God Harpocrates

This bronze figure is a clear example of the syncretism between divinities which took place in ancient times when a civilization came in contact with another, either due to conquest or through another process. The figure of a naked child stands majestically on a clearly classical circular base. The pose is slightly Greek “contrapposto”, but with the left foot placed in front of the right, thus suggesting movement or walking. This recalls the Egyptian sculptures where figures with this same foot extended forward suggested the action of marching. Perhaps this styling was not by chance, as the image here represented is the Egyptian god Harpocrates.

For the ancient Egyptians, this god was in iconography the Horus child. His image was always depicted naked with the index finger of the right hand held up to the mouth, a sign of infancy. Horus was the son of Osiris, the first pharaoh, who, once dead, became the governor of the Other World. Horus remained as the pharaoh of Egypt, governing both Upper and Lower Egypt. For this reason, he is represented with the double red and white crown, emblem of the Two Lands (Upper and Lower Egypt) in which the country was divided.

In this sculpture, Harpocrates appears wearing a miniature Double Crown of Egypt placed over the locks of his hair in Hellenistic style. The crown is out of proportion to the figure, but both Romans and Greeks followed this pattern in artistic depictions of gods in Egypt during their rule there.

In his raised left hand, arm separated from the body, the figure holds a cornucopia, one of the most classical attributes found in Greek sculptures, a symbol of abundance and prosperity. The cornucopia is depicted as a great horn overflowing with fruit, flowers, coins and all classes of goods and riches.

It is impossible to know, without further information, where this figure was produced – in Egypt or Greece. It could have come from Greek lands along the Nile, given that Alexander the Great conquered the country and established a government there, founding Alexandria. After his death the kingdom went to Ptolemy, who established a dynasty bearing his name which lasted until Roman times, when Cleopatra and Mark Antony were defeated by Rome in the famous wars.

Both the Greek and the Romans were overwhelmed with wonder by the lands of the Nile, the history, culture, tradition and the monuments. It was a country that had managed to stay almost intact for more than three thousand years and had kept its own character. As a result, they assimilated many of its customs and aspects of daily life, including religion. They related the Egyptian gods to their own according to the aspects to which these were dedicated. Others, where there was not a clear parallel, were taken over as their own. This correlation resulted in the creation of an artistic style which united aspects of the classical world with Egypt. Many examples of this have been preserved, above all, from the Roman period, but also many Greek examples such as this one, where the two worlds can be found united.

Harpocrates, or Horus child, is a native of Heliopolis, as the son of Isis and Osiris. He was revered in many other temples, as at Edfu, Thebes, Copts, Mendes, in which he was adored along with other forms of Horus. Harpocrates is the living symbol of the sunshine at the arrival of spring. He was born after the death of his father Osiris. He is represented as a weak child, who had to be hidden by his mother, the goddess Isis, in the marshes of the Nile Delta, to protect it from the evil Seth, his father's brother. But just as the weak morning sun becomes a powerful sun, the child became the strong god Horus in order to revenge the death of his father, by fighting Seth. This is how his mother, Isis, made him the great Horus to rule over men and gods.

The technique of lost wax casting is a sculptural procedure using a mould made from a prototype of the piece to be worked, and this prototype is usually made from beeswax. This is covered with a thick layer of soft material, usually clay, which then solidifies. Once this has hardened it is put in a kiln where the wax inside melts and leaks out from expressly made holes in the clay. In its place molten metal is injected and this takes on the exact form of the mould. To remove the final piece the mould must be removed.


- BIANCHI R. S., ZIEGLER Ch. Les Bronzes égyptiens - Fondation Gandur pour l’Art. Berne. 2014.
- CAUVILLE, S. Offerings to the Gods in Egyptian Temples. Louvain. 2012.
- WILKINSON, R.H. The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. London. 2003.

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