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Old Themes and New Dreams: Egyptian Statuary in the Early Dynasty 18

Dr. Cathleen Keller is Associate Professor and currently Acting Department Chair in the Near Eastern Studies Department at UC Berkeley, is a charter member of the Northern California ARCE Chapter, having helped to found the chapter at it’s inception in 1995.

Dr. Keller advised her audience that it was approximately five years ago that Renée Dreyfus of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco approached her about doing an Egyptian exhibit, and they worked out together a proposal for an exhibition focused on Hatshepsut and Thutmosis III. After consideration, the plan was narrowed to Hatshepsut alone, and the current Hatshepsut, From Queen to Pharaoh, exhibition planning began.
For today’s lecture, Dr. Keller, focused her remarks on the statuary of Hatshepsut and her primary advisor, Senen-mut, and their statuary that survives for this mid 16th century BC period. The early Thutmosid rulers, Thutmosis I, his son Thutmosis II, and upon his death, Hatshepsut, initially as regent (and later coregent) for her nephew Thutmosis III, came to the throne soon after Egypt had been reunited and at the cusp of Egypt’s period of true empire. From the reigns of these rulers we have traditional portrayals such as one that appears on a monumental gate at Karnak Temple, erected by Thutmosis II. This representation of the king shows him in a highly idealized manner and a very youthful aspect. Such images had been the royal norm since the reign of Ahmose.

Hatshepsut appears on the monuments of her husband Thutmosis II in traditional royal female guise, and wearing the headdress specific to the Gods Wife of Amun, a position developed in the 18th Dynasty. By the seventh year after Thutmosis II’s death, the queen had adopted a totally different style of depiction. So from then on, we usually see her depicted as fully male, wearing full male royal regalia. In one representation from the Sinai, the queen, wearing the kepresh (or blue crown of war) and a short kilt with triangular apron (both traditionally worn only by a male king), stands back to back with her nephew, Thutmosis III. Each is depicted as a male ruler offering to Sopdu and Hathor, respectively. The $64,000 question, how did she come to be portrayed in this manner and why, remains unsolved?

Dr. Keller focused her discussion on representations from two major sites, the Amun Temple at Karnak and Hatshuput’s mortuary temple at Deir el Bahri, for they are the best preserved sources with the largest corpora of statuary from Hatshepsut’s reign. A map of the east and west banks at granite Hatshepsut depicting her in female dress with a nemes head cloth, look directly at the viewer as if she is engaging him directly. But in the famous “white” Hatshepsut, her attitude becomes more remote, more kingly, as if she is looking over her viewers’ heads, perhaps across the river towards Karnak, the seat of her divine father Amun, at the rising sun as it appears on the horizon, or into eternity itself.

This same creativity appears in other Hatshepsut statuary as well. A group of colossal red granite sphinxes from Deir el-Bahri are rendered in a very traditional form that dates back to the Old Kingdom. The faces bear the officially-approved version of Hatshepsut’s sculpture, however. Even more striking are the two limestone “maned” sphinxes from Deir el Bahri, which though based upon Middle Kingdom prototypes that feature the stern portrait of Amenemhat III, have even more delicate and feminized features – another example of the artistic innovations of Hatshepsut’s sculptors.
Another statuary type that probably owes its later popularity to the early 18th Dynasty is that of a king kneeling and holding nw-pots (small, globular offering jars) in each hand. Again, this form is one that has its earliest exemplars in the late Old Kingdom (Pepi I), but is best known from the New. If one compares Hatshepsut’s colossal kneeling statues with those of other rulers, it is almost impossible to tell a female is being represented as there are no facial or body clues which differentiate. In contrast, another group of (possibly twelve) small kneeling statues of Hatshepsut as king, from the upper terrace at Deir el Bahri, holds globular vessels fronted with a djed-pillar instead of nw-pots. Though again Hatshepsut presented as fully male, this time there appears to be a hint of a feminization, due largely to the smaller scale. It is also possible, however, that the modern viewer is simply projecting his/her prejudices.

