The Museo Egizio in Turin holds a somewhat smaller than life-size limestone statue (112 cm tall) inscribed for a woman named Hel (1nr) (Fig. 1). It depicts her seated on a stool, on a thin cushion, holding a menat collar in her right hand and a lotus flower in her left. She wears a tripartite wig topped by a lotus flower and surrounded by an ornamental covering indicated by a zone left plain. Her long dress reaches down to her ankles. Her feet are bare. On the high pedestal are two hieroglyphic inscriptions running around it in opposite directions in a single line. The statue leans against a backward-inclined back-pillar.

Turin Cat. 7352. Photo: Nicola Dell’Aquila and Federico Taverni/Museo Egizio.

The sculpture has made appearances in several of the Museo Egizio’s books for the general public,1 and is cited in passing in academic literature,2 but it is studied in detail here for the first time.3 It belongs to what is known as the “Vecchio Fondo” (Early Acquisitions) of the Museo Egizio, which encompasses the objects acquired before the publication of – and hence included in – the late-nineteenth-century general catalogue of the museum.4 While most of these objects come from the collection purchased in 1824 from the French consul Bernardino Drovetti, the “Vecchio Fondo” also includes many Egyptian artifacts already in the King of Sardinia’s collection before that date, as well as a significant number of objects acquired subsequently.5 Our statue, however, must belong to the Drovetti lot. Evidence of this can be found in the inventory of the antiquities offered for sale by the French consul, which was given to Count Carlo Vidua while he was lobbying to persuade King Carlo Felice of Savoy to buy the collection. Here we read the following entry:2

*96. Statue en pierre calcaire, assise sur piédestal ; 112 c., une bande orizontale [sic] d’hiéroglyphes faisant le tour du piédestal.6

The description is concise, but sufficient for a more than probable identification. There is no other limestone seated statue in the Turin museum of this height with a line of hieroglyphs running around the pedestal (actually only around the front and sides); nor, conversely, is any other sculpture meeting this description mentioned in the records of the pre- or post-Drovetti acquisitions in the “Vecchio Fondo”.


The statue (Fig. 2) is carved out of fine white limestone. It is 112 cm tall, 92 without the pedestal. The latter’s dimensions are: height ca. 20 cm, width 34 cm, depth 55 cm.

Turin Cat. 7352. Photos: Nicola Dell’Aquila and Federico Taverni/Museo Egizio.

The right lappet of the wig reaches down to the right forearm, curving slightly forward as it comes to rest upon it, and is thus shorter than the left lappet. Its lower edge is slanted to match the upward slant of the forearm. The breasts are not rendered, being concealed by the arm and wig. The lotus flower spanning from the back of the head to the forehead is carved in relief, and left plain except for two deep grooves along the edges of the corolla (Fig. 3). Its stem was painted in red, the color being still preserved on its lower end, towards the back of the head (Fig. 4).

Turin Cat. 7352, detail. Photo: Nicola Dell’Aquila and Federico Taverni/Museo Egizio.

Turin Cat. 7352, detail. Photo: Nicola Dell’Aquila and Federico Taverni/Museo Egizio.

The hair of the wig, carved in detail, is arranged in tresses whose ends are tied in short thin braids. Four shorter locks of hair, gathered in as many longer and thicker braids, frame the face and throat, two on either side. Small traces of black paint on the wig suggest that it was wholly painted in this color. Much of the surface of the wig was left plain to depict an ornament – most likely an elaborate floral wreath – that appears to be tied at the back of the head. Significant remnants of yellow paint, probably the original color, survive at the back of this feature, with further faint traces along the sides. A partly preserved red line runs along the top of its back left edge (Fig. 4).

The wide face forms a rather rounded oval (Fig. 5). The forehead is low (or the wig covers most of the forehead). The eyebrow ridges are sharply defined, the eyes almond-shaped, the lids carefully rendered. There is no hint of either eyebrows or cosmetic lines (although these may have been added in paint). The flattened crest of the straight and rather long nose is continuous with the arch of the brow ridges. The cheeks are full and the cheekbones barely hinted at. Both the philtrum and the nasolabial furrows on either side of the mouth are rendered by slight depressions. The lips are painted red. The chin is prominent and broad. On the throat is a crease (what is known as a “Venus ring”).

Turin Cat. 7352, detail. Photo: Nicola Dell’Aquila and Federico Taverni/Museo Egizio.

The right forearm is held upward across the chest, the hand clasping a menat collar’s counterweight, graced by two adjacent lengthwise ridges. The bunched-together beads of the collar rest on the left thigh in a featureless lump, the sculptor having omitted to carve the individual beads. The left arm lies along the side, with the hand resting on the thigh, holding a lotus flower sculpted in half round.

