- Museum number
Limestone statue of Tetisheri enthroned; Hieroglyphic text on the block-throne; painted detail on the vulture-headdress; a forgery.
Height: 36 centimetres
Width: 13.50 centimetres
Depth: 24.50 centimetres
- Inscription subject
- Curator's comments
PM I Part 2: p.612
Henry Moore:Early Carvings 1920-1940, Leeds 1982, p.66 [X].
BM OP 28, p.12
BM OP 36, p.1 ( subject of paper), plates 1-5,8,10,12-15a,16-21.23d,23e
Egyptian statuette of Queen Tetisheri
This attractive limestone statuette inscribed with the name of Queen Tetisheri (c. 1550 BC) was long regarded as a key piece for the study of Egyptian sculpture of the late 17th to early 18th Dynasties. Over the years it has played a major role in establishing the accepted view of artistic development in this period, and it has served as the basis of numerous critical assessments of other pieces. The suggestion, made in 1984, that the figure is a modern forgery was therefore considerably disconcerting to art historians.
The statuette was acquired in 1890 from the Luxor dealer Mohammed Mohassib and has since become familiar from illustrations in many popular and scholarly publications. Much less well known is another statuette of Tetisheri, of uncertain provenance, of which only the lower half survived. It was published with photographs in 1916, when in the possession of the French Institute in Cairo, but its present whereabouts are unknown. The obvious similarity of this piece to the figure in the British Museum led scholars to conclude that they had originally formed a fair.
Recent scrutiny of the British Museum sculpture, however, and comparison of its inscriptions with those of the 'companion' figure have cast serious doubts on its authenticity. The inscriptions on the two thrones, though identical in content, are strikingly different in quality and execution. Whereas the texts of the Cairo piece have clearly been carved by a masterful and confident hand, those of the British Museum statue contain numerous elementary errors and omissions which can only be explained as the mistakes of someone unfamiliar with the ancient Egyptian language and with the carving of hieroglyphic texts. Several signs are incomplete, incorrectly formed or absent altogether. Significantly, the sections in which these anomalies occur correspond exactly with areas on the Cairo statue where the texts were damaged or unclear. There can be no doubt that the British Museum texts were copied slavishly from those of the Cairo figure.
While it is possible that the inscriptions on the British Museum's piece have been added to a genuine ancient statue that had been left unfinished, a number of other circumstances suggest that the entire piece is a forgery. Traces of red and blue paint on the figure have been shown under analysis to contain barium sulphate (barytes), widely used by artists in modern times but not employed by the ancient Egyptians in this context. Certain peculiarities of the queen's costume - notably the double shoulder straps of the dress, which leave the breasts bare, and the strikingly unusual wig, which has no exact parallel - cast further doubts on the statue's authenticity. When all these factors are taken into account it becomes difficult to avoid the conclusion that the renowned statuette of Tetisheri is the work of a modern forger, made at Luxor probably shortly before 1890.
Literature: W. V. Davies, The Statuette of Queen Tetisheri, a reconsideration, BM Occasional Papers no. 36, London 1984.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2011 10 Feb - 10 June Coventry, Herbert Museum, Secret Egypt
- Acquisition date
- Egypt and Sudan
- BM/Big number
- Registration number