, pen in hand, till the next sentence shall fall from the lips of his employer. The face is instinct with attention. The eyes are inserted. The hands, the knees, the muscles of the arms and body are sculptured with minute anatomical exactness. This is one of the most celebrated of ancient Egyptian statues, and, fortunately, the original of our illustration can be seen without a journey to Cairo, for it is in the Museum of the Louvre.

In the Museum of Ghizeh.

With the Memphite school we bid good-bye to the first, and in some respects the finest, period of Egyptian portraiture. It was, par excellence, the one great realistic school of the ancient world, and it owed its inspiration to that extraordinary dogma which necessitated the making of an artificial body for the Ka. This dogma, as I have said, continued in force as long as the Egyptian religion lasted; but its influence upon the art of the sculptor is more manifest in the time of the Ancient Empire than at any subsequent period. Seeing how marvellously life-like these earliest Ka-statues are, one would almost be tempted to say that the faith which inspired their makers was more vivid than the faith of later times. They are, as it were, informed with something of that vitality which they were supposed to enshrine. When Mariette's [Page 142]  Arabs opened the tomb in which the statues of Nefert and Ra-hotep were discovered, they first drew back in terror; and then, believing them to be inhabited by demons, were with difficulty restrained from smashing them. Their alarm was natural enough. Looking into the eyes of this wonderful pair, and seeing how the light shifts in their liquid depths, it is difficult not to believe that they look at us, even as we look at them, and that their gaze is not following us as we move from group to group in the hall of the museum where they sit enthroned. But how strangely and luridly those eyes of quartz and crystal must have gleamed from the depths of that dark sepulchre of Meydûm into which no ray of daylight had found its way for nearly six thousand years !

Limestone statue, Fifth Dynasty. In the Museum of Ghizeh.

Up to the time when Mariette discovered the secret Ka-chambers in the massive walls of the tombs of the Ancient Empire, there had prevailed an entirely erroneous notion as to the characteristics of Egyptian sculpture. It was believed to be wholly conventional, stiff, and unnatural; and this sweeping condemnation was applied without distinction to the art of all periods. It, however, needs but a glance at one of the masterpieces of [Page 143]  the early Memphite school–or even at the foregoing illustrations–to dispel that prejudice. Yet we must be careful not to claim too much for even the sculptors of the "Cross-legged Scribe" or the "Wooden Man." Their skill was in many respects quite marvellous; but it had its limitations.

Limestone statue, colored, half life-size. In the Museum of the Louvre.

If I might venture somewhat to paraphrase one of Sir Charles Newton's happiest definitions, (36) I would say that the sculptors of ancient Egypt never grappled with some of the most difficult problems which were solved by the sculptors of ancient Greece. They lacked that fine insight which enabled a Praxiteles and a Phidias to detect the whole internal organism beneath the bodily surface. They never succeeded, perhaps, in thoroughly expressing the relation be- [Page 144]  tween those muscles which are the sources of motive power, and the bones which supply leverage. Neither did they attempt to represent the texture and elasticity of the skin, which clothes, yet does not hide, the structure beneath the surface. But they did perceive, and they did correctly reproduce, the general effect and proportions of the human form. They indicated with remarkable skill all its most salient features, such as the muscles of the legs, arms, and thorax, and the modelling of the knees; yet, strange to say, they never attained to even a moderate degree of success in their treatment of the hands and feet. These are always wooden and ill-proportioned.

Colossal head in red granite, from the ruins of the Great Temple of Tanis.
Photographed by Mr. W. M. F. Petrie.

Take them, however, with all [Page 145]  their shortcomings, the old Memphite sculptors were of that stuff of which the early Florentine school was made some fifty-five centuries later. As for portraiture, properly so called, namely, heads, faces, expression, and that indescribable something which indicates character –or in other words, the outward modifications wrought upon the features by the workings of the mind–no artists of any age have therein excelled the sculptors of the Ancient Empire.

