Like other artists of his generation who painted classical subjects for exhibition at the Royal Academy, Long was fascinated by the rituals and costumes of the Ancient Egyptians and throughout the 1870s and 1880s he painted a series of paintings of female figures in Egyptian costume, including Sacred to Pasht of 1886 and Alethe, Attendant of the Sacred Ibis of 1888 (Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, Bournemouth) and Propriating the Deity of 1889 (present whereabouts unknown). In each of these pictures, votaries of various Egyptian gods are in the act of making supplication. Unlike Long's earlier Egyptian subjects from the 1870s, namely An Egyptian Feast of 1877 (Cartwright Hall Art Gallery, Bradford), The Gods and their Makers of 1878 (Towneley Hall Art Gallery and Museum, Burnley) and the contemporary Anno Domini, The Flight into Egpyt of 1883 (Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, Bournemouth) which present a more grandiose form of history painting with complex multi-figural groups, the pictures of the 1880s are more simple and focused upon a single figure.
A Votary of Isis depicts one of the priestesses of the ancient Egyptian Goddess of Love, swathed in a diaphanous gown and bedecked with a golden headband a necklace of beads and turquoise faience scarabs. Behind her is a wall painted with hieroglyphs and female figures and a decorative border of lotus flowers below. It is likely that the picture began its existence as a study for the head of the central figure in one of Long's most beautiful Egyptian subject paintings Love's Labour Lost of 1885 (FIG. 1 Dahesh Museum of Art, New York).
In ancient Egyptian mythology Isis was the wife and sister of Osiris and mother of Horus. She was worshipped as the perfect embodiment of womanhood as the supreme mother and wife. Unlike other deities the cult of Isis was not centralised and her temples were widespread throughout the Nile delta and further afield in Greece and through the lands of the Roman Empire. It is known that both priests and priestesses worshipped in the temples of Isis and they had powers of interpretation and healing and were believed to be able to control the weather by plaiting and weaving their hair (Egyptians believed knots to have special powers).
The copyrite of A Votary of Isis was purchased by Arthur Tooth and Sons, presumably with the intention that it would be made into a print. Tooth also bought the copyrite of another painting with identical dimensions, entitled The Neophyte which may have been intended to be a pendant to A Votary of Isis. It is also possible The Neophyte and A Votary of Isis are alternative titles for the same picture.
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