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Torso of a man

The delicately carved torso presents an idealized depiction of the upper body of a man. This type of representation is characteristic for the Ptolemaic Period, when anatomical features were generalized in order to be easily recognizable. Details of the human body are alluded to rather than elaborated, and the plastic qualities of the human flesh are often ignored, with arms and legs presenting the same appearance, whether they are held straight or flexed. The only indication of musculature in this sculpture is the slight curvature of the pectorals. Another Ptolemaic feature is a distinct lengthening of the torso, combined with a narrowing of the waist.

Hieroglyphic inscriptions are preserved on the back pillar of the sculpture. The hieroglyphs are written from right to left and are often of poor quality and randomly placed. The use of specific signs and writing styles dates this sculpture in the Ptolemaic Period.

"Atum-nehet, in peace,

the revered one, the praised one

1 Hathor, mistress of Hetepet, Atum-nehet, in peace [...]

2 [...] The Golden One, your Majesty [...] the statue of the Golden One [...]

3 [...] so that he will give [invocation offerings] of fowl, ox, bread and beer [...]"

The text mentions Atum-nehet twice, a name which occurs only rarely and literally translates to "Atum who sits in the Sycamore", to be interpreted as a deity associated with a local tree of importance.

The text also contains several references to the goddess Hathor. "The Golden One" and "mistress of Hetepet" are epithets. Hetepet can indicate vulva, (sexual) fulfilment or offering, but was also a cult location near Heliopolis. The third column contains a typical offering formula.

A comparative sculpture is the torso of Hor-wer, now in the Walters Art Museum. Characteristic for the Ptolemaic Period are the lack of emotion in the facial features and the elegant form of the figure. According to the inscription on the back pillar, Hor-wer was a priest who served three of the gods of the Theban area: Amen-Re, Min and Khonsu.

Another Ptolemaic statue, that of the dignitary Hor in the Louvre, displays the typical narrowing of the waist, thought the torso does not bear the trademark lengthening of the Ptolemaic Period. The skilful modelling is evident in the treatment of the pectorals and umbilical region.

Historical background

Under Ptolemaic rule, Egypt flourished and Egyptian civilisation assumed a new appearance. In administration, the country was organised on Greek lines with Greek becoming the official language; in art, new ideas and sculptors were introduced from the Greek world, profoundly affecting the age-old traditions and conventions of Egyptian art in Ptolemaic art centres. Pharaonic administrative and religious centres at Thebes, Memphis and Tanis were replaced by Alexandria, a new capital city on the shores of the Mediterranean, which was geographically closer to the Greek homeland.

In Ptolemaic times, rulers were depicted in alternatively Egyptian or Greek style. This is the result of how kingship was experienced in that period. The Ptolemies were the descendants of Ptolemy (ca. 367 - 283 B.C.), a Macedonian general and personal friend of Alexander the Great, who conquered Egypt in 332 B.C. Upon the latter's death in 323 B.C., Ptolemy took control of Egypt as appointed satrap, in the name of the joint kings Philip III and Alexander IV. In 306 he declared himself Basileus (personal Macedonian king) and in 305 Pharaoh (national Egyptian king), and thus became the founder of the Ptolemaic Dynasty, which ended with Cleopatra VII's suicide following the Roman conquest of Egypt (30 B.C.). The difference between those two types of kingship was considerable. This way, every aspect of the Hellenistic kingdom was separated in two parts: an Egyptian and a new Greek part. Despite this Greek rule, traditional Egyptian art remained largely unaffected, although there were some typical differences.


- ANDREU G., et al., L'Egypte ancienne au Louvre, Paris 1997.

- CAPART J., L'art égyptien. Choix de documents, Tome II La Statuaire, Brussels 1942.

- CORTEGGIANI J.-P., The Egypt of the Pharaohs at the Cairo Museum, Paris 1986.

- DONADONI S., Egyptian Museum Cairo, Milan 1969.

- HÖLBL G., 'Ptolemaic Period', in REDFORD D.B. (ed.), The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. Volume 3, Oxford 2001, p.76-85.

- HÖLZL R., Meisterwerke der Ägyptisch-Orientalischen Sammlung, Vienna 2007.

- JAMES T.G.H. & DAVIES W.V., Egyptian Sculpture, London 1983.

Object information

Date and place:
Egypt, Ptolemaic Period (332 - 31 BC)
14 x 16 cm
Acquired on the New York art market, 2013; Christie's New York, 5 December 2012, lot 143; Private collection, Geneva; Bought on the Paris Art Market, 1970s.

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