The woman is enveloped in a long dress, whose neck3-5 and hem only are rendered, the surface having otherwise been left plain. A slight concavity between the knees and shins gives a sense of the volume of the legs underneath the dress. On the sides, the profile of the lower thighs and calves is set off by recessing the “negative space” between them and the seat.

The dress descends vertically to the feet. Its hem is depicted sculpturally only between the ankles, again by (very slightly) recessing the “negative space” beneath it. The feet are bare, with distinguished toenails and malleoli (Fig. 6).

Turin Cat. 7352, detail. Photo: Nicola Dell’Aquila and Federico Taverni/Museo Egizio.

The woman sits on a thin cushion. The stool has a concave seat, turned legs with flared feet, double stretchers, and a bracing of single vertical and diagonal struts carved in low relief out of the “negative space” under the chair. These details are rendered only on the sides, the front being smoothed but left completely plain. A backward-slanted back-pillar rises from the pedestal, partly covering the rear lappet of the wig, which protrudes slightly on either side of it. The top of this back-pillar is carelessly cut, descending obliquely to the right.

On the high pedestal are carved two hieroglyphic inscriptions arranged in a single continuous line, beginning on the front and going in opposite directions around the sides, and framed above and below by not perfectly straight incised lines.

The surface of the pedestal (except for its back, which was left rough) and that of the back-pillar are scored with long chisel marks running downward from left to right. Rather than being the vestiges of a last roughing out, they appear to have been made to ensure the adherence of a layer of pinkish plaster, remnants of which can still be seen along the (proper) right edge of the back-pillar, near the top (Fig. 4), and the (proper) right side of the pedestal; on the latter, it extends to, but never overlaps, the hieroglyphs (Fig. 11). Inside the hieroglyphs and the framing lines of the inscription, instead, are substantial vestiges of a different painted plaster, of an ochre-yellow color. The hieroglyphs thus appear to have been carved in the pedestal after it had been plastered, and then filled in with new plaster and painted yellow. The loss of the plaster the inscription was carved in accounts for a certain roughness of the hieroglyphs (see the section “Inscription” below), which may have been carved shallowly in the plaster without reaching down to the underlying6 stone. This is confirmed by a photograph of the statue taken by Petrie in 1893,7 where the plaster is better preserved and the hieroglyphs consequently appear deeper, and their outlines sharper (Fig. 7).

Photograph of Turin Cat. 7352 taken by W.M.F. Petrie in 1893. ©Griffith Institute, University of Oxford.

Finally, yellow remnants of plaster can be seen here and there on the whole sculpture, notably on the left cheek; on the left side of the head ornament (the part of the wig left plain); on the back of the right upper arm; on the left forearm and hand; on the lap next to the left forearm (Fig. 8); and on the top of the pedestal to the (viewer’s) left of the chair (Fig. 9).

Turin Cat. 7352, detail. Photo: Nicola Dell’Aquila and Federico Taverni/Museo Egizio.

Turin Cat. 7352, detail. Photo: Nicola Dell’Aquila and Federico Taverni/Museo Egizio.


The most serious loss suffered by the statue, inhibiting full appreciation of its original appearance, is that of its plaster and paint, which have vanished, except where indicated in the above description. The loss of the plaster, as we have seen, has resulted in the erosion of the inscription. Apart from that, the7 sculpture is relatively well preserved, the most evident damage being to the right elbow, the hands, the stem of the lotus flower alongside the thigh, the chair, the toenails, the back pillar, and the pedestal with the last few signs of the inscription on either side. Minor dents, abrasions, or scratches can be seen in a number of places.

There is a small dark-gray square patch on the right hip, below the elbow, evidently left by conservators to serve as a control after a thorough cleaning, carried out in 19898 (cf. Fig. 10, taken twenty years earlier).

Petrie’s 1893 photograph (Fig. 7) shows the statue in a restored state, with all the main breakages (right elbow, hands, left shin, toes, base, chair, pedestal) repaired in stucco. Most of these modern restorations are no longer present in the 1969 picture (Fig. 10). Furthermore, examination with a UV-torch9 revealed traces of extraneous material, presumably remnants of the restoration plaster, on the fracture surface at the right elbow.

Turin Cat. 7352 in 1969. Photo archive of the Museo Egizio, Turin, negative B3969.


