During Egypt’s 25th Dynasty the Nubian pharaohs sought to revive earlier art styles. This sculpture, with its elaborately curled wig, looks back to the New Kingdom, but the artist combined it with the studied musculature that was a hallmark of the Kushite aesthetic. This studied archaism points to the 25th Dynasty or the very beginning of the 26th.
Although the name is not preserved, the inscription that remains on the statue identifies the man as a priest in the Temple of Mut in Karnak. He would have been holding before him a dedication, possibly a giant sistrum, emblematic of a goddess.
It has been suggested by Jack Josephson that the individual represented here was Nesptah, the son of Mentuemhat, the powerful mayor of Thebes during the late 25th Dynasty (Michael C. Carlos Museum Bulletin, Fall/Winter, 2011, p. 15).
The Nubian kings made many additions to the Karnak complex, including the great first pylon, as well as significant constructions in the Mut Temple. Taharqa created a processional way leading from a gate in the newly built western wall of the precinct to the temple, and Mentuemhat built a small chapel in the eastern wall. In recent years the remains of at least two other private chapels dedicated to him and to his son Nesptah have been uncovered.
Indeed the sculpture closely resembles a head of Mentuemhet, now in the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago (no. 31723) that joins the upper part of a torso in the Brooklyn Museum (16.580.186). Both wear an intricately carved double wig that is topped by finely rendered striations of hair in horizontal waves over echeloned curls. The stylistic similarity may be intentional as is shown in a double sculpture of Mentuemhat and Nesptah now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (JE 37176/CG 42241), as he was being groomed to succeed him in the all-important office of Mayor of Thebes. Nesptah did indeed inherit the position of 'Mayor of Thebes' and, in addition, he was holder of the office of 'Governor of Upper Egypt'. He is also depicted as overseeing Mentuemhat’s funeral in his father’s grand tomb in Western Thebes.
See Bernard V. Bothmer, Egyptian Sculpture of the Late Period, nos. 14-16, figs. 30-31, Edna R. Russmann, “Relief Decoration in the Tomb of Mentuemhat" (TT 34), Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, vol. 31 (1994), pp. 1-19, and Christopher Hugh Naunton, Regime Change and The Administration of Thebes During The Twenty-fifth Dynasty (Ph.D. Dissertation, Swansea University, 2014).
The present statue will soon be published by Olivier Perdu in the Revue d’Egyptologie. In a letter dated November 24th, 2014, the author makes a strong case for identifying the present statue as an early Ptolemaic official named Serdjehuty, “Divine father and hepet-wedjat priest.” His title and the very beginning of his name appear at the bottom of the second column of inscription on the back pillar. An identical sequence of signs is attested on a block statue in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (inv. no. 48.24.8), which is securely attested as belonging to Serdjehuty. The rest of the inscription on the present statue shows epigraphical features typical of the early Ptolemaic period, such as the hare with long curving tail pointing up and the viper with downward-curving horns. Olivier Perdu argues that the double wig is a revival of 26th Dynasty fashion with Ptolemaic stylistic modifications; the vertical wavy lines on the wig can be found on a fragmentary Ptolemaic block statue in the Louvre (inv. no. E 27070; O. Perdu, Les statues privées de la fin de l’époque pharaonique [Musée du Louvre], vol. I, Paris, 2012, pp. 168-175, no. 11). In terms of proportions, the torso of the present figure is comparable to a bust in The Metropolitan Museum of Art (25.2.1) once thought to date to the 26th Dynasty and now attributed to the early 4th century B.C. (B. v. Bothmer, MDAIK, vol. 37, 1981, p. 76, no. 10; id., Quaderni de la ”Ricerca scientifica”, vol. 116, 1988, p. 53, fig. 7, and p. 60). A fragmentary sistrum inscribed for Serdjehuty in the Cairo Museum (inv. no. CG 1009) and once thought to connect to the present statue (see Sotheby’s, New York, June 5th, 2008, footnote to lot 57) has now been conclusively shown not to be part of it. This does not in any way disprove the identification of the present statue as Serdjehuty.
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