(Supposed to be Salatis.) Sculptured in black granite, and discovered by Mariette at Tell Mokhdam, in the Fayûm.

The next great school of Egyptian portrait sculpture is that of the Middle Empire, which culminated under the Twelfth Dynasty.

The sculptors of this age excelled in the skill with which they cut and polished the hardest stones, such as basalt, diorite, and granite. A vast crowd of Twelfth Dynasty Pharaohs, their queens and families, carved in these obdu- [Page 146]  rate materials have been found in the ruins of the great temples of Tanis and Bubastis. Unfortunately, most of them have been usurped by the kings of later periods, who have erased the names of the originals and substituted their own. These grand statues are chiefly of colossal size, and are almost invariably mutilated. A royal portrait-statue of the Twelfth or Thirteenth Dynasty with its royal nose intact is a rara avis.

From the ruins of the Great Temple of Tanis, and now in the Museum of Ghizeh. Black granite. Photographed by Mr. W. M. F. Petrie.

During the interval which elapsed between the Thirteenth and Seventeenth dynasties, Egypt was overrun by a barbarian host from beyond the Eastern border, and so lost her liberty for nearly five hundred years. This dark interval is known as the Hyksôs Period, or the time of the Shepherd Kings. The invaders were a mixed multitude of warlike tribes from Mesopotamia, Syria, Arabia, and that vast dis- [Page 147]  trict known in a later age as the two Scythias. These hungry hordes were led by a race of Turanian type who founded the so-called Hyksôs dynasties, and portraits of certain of their kings have been preserved to us in Egyptian sculptures of that period. They were a race of hard-featured warriors, with wide and high cheek-bones, open nostrils, and mouths curved sternly downward at the corners.

The broken fragments of several of these sphinxes yet strew the ruins of the Great Temple of Tanis. They are all duplicates of the one in the Museum of Gizeh. In the above illustration we see the fore part of two, and beyond them the broken halves of a red granite obelisk of Rameses II. Photographed by Mr. W. M. F. Petrie.

We have on page 145 a full-face view of a colossal fragment found in the Fayûm. It is believed to be a portrait of Salatis, the first king of the Hyksôs line. His heavy plaited wig is quite unlike the wig worn by the Egyptians, and he wears uncouth ornaments of barbaric style. Battered though it [Page 148]  is, this rugged face is thoroughly representative. The high cheek-bones, the saturnine expression, and the curious muscular bosses at the corners of the mouth are especially characteristic of the Hyksôs race.

Colossal head in limestone, discovered in the ruins of the Great Temple of Karnak and preserved in the Museum of Ghizeh. From the drawing by Bourgoin in Perrot and Chipiez's Égypte.

The same racial characteristics are strongly marked in this profile of a human-headed sphinx found in the ruins of the Great Temple of Tanis. The type is distinctly Mongolian, and the skill with which the Egyptian sculptor has seized upon and reproduced it shows that the portrait sculptors of this period were in nowise inferior to their Memphite predecessors. It is probably a portrait of Apepi, the last and most celebrated of the Hyksôs usurpers.

By far the finest piece of portrait sculpture of the Hyksôs school is, however, the colossal sitting statue of a Hyksôs king discovered in 1888 by M. Naville, in the course of his excavations on the site of the Great Temple of Bubastis. This superb work of ancient art is one of a pair which were placed on either side of the great gate-way through which the Temple was approached; and as the names and titles of Apepi were sculptured on a doorjamb of that gate-way, close by the spot where the broken colossi were found, there would seem to be good reason for the assumption that we have in one or other of these statues, if [Page 149]  not in both a portrait of the famous tyrant of the First Sallier Papyrus.(37) The features of the pair are, however, very different; the one whose head is reproduced in the illustration on page 146 being the likeness of a man some twenty years the junior of his fellow. Which of the Hyksôs usurpers that elder figure may represent we cannot even guess; but the face of the younger is identical with the faces of the human-headed sphinxes of Tanis; and to them, as to him, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, we may provisionally assign the name of Apepi. (38)

From a group in red granite. Tanis. Photographed by Mr. W. M. F. Petrie.