The two texts beginning on the front of the pedestal and continuing in opposite directions on either side (Fig. 11, 12) are almost completely preserved, except for a lacuna at the end of both. As noted above, some details of the signs appear to have been carved superficially in the stucco without reaching down to the stone, and to have hence been lost when the stucco fell off (cf. Fig. 7), e.g., the central element in the door-bolt glyph (the z-sign, Gardiner O34) in the word sSS.t on the (viewer’s) right side of the pedestal.

The arrangement of the two texts is unusually asymmetrical, since the group pr.t-xrw at the beginning of the right-to-left text is positioned in the middle of the front of the pedestal, leaving less than half of the available space to the left-to-right text.

Both texts were transcribed and partly translated in a Zettel for the Wörterbuch (Fig. 13).10

Text 1 (Fig. 11):

Turin Cat. 7352, inscription, Text 1. Photo: Nicola Dell’Aquila and Federico Taverni/Museo Egizio.

pr.t-xrw m Hb.w nb.w n.w | p.t tA x.t nb.t pr(.t) m-bAH nTr.w im.yw Inb.w n Wsir nb.t pr 1n[r mAa.t xrw]8

“Invocation offerings in all the festivalsa of | the sky and the earthb, everything that comes forthc before the gods who are in Memphis, for the Osiris, the mistress of the house Held, [justified].”

  • a The rhomb inside the Hb sign is not visible, but may have been shallowly carved in the stucco (cf. Petrie’s 1893 photograph, Fig. 7).
  • b For the common formula “all the festivals of the sky and the earth”, see, for example, the statue of Hapu, Turin Cat. 3061; that of Merymaat and Nefertari, Bologna KS 1813;11 and that of Meri and his wife, Florence 1803.12
  • c The use of the hieroglyph as a cryptographic writing of pr, while much more common from the Late Period onward, is occasionally attested in the New Kingdom as well. The earliest examples known to me occur on monuments from the time of Amenhotep III: a stela of the chief steward Amenhotep,13 a cryptographic text in the tomb of Khaemhat (TT 57),14 and stelae Louvre C6515 and Leiden V 93, both dedicated by the imy-xnt Paser.16 Later examples, from the time of Ramesses II, are found on one of the block statues of Roma (Roy) from the Karnak cachette (CG 42186)17 and in the tomb of Mes at Saqqara.18
  • d There is barely room enough for the sitting-woman determinative and mAa-xrw; one would also expect, possibly above them, the phonogram r with the stroke next to it.

Text 2 (Fig. 12):

Turin Cat. 7352, inscription, Text 2. Photo: Nicola Dell’Aquila and Federico Taverni/Museo Egizio.

xn.t n nb.t | dxn(.t) r st=s, ir.y(t) sSS.t n Hnw.t sHtp(.t) s(.t) ra nb nb.t-pr 1(n)r [mAa.t xrw]

“One who makes music for the mistress and plays rhythma at her place, one who plays the sistrum for the lady and appeases herb every day, the mistress of the house Helc, [justified]d .”

  • a In the hand hieroglyph (Gardiner D46), the thumb is barely visible.19 Since nb.t dxn is attested in Graeco-Roman times as an epithet of Hathor,20 and nb.t is typically followed by a genitival extension of some sort, the alternative translation “one who makes music for the mistress of rhythm at her place” cannot be ruled out. The single strokes (Gardiner Z1) at the end of the words dxn and iry are hard to explain.21
  • b The author of the Zettel reads the sedge-sign as ny-sw.t, and hence translates “die das Sistrum spielt für d. Königin und den König täglich erfreut” (Fig. 13). However, the context indicates that the Hnw.t is Hathor rather than the queen, and indeed the inscription seems to be all about the statue owner’s relationship with the goddess. Thus, I propose to read the sedge-sign, instead, as a writing, influenced by Late Egyptian, of the third person female dependent pronoun s(.t);22 still, because of the rarity of this writing in epigraphic texts, the reference to the king cannot be wholly dismissed as an alternative possibility.
  • c Notice the variant spelling of the name compared to Text 1.
  • d There is room enough for the sitting-woman determinative9 and mAa-xrw.

Theoretically, the verbal forms in Text 2 could also be interpreted as infinitives: “Making music… playing rhythm… etc. (by) the mistress of the house…” (for the use of infinitives in a perfectly analogous context, see Fig. 15 below). This, however, would require implying an unwritten preposition in, “by”. I therefore prefer to understand the verbal forms as participles serving as epithets (as does the author of the Zettel). A generic parallel can be found in the inscription on the back-pillar of the statue of Anen in Turin (Cat. 3177): dd x.t r s.t iry, sHtp nTr.w m xrw=f, Hm-nTr 2nw Imn ann mAa-xrw: “one who places offerings in their proper place, one who propitiates the gods with his voice, the second prophet of Amun, Anen, justified”.23

The formula, for which I know no exact parallels, evokes the statue-owner’s involvement, by making music and playing the sistrum, in the cult of a goddess who, while not named, is easily identifiable as Hathor. The text thus “resonates” significantly with the menat depicted in the statue’s hand.

