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Royal Sculptures of the Old Kingdom Essay Sample

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Royal Sculptures of the Old Kingdom Essay Sample

Ancient Egypt has always fascinated and enthralled people from ancient times to the present.  Its history covers 3,000 years and is divided into three historical periods; the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom and the New Kingdom.  These divisions were based upon a history of Egypt compiled by Manetho, a high priest of the temple of Heliopolis in the third century B.C.  Manetho divided Egyptian history into 30 dynasties and archeologists’ comparisons of the priest’s writings to inscriptions on monuments show his work to be the most reliable.

  The Old Kingdom’s particular achievements were the building of the pyramids in the western desert (Ancient Egypt; Discovering its Splendors, p. 10). This was the pharaohs’ political world centered on Giza and the Nile Delta, as well as the gateway to their netherworld (Valley of the Kings 16).   Other achievements also took place; namely in artwork and sculpture.  The statue of Sheikh el-Balad Representing Ka-aper, The Seated Scribe and the Seated Statues of Rahotep and Nofret are some of the best examples of Royal Sculpture in the Old Kingdom.

            This wooden statue was discovered by the workmen of Auguste Mariette, a French archaeologist.  They named him Sheikh el-Balad (Arabic for the title Chief of the Village) because he resembled their own village chief.  The statue is a depiction of Ka-per, a priest in charge of reciting prayers for the deceased in temples and funerary chapels.  It is one of the best known pieces of Old Kingdom private statuary.  The arms were created separately and attached to the body.  The wooden cane in his left hand was created of two pieces of wood joined together.  The eyes still have their inlays.  The eye rim is of copper, while the white is made up of opaque quartz and the cornea is of rock crystal.  The statue is made of sycamore and stands 112 cm tall.  It was created during the 5th dynasty and is considered a pharaonic piece (Statue of Sheikh el-Balad Representing Ka-aper).

            The Seated Scribe is another well known pharaonic piece.  A scribe held one of the most important roles in ancient Egypt.  Since Egyptians believed anything that was written, painted, sculpted, etc., often took on a life of its own, a scribe’s words became a symbol of living history for posterity.  Tomb owners often had themselves depicted as scribes.  The statue is shown dressed in a typical fashion.  He wears a short flared wig, and a short white kilt, held up by a belt.  A papyrus parchment is open on his lap, while he holds another portion of the roll in his left hand.  His right hand is about to write something down with a quill.  The statue is made of limestone and also dates back to the 5th dynasty.  It is 51 cm tall and 41 cm wide (Statue of Seated Scribe).

            The third piece of sculpture to be examined is the Seated Statues of Rahotep and Nofret.  Rahotep may have been a son of the Pharaoh Senefru and, therefore, a brother of King Khufu, builder of one of the great pyramids.  He held the titles of High priest of Heliopolis, General of the Army, and Chief of Constructions.  He is shown wearing a short kilt and a well-groomed mustache, with a heart-shaped amulet around his neck.  His wife, Nofret, is described as “the one acquainted to the king”.

She wears a shoulder length wig, a floral diadem and a broad collar.  Her natural hair can be seen underneath the wig.  The coloring on the two statues follows the artistic convention for the ancient Egyptians.  The man is portrayed in reddish brown, the woman in a cream wash.  Their colors and realistic expressions have been well preserved and initially caused fear in the workmen who first saw them.  They stand 121 cm tall, 69 cm long and 51 cm wide and are constructed of limestone quartz and rock crystal (Seated Statues of Rahotep and Nofret).

These statues were placed in tombs to help magically assure the afterlife of the tombs’ occupants.  Their detail shows us how the ancient Egyptians looked and dressed.  The artistic conventions were inflexible as men are always portrayed in reddish browns and women in yellows or creams, but the artists succeeded in capturing individual character and expression.  Even though the tomb occupant might be very old when buried, artistic convention decreed they be portrayed at their fullness of life.  They would live this way through eternity (Ancient Egypt; Discovering its Splendors, p. 56).

One of the most fascinating things to read about on these sculptures is how people reacted to them.  Workmen saw the face of their own chieftain in the countenance of Ka-per.  It reminds us that the ancient Egyptians still live on through their descendants.  The Seated Scribe’s attentive face makes the viewer feel he is ready to continue his work at a moments notice.  The faces of   Rahotep and Nofret are also very expressive.  Even in a photograph their eyes seem to follow the viewer.  Small wonder they made the workmen who initially looked upon them nervous.  Overall the beauty and skill of the craftsmanship and the remarkable state of preservation give us a window into a unique world; life through eternity as seen through the eyes of these ancient people.


Ancient Egypt Discovering its Splendors. Washington D.C.: National Geographic Society, 1978.

Statue of Sheikh el-Balad Representing Ka-aper. 2005. Eternal Egypt. 11 Nov 2006 <http://www.eternalegypt.org/EternalEgyptWebsiteWeb/HomeServlet?ee_website_action_key=action.display.element&story_id=12&module_id=114&language_id=1&element_id=60621>.

Statue of Seated Scribe.  2005.  Eternal Egypt.  11 Nov 2006 http://www.eternalegypt.org/EternalEgyptWebsiteWeb/HomeServlet?ee_website_action_key=action.display.element&story_id=12&module_id=114&language_id=1&element_id=60538

Seated Statues of Rahotep and Nofret. 2005. Eternal Egypt.  11 Nov 2006 http://www.eternalegypt.org/EternalEgyptWebsiteWeb/HomeServlet?ee_website_action_key=action.display.element&story_id=12&module_id=114&language_id=1&element_id=60518

Weeks, Kent. “Valley of the Kings.” National Geographic 194(1998): 16.

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