The Theban princes rose at last, expelled the alien tyrants, and restored the descendants of the old Twelfth-Dy- [Page 150]  nasty Pharaohs. Then followed the glorious days of the Eighteenth Dynasty–a line of builder and warrior kings, in whose roll are numbered the great names of Thothmes III., Amenhotep III., and the renowned Queen Hatasu.

Bas-relief, from the Great Temple of Karnak. Photographed by Mr. W. M. F. Petrie.

In presenting this beautiful head as a portrait of Hatasu, it must be premised that it has already been attributed by Mariette to Queen Tii, the wife of Amenhotep III., and by Maspero to the wife of Horemheb. Seen in profile, however, this face is identical in outline with the profile of Queen Hatasu as sculptured upon one of the fragments of her broken obelisk at Karnak. Even the dimple in the chin, which is so conspicuous in the front face, is represented by a slight depression in the profile chin of the obelisk portrait. * I have [Page 151]  been furthermore informed that the above fragment was discovered under the débris of a small chamber at the back of one of Hatasu's obelisks in the ruins of the Great Temple of Karnak; and it is for these reasons that I venture to think that it can represent none other than the great queen herself. The rest of the statue is lost; but this precious fragment is one of the masterpieces of Egyptian art. The eyes laugh; the lips all but speak; and every feature is alive with a vivacious charm, which is ever the rarest achievement in sculpture. The size is colossal, and the material a fine, marble-like limestone.

Bas-relief, from his sepulchre in the Valley of the Tombs of the Kings at Thebes.
From a photograph by Mr. W. M. F. Petrie.

When we pass from the Eighteenth to the Nineteenth and Twentieth dynasties, we enter upon an entirely new phase of Egyptian art. Rameses I., the founder of the former line, [Page 152]  was of Semitic birth; and although his son, Seti I., wedded an Egyptian princess of the old royal line, the Pharaohs of his dynasty retained a marked Semitic type which affected the sculptors and figure-painters of the time in a very curious manner. Because Seti I. and Rameses II. had long noses, long heads, long bodies, and long legs, the artists of the Nineteenth Dynasty gave long noses, long heads, long bodies, and long legs to all their sitters; thus falsifying the national type, and introducing an element of great monotony into the art of the period.

Bas-relief, from his sepulchre in the Valley of the Tombs of the Kings, Thebes.
From a photograph by Mr. W. M. F. Petrie.

The history of portraiture, like the history of nations, repeats itself. In times comparatively recent, court beauties set the fashion in features, and court painters adapted all [Page 153]  fair faces to the prescribed pattern. It was so in the days of Charles II. and Louis XIV., and it was so in the far-off days of the Pharaohs.

From a bas-relief in his sepulchre, in the Valley of the Tombs of the Kings at Thebes. Photographed by Mr. W. M. F. Petrie.

The hereditary characteristics of the two Ramesside lines are nowhere more strikingly shown than in the numerous bas-relief portraits of royal personages sculptured on the walls of the great temples of Karnak and Medinet-Habû, and in the famous sepulchres of the Valley of the Tombs of the Kings. Of these, a few examples will suffice.

On page 149 is shown a head of Rameses the Great, from a group in red granite. This fine head (unfortunately mutilated) yet lies amid the ruins of Tanis. The nose being gone, we lose the Semitic profile, which, however, is well [Page 154]  seen in our illustration on page 150, taken from a beautiful bas-relief sculpture in the Great Temple of Karnak. In the first of these portraits the great Pharaoh wears the khepersch, or war-helmet, adorned in front with the uræus of royalty. This head-dress is sometimes represented in colored bas-reliefs as covered with panther-hide; and sometimes it is shown of a brilliant cobalt-blue, the surface studded with small yellow rings. This, perhaps, is intended to reproduce the effect of a copper helmet artificially colored by being plunged, when in a heated condition, into a sulphur spring, thus converting the surface into copper sulphide. This, if covered with amulets of gold, would have a beautiful effect. It is possible that copper thus colored was the Homeric kuanos.