Copy and translation of part of the text on the pedestal of Turin Cat. 7352 in a Zettel for the Berlin Dictionary. Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften (BBAW), Archiv Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, DZA-Nr. 27.857.950.

Art-historical appraisal

General considerations: The Turin statue of Hel displays features placing it squarely within a style elaborating on traditional female statue types that begins well into the Eighteenth Dynasty and becomes generalized from the post-Amarna period onward.24 These features include the long dress, the elaborate wig, the crease on the throat (“Venus ring”), the detailed carving of the stool, and the high back-pillar. Another Eighteenth-Dynasty innovation in female statuary is the characterization of the owner as a devotee by portraying her with a cult instrument in her hand: a menat, as in this case, or a sistrum.

Dress and figure: One of the most ubiquitous features in Hel’s attire – and hence also one of the less distinctive in chronological terms – is the long (undoubtedly wrap-around, although its details are not carved) dress reaching down to the feet and thus covering the ankles (the earlier style left the ankles exposed). It appears in the reign of Tuthmosis IV in painting and in that of Amenhotep III in sculpture,25 and remains the prevalent fashion throughout the Ramesside period.

The long and slender figure is typical for female sculptures from the late Eighteenth Dynasty (compare the Leiden statues of Meryt26) to the Ramesside period.

Wig: Tripartite wigs with tresses ending in thin braids are commonly attested over the same time10 range. Sometimes, as in the statue under discussion, shorter tresses (“temporal locks”) frame the face on either side. The earliest examples of this feature known to me are the limestone statue of Tetiseneb in Hannover,27 and a statue in the Nubian Museum in Aswan,28 both sporting single temporal locks on an earlier-type wig; their style suggests a date within the fifteenth century BC. Single temporal locks, on tripartite or enveloping wigs, occur sporadically on wooden statues dating from the time of Amenhotep III or the early years of Amenhotep IV, but only become common on stone statues in the post-Amarna period.29

The locks framing the face of the Turin statue of Hel, however, are distinctive because they are doubled, two on either side. This appears to be a much less common variant, for which I could find no further examples than those already listed by Van Walsem:30 a fragmentary statue of a sistrum-playing woman in the British Museum,31 variously dated to the Ramesside period (reigns of Ramesses II or Merenptah)32 or to the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty;33 the mummy case of Henutmehyt in the British Museum,34 for which the dates proposed are either late Eighteenth – early Nineteenth Dynasty, or early Ramesside (ca. 1250 BC);35 and the lids of the outer and inner coffins of Takait (the mummy board has single locks) in Frankfurt, for which an early Ramesside date has also been proposed.36

Another distinctive trait of our statue’s wig is the right lappet extending to the right forearm and coming to rest upon it, with its lower edge matching the upward slant of the right forearm. I am not aware of any exact parallel for this feature (see discussion in the “Conclusive remarks” section below).

Likewise, I was unable to find an exact counterpart for the item of apparel surrounding the top of the wig and tied at the back. The majority of the female statues cited as parallels in the present article sport a more or less elaborate floral crown (cf. Fig. 16). In one rare instance where the statue retains its original color, this crown is golden-yellow, like the surviving traces on the back of the wig ornament of the Turin statue.37 It is very likely that this is indeed a floral crown left unfinished, although its details may have been rendered in paint.

The lotus flower gracing the wig is a very common feature, but most often carved in very flat relief, which makes its relative massiveness worth remarking (compare the half-round rendering of the lotus flower held in the left hand).

Face and neck: The rounded oval of the face, horizontal almond eyes, rendering of the mouth, and wide and prominent chin are typical for the Ramesside period; among several parallels, one could cite, for example, a statue that may belong to Ramesses II’s son Khaemwaset, particularly as regards the general11 structure and lower part of the face (Fig. 14).38

Left: Turin Cat. 7352, detail. Photo: Nicola Dell’Aquila and Federico Taverni/Museo Egizio.Right: Head of a statue of Khaemwaset (?), Berlin ÄM 13460 (h. 25 cm). ©Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung. Photo: Sandra Steiß.

As to the crease on the throat (“Venus ring”), the depiction of one or more is first observed in sculpture under Amenhotep III, and regularly thereafter, down to the Ramesside period and beyond.39

Menat and lotus flower: Vandier cites Turin Cat. 7352 as the only example of his attitude type P.N.E. IV.B, designating a seated woman holding a lotus flower in her left hand resting on her thigh, and a menat collar clasped to her breast in her right hand.40 I could not find any other examples of this exact combination either.

