Length: 16.000 cm
Width: 6.130 cm
Height: 20.500 cm
Ancient Egypt and Sudan
Bronze figure of Apis, the sacred bull
Probably from Lower Egypt
Late Period, after 600 BC
An offering to Ptah
Many animals play a part in the religious life of ancient Egypt. The sacred bull of Apis is one of the best known. The Apis bull had a cult centre at Memphis and was seen by the Egyptians as one of the manifestations on earth of the god Ptah.
When an Apis bull died, it was embalmed. The large tables used for embalming the bulls have survived near the modern centre of Memphis. The mummified bull was buried at Saqqara. From the New Kingdom (1550-1070 BC) onwards, burials took place at the Serapeum, a maze of large underground caverns in the desert. Each bull had its own huge sarcophagus, which was placed in one of these underground chambers. The dates of each bull's birth and death were recorded, and the information has often survived, carved on stone stelae set into the walls of the burial place.
A prospective new Apis bull was required to have a white crescent on one side of its body or a white triangle on its forehead, signifying its unique character and its acceptance by the gods. Once the Apis bull was chosen, its mother was also honoured, and buried in catacombs at Saqqara set aside for the purpose.
This bronze statuette is a votive offering, presented to the god as an expression of devotion, with the hope that the god would look kindly on the donor. The statuette might have been deposited in the Serapeum and the sun disc and uraeus on the bull's head show the divinity of the animal.
G. Robins, The art of ancient Egypt (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)