Colossal bust of Ramesses II

Colossal bust of Ramesses II


Height: 266.8 cm
Width: 203.3 cm



Henry Salt Collection

EA 19

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Ramesses II succeeded his father Sety I as ruler of Egypt in around 1279 BC and ruled for 67 years. This bust of Ramesses is from the Ramesseum, his mortuary temple at Thebes in Egypt, and dates from the 19th Dynasty, about 1250 BC. It is one of the largest pieces of Egyptian sculpture in the British Museum. It weighs 7.25 tons and measures just over two and a half metres from the top of his headdress to the base of his ribs and just over 2 metres across his shoulders.

This mammoth fragment is the upper part of a seated statue which was located in the second court of the temple. It is cut from a block of two-coloured granite - dark grey and rose pink. The men who carved it have cleverly selected the stone, so that from the neck up, the pink colour predominates.

The bust shows an idealised image of Ramesses as a young man, with high cheek-bones and smooth skin. His eyebrows arch gently over wide, almond-shaped eyes that - in a break from convention - are angled down slightly, as though this great Pharaoh is gazing down at us lesser mortals. His nose is straight and well-defined and his full lips are set in a serene smile. Jutting below his chin is the rectangular false beard traditionally worn by royalty. It is decorated with horizontal stripes carved into the stone. A thin strap can just be made out, running from the beard to each ear, which would have secured the beard in place.

Ramesses also wears the nemes or royal head-dress. In real life this would have been made of striped cloth and bound tight around his forehead, tucked behind his ears, and folded back over his head, to hang down stiffly either side of his face. The stone head-dress of the statue is surmounted by a diadem or headband in the shape of a uraeus - a rearing cobra. And on top of his head Ramesses wears a modus crown encircled with cobra heads set side by side, each surmounted by a sun-disc.

A large section of this crown has broken off from the top, directly above Ramesses' left eye, running in a jagged diagonal line down towards his right ear. His left arm, too, is missing from the shoulder and in his bare torso there is a hole - approximately 5 centimetres in diameter - bored out of the granite just above his right breast. This hole is said to have been made by members of Napoleon's expedition to Egypt at the end of the eighteenth century, in an unsuccessful attempt to remove the statue. The statue was eventually retrieved from the Ramesseum by Giovanni Belzoni in 1816.

The back of the bust is supported by a vertical pillar of stone inscribed with hieroglyphs. The symbols are in two separate columns down the centre of the pillar. They include Ramesses' name and his title as King of Upper and Lower Egypt.