Statues emphasizing the role of women in cult by depicting them holding a menat or sistrum are an iconographic innovation of the New Kingdom.41 Just as the menat is commonly associated with the sistrum in cultic performance42 (as it is in the Turin statue through the mention of sistrum-playing in the inscription), it is interchangeable in iconography with the sistrum. The latter is held similarly, clasped to the breast, in a number of sculptures depicting elite women that are perfect analogs to their menat-holding counterparts. The gesture is not to be understood literally, but as the equivalent of the upheld arm, detached from the body, of sistrum-playing women in reliefs and paintings; since Egyptian stone sculpture eschewed disengaged limbs, this combination of different viewing angles was an acceptable compromise. A similar representational strategy can be assumed for menat-holding statues. A scene in TT 82 of Amenemhat (Fig. 15) offers good examples of two-dimensional equivalents of the implied gestures (as well as of the interchangeability of the sistrum and menat).

Three women making music for Amun, the Ennead, and Hathor; the one in the middle is holding up a sesheshet sistrum whose upper arc is preserved. TT 82 of Amenemhat. Photo: Bruno Sandkühler.

The menat is held (apparently) clasped to the breast in several standing statues of elite women ranging in date from the reign of Amenhotep III to the Nineteenth Dynasty.43 As to the specific attitude of Turin Cat. 7352 – seated with the menat to the breast and the beads resting on the lap –three parallels are known to me: the female statue in the Cairo dyad of the mistress of the house Mut[-…?] and her husband, the king’s carpenter Tel (6nr), dated to the mid-Eighteenth Dynasty;44 the statue of Meryt in Leiden (reign of Tutankhamun–Horemheb);45 and a fragmentary sculpture in the British Museum.46 However, all of12 these hold the menat in their left hands: Meryt between the lappets of her wig, the Cairo and BM statues below the right breast. Hel, instead, holds hers with her right hand over the left lappet of her wig, exactly as the sistrum is held (except for the right/left reversal) in the statues of Inehy, wife of the mayor of Memphis Ptahmose, in Baltimore (Fig. 16) and Tokyo.47

Statue of Inehy, Baltimore, The Walters Art Museum, 22.106 (h. 132 cm). Photo: The Walters Art Museum. Public domain.

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Turning to the lotus flower held across the thigh – left completely plain by the sculptor, although some details may have been added in paint – while it is a very common feature in statuary, it is more commonly rendered in flat rather than half-round relief as here (compare the particularly thick lotus flower gracing the head).48

Seat: In the New Kingdom, chairs or stools with distinct legs begin to appear alongside the plain cubic seat starting from the reign of Amenhotep III or the Amarna period.49 The distinctive features of our statue’s seat are the following: 1) it is a stool and not a chair (although the thin and backward-tilted back-pillar definitely evokes the back of a chair); 2) it has turned legs instead of lion’s paw legs; 3) it has double stretchers on either side instead of single ones; 4) the subject sits on a cushion. All four of these features are found combined in two dyads, Berlin ÄM 6910, of the scribe Amenemope and his wife Hathor,50 and Louvre E 3516,51 which thus constitute very close parallels in this regard.

The stool occurs as an alternative to the lion-legged chair in statues of both men and women, but “stools with turned legs seem to be reserved for the female sex”.52 The cushion, attested in tomb decoration from about 1400 onward, is less commonly found in sculpture.53 In spite of its relative rarity, it appears to have been an appreciated iconographical feature13 for elite women’s statues, in the light of the fact that the addition of a cushion was one of the modifications made to a Twelfth Dynasty statue reworked for queen Tuy, mother of Ramesses II.54

Traces of paint and plaster: The surviving traces of paint and plaster, although scanty, indicate that the statue was, or was intended to be, completely painted. The colors are standard: red for the lips, black for the hair, and red for the stem of the lotus flower;55 the head ornament retains traces of yellow paint, which is the color of the floral crown of the woman in dyad Munich Gl. W.A.F. 25 (Ney and Mutnofret).56 The color for the body would have been white. For the skin, either ochre red (cf., again, Ney and Mutnofret) or yellow. The plaster traces, yellow on the figure and pinkish on the pedestal, resemble those seen, for example, on the Baltimore and Tokyo statues of Inehy; in the former, the pinkish plaster is also used for what appears to be an ancient repair of the back slab (Fig. 17).

