Head of a nobleman

Iconic representation of a person from the upper strata of society in the period of the Middle Kingdom.

The head is framed by a tripartite-wig, covering it entirely except for the face and the ears. This type of wig appeared in this period and would become more evident in the New Kingdom. The face, while still calling to mind the idealized and rounded representations of Dynasties IV and V, has been given some personalized details. The principal characteristic of the Middle Kingdom, in contrast with earlier periods, is the tendency towards a more “humanized” representation of royalty in their statues. This slight idea of realism, in particular in the portraits, was also to be found in the works that the Egyptian nobility commissioned for themselves. At that time, the statues of dignitaries and courtiers were generally made on a smaller scale than in nature, as they were not only to be placed in tombs but also in temples and chapels as offerings to the gods.

As well as working the details of the face, the sculptors introduced various modifications, for example, creating figures seated on a chair or a stool, or even on the floor. We find persons wearing a cloak, a loincloth or a kilt, with the hands on the knees or with an arm crossed over the chest. The cloak symbolised the god Osiris, whose body was firmly bound up when he was reborn into eternal life. Thus individuals were depicted with their bodies wrapped in thick cloaks to express in this manner their wish to be born again after their physical death.

For the Ancient Egyptians, everything that appeared in representations, either free-standing or in wall reliefs, acquired life. Given this belief it is logical to believe that in a burial, those who could afford it, and following Egyptian canons, placed sculptures that represented them in their tombs as well as representations on the walls of these, always as an idealized image. The sculpture perpetuated the physical integrity and the identity of the deceased, so while the body disappeared, the person continued to be alive in the other world. The free spaces on thrones, wall pillars and bases were used for inscriptions giving the name of the deceased and the owner, along with the person’s title, and also a number of magic formulas and formulas for offerings. The latter were necessary so that the deceased could continue to receive nourishment for all eternity.


- DELANGE, E. Statues Égyptiennes du Moyen Empire. Musée du Louvre. Paris. 1987.

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