Height: 45.800 cm
Gift of the Reverend W. Russell Finlay
Room 65: Sudan, Egypt & Nubia
Sandstone ba statue of a woman
Meroitic Period, 2nd century AD
The spirit of a wealthy woman
The Egyptians believed that a person's essence or soul was composed of several elements. These became separated at death. The ba was one of the elements of the spirit, which encompassed the personality and emotions. It stayed close to the body of the deceased and was eventually reunited with other elements, to live eternally in the Afterlife.
In Egyptian art, the ba is chiefly represented on funerary papyri. These representations were intended to enable the deceased's entry into the Afterlife. In a funerary context, the ba in its form of a human-headed bird was retained in the Meroitic period (about 300 BC-AD 350). However, the style, the material used, and the location of representations was entirely different from earlier depictions. A stone statue like this one would have been placed outside the tomb chapel of a wealthy individual, in this case a woman.
The reduction of the body to its essential details perhaps reflects a continental African influence. This example shows the ba in a female human form, wearing a long dress, but with wings instead of arms. The emphasis on the eyes is typical of later Meroitic sculpture, but the Egyptian origins of the statue can be seen in their almond shape and heavy outline.
J.H. Taylor, Egypt and Nubia (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)