Statue of Sekhmet

Granite statue of Sekhmet

Height: 206.000 cm

EA 57

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This larger-than-life statue, just over 2 metres tall, is the seated figure of Sekhmet, a goddess associated with destruction who has the head of a lioness. Her name means 'she who is powerful'. According to one myth, Sekhmet was the fiery eye of the sun god Re and was sent against his enemies. The statue comes from Thebes in Egypt. It is dated around 1350 BC, making it over 3,000 years old.

The statue is carved from a single block of polished granodiorite - a black rock which is chipped and flecked in places. The goddess is seated on a narrow throne, her bare feet placed on a small plinth, her palms resting on her knees. In the fingers of her left hand she clasps an ankh, shaped like a cross, with a loop at the top. For the ancient Egyptians, the ankh was a symbol of life.

The most striking thing about Sekhmet is her lioness's head, complete with muzzle, carved whiskers and chipped nose. Her ears are rounded and alert. Set behind them, on top of her head, is a large circle of stone - called a sun-disc. In front of this is a 'uraeus', the head of a rearing cobra that symbolises Sekhmet's destructive power. Either side of her ears and circling under her chin is a mane. It is carved with small triangles like the rays of the sun. The mane overlaps a heavy wig - typical of Egyptian deities - which covers the back of the head and falls in two stiff hanks over Sekhmet's shoulders. Grooves in the stone suggest the strands of hair, which partially obscure the carved concentric circles of her ceremonial collar.

Sekhmet has a slender figure and wears a simple, close-fitting gown. A band of decoration defines the scooped neckline. A similar pattern runs under her bust and a flower is centred on each breast. Her arms appear to be bare. Sekhmet's gown is calf length and she wears ankle bracelets.

Sekhmet's body is supported by a column that runs up the back of the statue. The throne she is sitting on has a low back and no arms. A single narrow column of hieroglyphs is carved on the front of the throne on each side. Sekhmet was especially revered by King Amenhotep III and the inscriptions describe him as 'beloved of Sekhmet who smites the Nubians'. This statue is thought to be one of 730 erected in Amenhotep's mortuary temple - one seated and one standing for each day of the year. They were part of a ritual to pacify Sekhmet's fury on a regular basis.

On display: Room 4: Egyptian sculpture