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Sphinx Gallery

Included with General Admission
Main Floor

Sphinx

This is the largest ancient Egyptian sphinx in the Western Hemisphere, and the fourth largest outside of Egypt. It was originally made for a king who likely reigned during Egypt’s Middle Kingdom (1980–1630 BCE). The original owner remains unknown because during the New Kingdom, the sphinx was reworked for the pharaoh Ramses II, whose names and titles were carved around the base. Later, his son and successor, the pharaoh Merenptah, added his own name to the sphinx’s shoulders. Working in accordance with the laws of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, archaeologists Ernest Mackay and W.M. Flinders Petrie unearthed this sphinx in 1912 during excavations near the Ptah Temple at Memphis. It arrived at the Penn Museum with much fanfare in the fall of 1913 and was moved to its present location in 2019.

Gallery at-a-glance

  • Come face to face with the majestic 25,000-poundSphinx of Ramses II, which presides over the gallery.
  • Travel the world in one display case: see ten objects from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Egypt, Europe, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and Oceania, representing each of the Museum’s ten curatorial sections.
  • Marvel at one or two special highlighted objects, which change on a regular basis, featured in the adjacent Judith Rodin and Paul Verkuil Gallery.

Overview

The Sphinx Gallery serves asan introduction to our collections, anchored by our best-known artifact: the great red granite Sphinx of Ramses II. The Egyptian sphinx was a positive and protective entity. Sphinxes were often set up in front of temples, where they protected the entryways into the sacred interior spaces. Our Sphinx welcomes visitors to the Penn Museum.

The ten objects displayed along the wall behind the Sphinx represent the Museum’s varied collections. Like the collections themselves, the objects showcase the creativity of people through time and around the world.

Our Museum has grown to encompass artifacts from almost every continent, preserved for display, research, and education. Even objects that have been here for more than 100 years can yield new insights. From the monumental to the miniscule, the royal to the regular, these objects hold our stories—100,000 years of them.

Highlights

amphora with horses on it

Amphora (Jar with Two Handles)

Excavated in a rich tomb of the Faliscans, who were neighbors of the Etruscans, this vessel signifies a nobleman’s status as a horse breeder. Expensive to keep, horses symbolized the ruling class and its control of land. Following legal excavation, the tomb contents were exported to Philadelphia in 1896. This amphora continues to yield information on society and technology in pre-Roman Italy.

reconstruction of a neanderthal head

Neanderthal Head (Reconstruction)

The “Old Man” of Shanidar (modern-day Iraq), buried nearly 60,000 years ago, was likely blind in one eye and had lost an arm at the elbow long before his death. Despite this, he lived 50 years or more, surely with support of others. His head is reconstructed by artist Kathleen Gallo on a cast of his skull using modern forensic techniques.

blue canopic jar

Canopic Jar and Lid

Ancient Egyptian burials often included a set of four mummified organs essential for the afterlife. Stored in an individual canopic jar, each organ had a protective deity. This container, from around 1275 BCE, once held the stomach of Hathor, a temple singer. Its hieroglyphic text and lid identified the protector deity as Duamutef, a son of Horus. The jar was excavated and exported following Egyptian law in 1921.

statuette of gunayin

Statue of Guanyin, Khitan Culture

Guanyin (Perceiver of the World’s Cries) is a Buddhist divinity, the subject of popular devotion and miracle tales in East Asia, as well as the Chinese translations of Indian scriptures. This gilt-bronze image, made in the 10th or 11th century and purchased in 1921, shows Guanyin wrapped in a robe drawn up over a high crown, in which is embedded an image of the Buddha Amitābha.

boundary stone

Kudurru (Boundary Stone)

This boundary stone (kudurruin Akkadian) commemorates a land grand from Nebuchadnezzar I, king of Babylonia, to the priest Nuska-ibni around 1109 BCE. Symbols of various Babylonian gods at the top provide divine authority, and much of the inscription curses anyone who violatesits terms. It was excavated by Penn’s pioneering archaeological project at Nippur, Iraq, in 1896.

american gothic

Self Portrait, "American Gothic"

The artist Rose Bean Simpson’s Native American upbringing instructs her to live as a “whole-person” in balance with powaha—forces of nature that create both masculinity and femininity within each individual. Playing on the iconic American painting, Simpson’s male and female selves wear traditional Pueblo garments in this painting made in 2012. Her male force holds striped goose feathers—an act of prayer that references her two-spirit identity.

jaguar effigy vessel

Effigy Vessel, Chavïn Culture

This carved and polished black stone object is a ritual mortar. Its shape represents a fierce feline, probably a jaguar, baring its canines. Chavín shamans or priests in Peru likely used it to prepare hallucinogenic snuff for religious ceremonies, along with a stone pestle, around 2,000 years ago. Purchased in 1925, its precise place of origin is uncertain.

wooden figure of a man

Moai Kavakava (Ribbed Figure)

Early Western visitors to Easter Island observed ribbed figures hanging around the necks of men on ritual occasions, possibly to invoke the spirits of ancestors. Their emaciated appearance may refer to periods of environmental crisis on the island. This contemporary version, by Rapa Nui master carver Benedicto Tuki Pate in 2003, is unusually large and of non-native wood, but otherwise entirely traditional.

wooden mask

Kifwebe (Mask)

A Songye community produced this mask for the Bwadi bwa kifwebe, a powerfulmen’s association which used it to reinforce societal laws and appeal to benevolent spirits. Made in Democratic Republic of the Congo in the late 19th or early 20th century and purchased in 1919 from a Paris dealer, this mask is one of the Museum’s best-known objects and has been frequently published and displayed around the world.

the sphinx gallery