Statue of Inehy, Baltimore, The Walters Art Museum, 22.106 (h. 132 cm). Photo: The Walters Art Museum. Public domain.

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The iconography and style of our statue place it firmly within a group of female sculptures with dates ranging from the late Eighteenth Dynasty (with the statues of Meryt in Leiden) to the Ramesside period, primarily, but not exclusively, from the Memphite area. While some of its features (detailed in the above stylistic assessment) are widespread across this group, others are less common and may help us to narrow down the date. One of them is the stool with turned legs, double stretchers, and a cushion, for which the cited Berlin statue of Amenemope and Hathor, ÄM 6910, provides a chronological benchmark in the early Ramesside period, since the man appears to have held office under Sety I and Ramesses II.57 Another distinctive feature is the wig with double temporal locks, found on coffins and statues with proposed dates to the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty or the early Ramesside period, but also to the reign of Ramesses II/Merenptah (see above, “Art historical appraisal – Wig”). Finally, as we have seen, the facial features are typically Ramesside, with a (possibly) dated parallel in a statue believed to picture Ramesses II’s son Khaemwaset (Fig. 14), with the sem-priest’s side lock, which he certainly sported by his father’s 30th year and until his death no earlier than the 52nd.58

Yet another element of chronological relevance is our statue’s iconographic proximity (notably in the position of the menat and sistrum, respectively) to the cited Baltimore and Tokyo sistrophores of Inehy,59 wife of the mayor of Memphis Ptahmose, who flourished in the first half of the reign of Ramesses II60 and possibly began his career under Sety I.61 While these two statues are closely patterned after the menat-holding statue of Meryt, wife of Maya, in Leiden (AST 2),62 Hel’s departs from the model in several ways (double “temporal locks” instead of single ones, stool with turned feet instead of lion-legged chair, a completely different rendering of the “sleeve part” of the one-piece dress, etc.), suggesting that it may be a later elaboration (Fig. 18).

Together, all the above considerations make a strong case for a date to the earlier part of the Ramesside period, most likely within the reign of Ramesses II.

From left to right:Statue of Inehy, Matsuoka Museum of Art, inv. no. 568 (h. ca. 122 cm). ©Matsuoka Museum of Art.Statue of Meryt, Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden, AST 2 (h. 188 cm). ©Rijksmuseum van Oudheden.Statue of Hel, Museo Egizio, Turin, Cat. 7352 (h. 112 cm). Photo: Pino Dell’Aquila and Nicola Dell’Aquila/Museo Egizio.


Both the dedication to the gods of Inebu (Memphis) in the offering formula and affinities with a sculptural tradition of fine, relatively large-scale limestone statuary that is well attested in the Memphite area hardly leave any doubt as to our statue’s provenance. It must have graced a tomb chapel in the New Kingdom necropolis in Saqqara – presumably standing against a wall, its back having been left rough and uninscribed.63

While the Drovetti collection is largely constituted by antiquities from the Theban area, it does include several artifacts traceable to Saqqara: notably, four alabaster jars and a model scribe’s palette inscribed for Djehuty, the presumed hero of the story of the taking of Joppa, some of whose grave goods are dispersed among several European museums.64 In the inventory or “sale catalogue” of the Drovetti collection inaccurately known as the “catalogo Vidua”, our statue’s item number is prefixed by an asterisk,65 which designates objects acquired “depuis le mois de Xbre 1820”. At least some of the jars of Djehuty are recognizable in the “Objets en albâtre” section among items 74 through 80, and these are also prefixed by an asterisk.66 Lilyquist argues – on other grounds – that the (lost) tomb of Djehuty must have been found at Saqqara between 1820 and 1822.67 It14 thus appears that Drovetti acquired a number of objects from that site during those years, including the statue of Hel.

The owner

The reference to the gods of Memphis in one of the statue’s inscriptions clearly identifies its owner as a member of the Memphite elite. Indeed, the sculpture fits well within a local tradition of often exquisite, more or less large-format tomb-chapel statues from the area (compare some of the parallels cited above). However, in the absence of an archaeological context, of the mention of relatives, or of a more distinctive title than “mistress of the house”, any attempt at identification must necessarily be tentative. The name Hel or Hely (1nr/1nry, also transcribed as Huner[y]),68 commonly attested in the Ramesside period, is borne by a number of women commemorated on monuments from the Memphite region.69 While attempting to identify the Hel of the Turin statue with any of these would be little more than speculation, it is perhaps worth mentioning, in terms of mere possibility, that a Hely qualified as a chantress of Hathor of the Southern Sycamore (the Memphite form of the goddess)70 is featured, playing the sistrum, as the dedicator on a Memphite stela showing the High Priest of Ptah Pahemnetjer (Sety I to early reign of Ramesses II71) and other individuals paying homage to Osiris and Hathor of the Southern Sycamore.72 Another sistrum-wielding Hel or Hel[y],15 the wife of Nakhtmontu, fanbearer on the right of His Majesty, is depicted on a fragment of a fine relief from her husband’s funerary chapel, reemployed in the Monastery of Apa Jeremias in Saqqara.73 Finally, in Tomb Bubasteion I.16, Hel is mentioned as the name of the mother of Nefertary called Tamyt, wife of Netjerwymes called Parekhnua, high steward of Memphis, overseer of the treasury and overseer of all works (reign of Ramesses II).74

