Limestone ostrakon with lion's head and quail chicks

Probably from Thebes, Egypt
19th or 20th Dynasty (about 1295-1069 BC)

The workmen who decorated the tombs of the kings, and those of the king's courtiers and officials, were generally highly skilled. The work force was usually divided into gangs, each of whom decorated separate areas. After the walls had been prepared, the scenes were mapped out. Grids were sometimes used to help lay out the main elements of the scenes and with the proportions of the figures. The most highly skilled artists, however, often drew figures freehand.

The beautiful images created by these artists were the result of years of experience and practice. Flakes of limestone (ostraka) were used as sketch pads to plan scenes and to practice drawing difficult or unusual features. The quail chick and lion's head sketched on this limestone flake are both common hieroglyphic symbols. The lion's head symbolizes the concepts of 'might' and 'power', particularly that of the king. The sure strokes of the artist show that he is familiar with the form, but wants to show the meaning of the hieroglyph through his drawing. The quail has been redrawn several times before the artist was satisfied and may be the result of a 'drawing lesson', with the artist copying from an example drawn by a more experienced master.

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More information


E.R. Russmann, Eternal Egypt: masterworks of (University of California Press, 2001)

M. Stead, Egyptian life (London, The British Museum Press, 1986)


Height: 12.000 cm

Museum number

EA 26706


Acquired in 1891


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