Though we do not have any certain examples of group statuary that have survived from the coregency period, depictions of such images have come down to us in the form of relief representations, such as those from the tomb of the official Amenhotep at Thebes (Tt 73). These assemblages include a scene of Hatshepsut between Khnum and Anukis. Another, in which she kneels with her back to Amun with Weret-Heqau and Thoth in attendance, can also be paralleled on blocks from the Chapel Rouge. In fact, the only reason we have so much statuary of Hatshepsut from Deir el Bahri, is because it was rolled off the temple terraces into great pits and buried. In contrast, her statuary set up at Karnak was almost totally destroyed.
An important corpus of statuary from Hatshepsut’s reign is related to her most valued advisor, Senenmut. We know little about him personally, though we do possess the remains of both his parents. The central vignette from the false door stela found in one of the tombs he prepared for himself (Tt 71), shows him seated between them, in contrast to the more usual depiction of the stela owner seated to one side before an offering table and facing his funerary priest (ideally his eldest son). One possible reason for this variation is that, since he may never have married or had children of his own, the traditional depiction was not really an option for him. By the reign of Thutmosis II, Senenmut had been appointed as tutor to Thutmosis II’s and Hatshepsut’s daughter, Neferura, but a significant promotion came when he was elevated to the position of Steward of Amun, with responsibility for administration of all of the holdings of the Estate of Amun. His much ruined tomb chapel, TT71 at Qurna, and his intended burial chamber, which extends well into the sacred precincts at Deir el-Bahri (Tt 353), indicate not only that he was in a position of power and prestige, but that he, like a few of the other highest level officials of the period, were imitating royal funerary practice.

One of the most famous inscriptions for and about Senenmut was repeated behind the doors of the Hathor Chapel in Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple, though only one survives. The text affirms that it was inscribed by direction of Hatshepsut and states that statuary of Senenmut was to be placed in the temples of Upper and Lower Egypt. This gift meant that Senenmut would be able to participate in the cult of every god. And indeed the columns of inscription were accompanied by depictions of Senenmut kneeling with his arms raised in adoration.

At least 25 statues of Senenmut in a wide variety of attitudes are known today, so clearly they were placed in every temple to every god in Thebes! As was the case with Hatshepsut’s own statuary, that of Senenmut was a combination of pre-existing statue types and innovative touches. For example, several block statues of Senenmut are known, one alone and a series with the Princess Neferura. Although the block statue form originated in the early Middle Kingdom, the addition of the Princess represented an innovation. In another adaptation, this time of the late Middle Kingdom seated cloaked” statue”, Neferura is again incorporated into the image, enfolded within Senenmut’s voluminous mantle. Senenmut also reused the asymmetrical seated statue form (which had its origins in the Old Kingdom). Again, however, its traditional form was modified by the addition of the Princess seated in his lap. In these (and other) images depicting the tutor and his royal charge, it almost seems that she is being used as a sort of talisman, his “good luck” symbol.

Another indication of the close relationship between the King and Senenmut is seen in so-called “cryptograms” that he claimed to have thought up himself. The symbols and his claim appear together on two block statues (Berlin and Cairo) where he is associated with Neferura. The term “cryptogram” is also associated by modern scholars with a group of smaller, “votive” statues of Senenmut, in which he kneels behind a rebus composed of a royal cobra, rearing from the center of an upraised pair of ka-arms and topped with a sun-disk flanked by cow’s horns. Early on scholars proposed that the combination was to be interpreted as “Ma’at-ka-re, Hatshepsut’s prenomen. Although this combination can also recall the harvest-goddess Renenutet, as well as other female divinities, there is no doubt that in one of these images, found at Luxor temple, the rebus applied specifically to Hatshepsut herself.

The outermost hall of the Hathor Chapel at Deir el-Bahri, the same area in which Senenmut’s erased images occur, is distinguished by columns topped with capitals in the form of a naos-type sistrum supported by a “Hathor” head. Recent research suggests that these constitute the earliest examples of the “Hathor column”. Their proximity to his inscriptions, as well as their numerous appearances in his votive statuary (the sistrophorous statues, of which his are also the prototypes) suggests that he may have been involved in their creation, as well.

In approximately the 42nd year of Thutmosis III’s sole reign (about 20 years following Hatshepsut’s disappearance), her monuments were damaged or destroyed. And those of Senenmut suffered a similar fate. But, despite their association with two prominent individuals whose memories had been officially proscribed, many of the new forms and types of statuary invented during this innovative period continued to be used. Thus, these new combinations were simply too good to be abandoned, and the creativity of the coregency period had a lasting legacy. It was a period during which those “at the top of the food chain” were drawing inspiration – and legitimacy – from well-established statue types and adding new innovative touches to make good on Hatshepsut’s claim to upholding Ma’at at the same time that she was renewing Egyptian cultural and social norms that had fallen into disrepair during foreign occupation.

— Nancy Corbin and Cathleen Keller