Flawed and fine? Conclusive remarks

Some features of statue Turin Cat. 7352 are worth dwelling further upon.

As noted in the description, the carving of the statue was never completed. The details of the stool are only rendered on its sides, but not at all on its front, which is left plain, as is the floral wreath (?) gracing the head. The beadwork of the menat was not carved, either. The lack of “pleating”75 and a wesekh collar could also be categorized as unfinished carving. A plain dress is common in earlier New Kingdom examples, but most of the iconographic parallels cited in the present article have either a fully “pleated” dress and a collar, or at least the collar and some indication of the details of the dress (such as the “sleeve” part, the edge of the part knotted under the breast, some folds, etc.), notable exceptions being the female statues in dyads Bologna KS 181376 and Munich Gl. W.A.F. 33.77 It is unlikely that these elements were merely rendered in paint and are now lost, as such an approach seems to be unparalleled in statuary,78 although it is attested for shabtis.79

Incomplete carving of a statue is far from unusual, and obviously did not prevent the sculpture from performing its function in the context it was intended for. It is also observable, to a lesser degree, in some of the closest parallels for the Turin statue, notably the Baltimore statue of Inehy cited above, where the lion legs of the chair, as seen in its counterpart in Tokyo, were left uncarved.80 Even in works of exceptional quality such as the Leiden statues of Maya and Meryt, some parts of the chair, menat and wig were left unfinished; in Martin’s words, “[e]xamination of the three surviving statues of the tomb owners indicates that work was skimped in certain areas”.81

Characterizing this incompleteness as a “flaw” is certainly an etic judgment, based not only on the application of a modern standard of thoroughness, but also on the current appearance of the statues, whose incomplete carving may have been dissimulated, to a certain extent, when they were fully plastered and painted. Still, the very fact that some sculptures are fully carved suggests that the ancient Egyptian clientele were not without expectations in this regard. A comparison between the Baltimore and the Tokyo statues of Inehy, in their different stages of completion, clearly indicates that partial carving was not something planned from the outset. The impression is that it was not unusual for artists to work under temporal constraints whose nature can only be conjectured.

Premature death of the subject certainly would have been one possible reason for urgency, also considering that statues and stelae would have been the last elements of the decoration to be installed in the tomb. On the other hand, the preparation for the building of an elite tomb could start early in the career of its owner(s) – Horemheb’s first tomb at Saqqara being a well-known case in point – and the incompleteness of statues is observed frequently enough that we must assume that there were other factors at play that could induce artists to take shortcuts or leave some elements unfinished.82

Remarkably, almost all the parallels mentioned in this article are more thoroughly carved than the statue of Hel. This suggests that it stands closer to the lower end of a hypothetical acceptable range of finiteness (in emic terms).

Another noticeable trait of our statue that stands out is its pronounced lean toward the proper right. This does not depend, as I had initially assumed, on damage to the undersurface of the pedestal resulting in the loss of its perpendicularity to the vertical axis of the statue: the pedestal, measured near the front corners and near the front feet of the stool, is about the same height on either side, ca. 19.5–20 cm, with the (proper) left side only a few millimeters higher. The figure of the woman is actually misaligned with the pedestal, and most evidently with the back-pillar, as we can verify by imaginarily extending the stem of the lotus flower at the back of the head downward in a straight line (Fig. 2). While it is common for Egyptian statues not to be perfectly vertical, the asymmetry of our statue is conspicuous enough to16 appear as a flaw, and is all the more striking when contrasted with the artist’s finesse in rendering the woman’s face and figure.

Other elements indicating rushed or interrupted finishing include the oblique cutting of the top of the back-pillar and the irregularity of the lines framing the inscription. A further possible instance of hasty work is the placing of the group pr.t-xrw in the exact middle of the front of the pedestal. The group is suited to occupy this position, being almost totally symmetrical and hence readable indifferently from right to left and vice versa. Its central placement, however, would only make sense if it were indeed to be read twice at the beginning of two texts going in opposite directions, which is not the case: it only belongs to the text going leftward, and its position hence causes the inscription to be uncharacteristically asymmetrical in its layout.