In the second portrait Rameses wears a wig of close-laid curls, and on his brow the golden uræus. In both these sculptures the great Pharoah is represented at about eighteen years of age.

Our illustration on page 151 reproduces the features of Seti II., grandson of Rameses II., from his tomb in the same valley. This charming profile closely resembles the profile of his grandfather Rameses the Great. The reign of this prince was apparently long and un- [Page 155]  eventful. Several of his colossal portrait-statues are preserved in the museums of Europe, and his fine tomb in the Valley of the Tombs of the Kings at Thebes, yet contains his granite sarcophagus, carved on the lid with his full-length figure in bas-relief. But by far the most interesting monument of his reign is a fragile papyrus in the British Museum, containing the celebrated "Tale of the Two Brothers." This tale consists of two parts of different date, the first half being evidently very ancient, and the second showing by unmistakable internal evidence that it was composed under the Nineteenth Dynasty. According to the colophon, this papyrus was written by the hand of the royal librarian by order of the Chief of the Treasury, and it was apparently the King's own copy, being twice endorsed with his name on the back of the document. As the handwriting differs from that of the manuscript, these may be Seti's own autographs.

The family likeness of the Ramessides is perpetuated in a marked degree in the portrait of Siptah on page 152, a prince whose history is obscure, but who seems to have been a son of Seti II., and great-grandson of Rameses the Great. Siptah and his queen, contrary to the custom of Egyptian royalty, were buried in one grave.

With Rameses III., we enter upon the Twentieth Dynasty. Descended through his father from the Pharaohs of the preceding line, Rameses III. inherited not only the same Semitic type, but the same warlike tastes and the same passion for building. He was the last of the fighting Pharaohs, and with him the glory of Egypt expired. The first naval battle known to history was fought in his reign, and is pictured on the walls of his great temple in western Thebes. His tomb is one of the finest in the Valley of the Tombs of the Kings; his funerary papyrus, ninety feet long, is in the British Museum; and his mummy is in the National Egyptian Museum at Ghizeh. He was succeeded by nine kings of the name of Rameses. Several of these were his sons, and they seem to have followed each other with ominous ra- [Page 156]  pidity. The portrait is from the walls of his great temple at Medinet-Habû.


There was yet another variety of portrait sculpture which cannot be passed over in silence, and which was peculiarly an Egyptian art: namely, the portrait-masks carved in wood, with which the mummy-cases of this extraordinary people were decorated. Many of the portrait-masks are evidently carefully studied likenesses, and reproduce the features of the deceased with as much fidelity as do the portrait-statues and bas-relief subjects found in his tomb. One of the largest and most magnificent mummy-cases ever discovered is that of Queen Ahmes Nefertari, now in the Museum of Ghizeh. It is of colossal size, and it represents this celebrated royal lady as holding the "ankh" in each hand, while on her head she wears the helmet and plumes of Amen. The material of the mummy-case is the usual "cartonnage," consisting of [Page 157]  many layers of linen hardened together by glue, and coated outside with stucco. This cartonnage is impressed all over the arms, shoulders and head-dress, with a reticulated sexagonal pattern, which gives the surface the appearance of being honey-combed. Each little sexagonal hollow is painted blue, the groundwork being of a vivid yellow. The face, hands, and necklace are also painted blue.


