An Unfinished Statue of the Twelfth Dynasty

By: H. R.

Originally Published in 1940

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Title Reference1

Unfinished, seated cross-legged figure of unnamed man wearing a broad wig and skirt, front view
Plate XI — Unfinished statue of the Twelfth Dynast, Egypt.
Museum Object Number: E253
Image Number: 31062

THE limestone statue which is published here for the first time comes from Flinders Petrie’s excavations at “Kahun” in 1889-1890.2 Unfortunately the exact spot at which it was unearthed has not been recorded nor have other objects which were found with it. However, the general place at which it was excavated gives some definite and important information. It cannot have stood, as almost all Egyptian statues did, in a tomb or in a temple. The town of “Kahun”, situated in the immediate neighborhood of the pyramid of Sesostris II,3 was inhabited mainly by the workmen who were engaged in building the tomb monument of this king of the twelfth dynasty. Besides their small houses, there were some large villas of the officials who supervised the building and, probably also, a palace in which the king resided when visiting the place and watching the progress of the work, but no temple has been found in the town’s enclosure and no tombs have been recorded in its neighborhood.

The statue, therefore, must come from one of the private houses at “Kahun”. But we can see more. From the fact that it has no inscriptions-without which an Egyptian statue was unfit to serve its purpose, namely, to immortalize its owner-the suspicion arises that it never left the workshop of the sculptor who carved it.

Close up profile view of the head and shoulders of an unfinished statue of a man wearing a broad wig, nose chipped off
Plate XI — Head of the statue.
Museum Object Number: E253
Image Number: 31063

This suspicion is further corroborated by the observation that the statue has not been entirely completed. It is true that the body of the man, who is seen seated cross-legged on the floor (represented by a low pedestal) with his arms and hands outstretched on his thighs, appears to be perfectly finished. The same is true of his broad wig with its characteristically Middle Kingdom outlines and its deeply pointed ends approximating, evidently by intention, the forms of the royal headdress. Even the decorated border on the belt of his kilt has been rendered with meticulous care. The face, however, seems to lack the very last touch of the chisel. Its open almond eyes, its rounded chin, its firmly closed mouth and its large ears with their well-marked earlobes have been carefully carved in obvious contrast to the body which is treated quite conventionally. On the other hand the cheeks show very distinctly facet-like planes, barely visible in the photographs, which would have been rounded off and smoothed over had the work been definitely completed. Perhaps the statue was accidentally broken in two pieces while it was in the workshop, at any rate, it had never been delivered to the man for whom it was made.

From the later periods of Egyptian history a large number of unfinished statues have been preserved.4 Others have been excavated in sculptors’ workshops at El Amarna, and some have been found in the mortuary temple of King Mycerinus of the fourth dynasty,5 but from the time of the Middle Kingdom few only seem to be known.

Its provenience from a workshop in “Kahun” enables us to date the Philadelphia statue with certainty to Sesostris II’s reign, i.e., to the years between 1906 and 1887 B. C.

H. R.


1 Inventory: E 253. Height 0.47 m. In some parts the yellow-white stone shows red veining.
2 Petrie, Illahun, Kahun and Gurob (London, 1891), p. II, end of 23.
3 At the desert edge of the southeastern corner of the Fayum oasis, the development of which was especially favored by the kings of the twelfth dynasty.
4 A number of pieces now in the Cairo Museum have been published in the Catalogue Général under the title “Sculptor’s Studies and Unfinished Works”, by C. C. Edgar
in 1906.

5 G. Reisner, Mycerinus (Cambridge, 1931), pl. 62 and pp. 115-118.

Cite This Article

R., H.. "An Unfinished Statue of the Twelfth Dynasty." Museum Bulletin VIII, no. 2-3 (March, 1940): 28-30. Accessed June 24, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/bulletin/2220/


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