Gold cobra wearing the red crown of Lower Egypt
From Memphis, Egypt
Late Period, after 600 BC
An ornament from a piece of furniture
The rearing cobra was used as a decorative element on furniture, vessels and jewellery. It had strong links with kingship and with protection and was worn on the brow of the king as a sign of his divinity. Images of Egyptian gods also bear the rearing cobra. This cobra could be interpreted as either Hathor who, in the guise of the eye of Re, was sent to destroy mankind for being disrespectful, or as Sekhmet who was the fiery weapon of the god Re and who could be sent out to destroy the enemies of the gods. Re bequeathed this gift of potential destruction, represented by the rearing cobra, to his descendants, the kings of Egypt.
Another interpretation is that the rearing cobra represents the goddess Wadjet, patron of the town of Buto. She and the vulture goddess Nekhbet, of el Kab, represented Lower and Upper Egypt respectively and were shown wearing the appropriate red and white crowns. Together they were the titulary goddesses of the third name of the king, placing him under their protection. The fact that the cobra from this decorative ornament wears a red crown suggests that it represents Wadjet. The fine workmanship and the material used indicates that it belonged to a piece of royal furniture, such as a chair.
S. Quirke and A.J. Spencer, The British Museum book of anc (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)