This mask of Rameses II., from the lid of his wooden sarcophagus, is in the Museum of Ghizeh. The head, however, is not a contemporary portrait; neither does it faithfully reproduce the features of Rameses II.; but it is a very beautiful specimen of portrait sculpture in wood of the time of the Twenty-first Dynasty. The sarcophagus adorned with this wood-sculpture appears to have been made to receive the mummy of Rameses II., in the sixth year of the rule of Her-Hor Se-Amen, of the Twenty-first Dynasty, when the tombs of the earlier Pharaohs were visited by Government inspectors, and when (according to the entries inscribed on their coffins) the "funerary appointments" of Seti I. and Rameses II. were renewed by order of Her-Hor, then High-Priest of Amen, and afterwards king. (39) The features of this mask bear, however, a curious resemblance to the features of the little pen-portraits of Her-Hor in the great funerary papyrus of his mother, Queen Notem-Maut; and this furnishes us, perhaps, with a clue to its unwritten history. To give up his own tomb in favor of another, has ever been a distinguished mark of honor among the nations of the East;(40) and it is quite possible that Her-Hor may have given up to his illustrious predecessor the beautiful mummy-case made for his own mortal remains, when he too should be summoned to traverse the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


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* See Maspero's "Bulletin Critique de la Religion Égyptienne," in the Revue de l'Histoire des Religions, vol. xiii.

Die Unsterblichkeit der Seele nach altägyptischer Lehre.–Von A. Wiedemann.

[The Sahu, considered as only the "husk," may from this point of view be regarded as somewhat differing from the Khat, or body, which is the whole corporeal being.–A. B. E.]

[Page 123]

* A Season in Egypt. By W. M. Flinders Petrie. Chap. iv. 1888.

† See Egyptian Archaeology. By G. Maspero. Chap.iii., p.125. 1889.

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* Knumhotep, in the great Beni-Hassan inscription, states that he built chapels for the Ka of his father.

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* A queen of the Third and Fourth dynasties. She was wife of Seneferu, the last king of the Third Dynasty, and wife of Khufu (Cheops), the first king of the Fourth Dynasty, builder of the Great Pyramid.

† See Mariette's Deïr el-Bahari. Plate 6. The details of the false door are, however, omitted in Mariette's plate.

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* See Rossellini, Monumenti Storici. Plate xxxviii.

† Idem. Plate xxxix.

‡ Idem.

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* Rossellini, Monumenti Storici. Plate xlviii.

† Idem. Plates liv. and lv.

‡"On the Shade or Shadow of the Dead." By S. Birch, D.C.L., LL.D., etc. Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archæology. Vol. viii. Part 3. 1885.

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* S. Levi, Vocabolario Geroglifico. Vol. vi., p. 141.

† Rossellini, Monumenti Storici. Plate cli.

Deïr el-Bahari. Par Mariette-Bey. Planche 7.

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*"Life," as the translation of Ka, makes sense of a passage in The Book of the Dead (chap. xxx.), the obscurity of which was long since pointed out by Mr. Le Page Renouf. The deceased, addressing the heart-scarab, says, "Entuk Ka em Khat-a," which is currently rendered by, "Thou art a Ka in my body"–a phrase devoid of meaning if Ka be translated as "double" or "genius," but which is perfectly intelligible if read as, "Thou art life in my body," the heart being the most essentially vital of organs, and the heart-scarab being placed inside the chest of the mummy as a substitute for the actual heart. This scarab is invariably engraved with a special formula (chap. xxx., Book Of the Dead) beginning, "Oh, my heart, which came to me from my mother! my heart, which was mine upon earth," etc. The transmission of the life from mother to child points clearly to the true meaning of the above phrase, "Entuk Ka em Khat-a."

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* "Send one of you, and let him fetch your brother, and ye shall be kept in prison, that your words may be proved, whether there be any truth in you: or else by the life of Pharaoh surely ye are spies."– Genesis, xlii., 16. See also verse 15.

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* This tablet was found in the Necropolis of Sakkara, brought from Egypt by J. Greaves, an Oxford professor, about the middle of the seventeenth century, and presented to the Ashmolean Museum in 1683 by the Rev. R. Huntington. It is of the time of Senta, the thirteenth Pharaoh of the Second Dynasty.

† This statue, or rather the group of which it forms part, is among the Egyptian treasures of the Museum of Antiquities at Leyden.

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* See Profile of Hatasu, chap. viii.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom