Sculpture of a falcon

The astute falcon, able to fly long distances, was one of the first images of the Egyptian monarchy and in the culture of mankind. The extended wings evoked the breadth of the blue skies. The fierce round eyes suggested the sun and the moon. The speckled breast resembled light clouds with the feathers dappling the high heavens, while the breath of the bird was compared to the winds of the world. Due to all these similarities, the falcon was the emblem of the supreme god, and the king was the representative or the earthly incarnation of god. The Horus Falcon in the end was turned into the title of royal dignity and the “personification of divine and royal power”. In Egypt, then, the pharaoh was considered to be at the same time the god Horus and his incarnation on the earth.

This elegant falcon easily evokes this symbolism. Circling the skies and then shooting down like a feathered bullet, a falcon can reach speeds of over 320 km/h, and thus easily break the neck of the prey with one blow. This ability connects it with the images of supernatural astuteness, expert vigilance and lightning attack, which have also expressed the idea of war as a power which swoops down on the other. This can be seen clearly in the Narmer Palette where the image of the god Horus, depicted as a falcon, is seen perched above six papyrus flowers which refer to the delta of the Nile. He is subduing an enemy by gripping him with a hook through the nose. This iconography symbolizes the way the god appropriates the breath and the life of those who oppose him.

Falcons built their nests in the highest part of the ancient palaces and temples of Egypt. Since the beginning of consciousness in Egypt of the existence of god, the first pharaohs tried to introduce those elements which most clearly and unequivocally affirmed their right to the throne. The pharaoh Dyet had a stele placed in his tomb which was one of the most important and most beautiful examples of monumental sculpture in its time. The artist depicted the name of Horus, the most ancient symbol used to represent the title of the pharaoh. A falcon (the god Horus) is seen on a serekh (a palace facade crest) with the name of the king in Egyptian hieroglyphic script.

The sculptors represented the falcon perched on the neck of the pharaoh, caressing his head with its wings in a protective manner. This suggests a protecting intercession from a celestial domain, such as that seen on the real-life size diorite statue of the pharaoh Khafra. This is a masterpiece of the Old Kingdom, both for the skill of the work as for its symbolic character, as it represents the concept of sovereignty. We see an entire seated figure, a semi-naked pharaoh wearing only a pleated kilt, in a rigid symmetrical posture. He is seated on a throne decorated on either side with the flowers of Upper and Lower Egypt entwined as a symbol of union. A falcon which represents god caresses his head from the back with its wings.

With its extraordinary visual acuity, the falcon can recognise small objects 1.5 km distant. Its spherical eyes are thirty times more sensitive to colour than those of a human. The eye of the falcon is the eye of the primeval sun which protects from the waters of disintegration. One of the protective amulets most used by the Egyptians was the Eye of Horus, an image of an eye of an Egyptian archetype, belonging to the same god, who lost it in the fight with his uncle Seth when he was struggling to avenge the death of his father, Osiris, who had been killed by his brother.

Due to its ability to fly so high, to travel everywhere and even see ultraviolet light, in Egyptian myths the falcon is a messenger who lives between the earthly world and the supernatural. Sculptures of the falcon in funerary placements in Egypt helped to ensure the rebirth of the pharaoh, as when the Horus Falcon emerged triumphant from the darkness and death to be born again, it also ascended the ba of the deceased pharaoh, his soul with a falcon-head, to eternity. In the Late Period above all, stone sculptures of the Horus Falcon, let us say from 50cm up to almost three metres in height, became widespread. Most were placed in temples, like the four which were erected and are still in place in the sanctuary par excellence devoted to Horus, the Temple of Edfu. Those of smaller size were made for private worship and were placed in funerary chambers in the tombs of their owners, as offerings in a temple or chapel dedicated to the god. Both in Edfu as in other sanctuaries there were pilgrimages where an Egyptian would arrive with a mummy of a falcon to deposit it in honour of the god and request in this manner the benefit of the god’s power.

All in all, Horus, “the High One”, was considered the initiator of civilization, the deity of the heavens, of war and hunting. Its original site was Hieraconpolis, the capital of Upper Egypt in the Pre-dynastic Period, the point of departure of Narmer to unify the two territories. And, as is logical, his emblem was a falcon perched on a post. In burials sites, many beads were found which made up necklaces and bracelets, and many of them had figures in the form of a falcon cut into different types of stone. From then on, this bird was a symbolic element which could be seen in every corner of Egypt.

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