While incompleteness is quite commonly remarked in Egyptian statuary, there is another peculiarity of our sculpture that appears to be unique, namely, the way the right lappet of the wig extends to the forearm, coming to rest upon it and slanting downwards to match the profile of the upper edge of the forearm (Fig. 19).

Turin Cat. 7352, detail. Photo: Pino Dell’Aquila and Nicola Dell’Aquila/Museo Egizio.

The fact that no parallels for this feature are known, as far as I could verify, may be simply due to the relative smallness of the sample of statues preserved from this period. However, there are considerations that invite us to envisage another possibility.

1) The solution the sculptor came up with has the side-effect that the right lappet is shorter than the left one, as well as having a slanted lower edge as opposed to the horizontal lower edge of the left lappet. This contrasts with the typical rendering of symmetrical wigs on statues, where the lappets are of the same length and shape.

2) As noted above, our sculpture shows a remarkable iconographic proximity to the statues of Inehy in Baltimore and Tokyo and the menat-holding statue of Meryt in Leiden. One detail in which these three parallels differ significantly from the Turin statue, however, is precisely the rendering of the left lappet of the wig, which in their case overlaps the left forearm.

3) No parallel exists, at least to my knowledge, for a wig connecting to the arm as in Turin Cat. 7352.

4) As we have seen, our statue – notwithstanding its exquisiteness – displays evident signs of hasty workmanship.

In the light of the above, I would consider the possibility that our sculptor had been following a popular model and his plan had been indeed to carve a wig overlapping the forearm (Fig. 20). The unique solution he arrived at may have been ad hoc, the result of a change of plan in the course of his work due either to a wish to cut corners (literally, as it were) or to technical problems encountered, such as the removal of too much material where the part of the wig overlapping the arm was intended to be, i.e., not allowing for the additional depth required to sculpt this feature.83

From left to right:Statue of Meryt, Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden AST 2. ©Rijksmuseum van Oudheden.Statue of Inehy, Baltimore, The Walters Art Museum, 22.106. Photo courtesy of The Walters Art Museum. Public domain. CC0.Statue of Hel, Turin Cat. 7352. Photo: Nicola Dell’Aquila and Federico Taverni/Museo Egizio.

This hypothesis provides a plausible explanation for the Turin statue’s deviance from the norm; at the same time, however, it can hardly be proved. We cannot rule out that this variation on a prestigious model17 may have actually been planned from the outset, and that the absence of parallels may be merely due to the accidents of preservation.

In either case, a detail of this iconographic feature appears to reflect a trend that surfaces occasionally in New Kingdom art. I am referring specifically to the way the bottom of the right lappet of the wig does not simply halt at the forearm but, as we have seen, actually comes to rest upon it and hence curls slightly forward. This kind of “realistic” notation appears here and there in the sculpture of this period, in various forms, and stands out vividly in the context of a figurative language where form habitually tends to fully coincide with function. The overall intent of our statue is to show an individual in the flower of her years, with attributes connoting her status (her apparel, the stool) and her involvement in cult (the menat), itself a status symbol. Every detail of the sculpture is carved to communicate this information, nothing less and nothing more, with one apparent exception: the forward curve of the right lappet of the wig.

Examples of stylistic devices grounded in a similar sensibility include the slight lifting to the side of some strands of the woman’s wig by her right arm, raised to embrace her husband, in the Cairo dyad of Tjay and Naia;84 the way the menat collar is held with the necklace part hanging in front of the knees in the dyad of Iuny and Renenutet in the Metropolitan Museum;85 and the uniquely intertwined hands of the couple in the British Museum dyad of Horemheb and one of his wives.86 What these features have in common is that they subtly add a level of aesthetic communication with the viewer that appears not to be strictly related to the main significance of the statue as an image of the deceased with the attire and accoutrements connoting his or her social status and relationship with the gods. It is only in these individual details that form and function do not totally coincide – although all the requirements of decorum are met, such touches being mere ripples on its otherwise impassible surface. They seem to bring a touch of the contingent, of the here-and-now, within an otherwise atemporal aesthetic context.87 At the same time, there is a quirkiness about them that relates directly to the sculptor’s self-expression, and in this sense we could also regard them as “mannerisms” – a definition that could be extended to include features such as the overlapping of the tips of Nut’s wings, and of18 her hands holding ankh-signs, on the “sleeves” of the deceased in coffin lid Turin Cat. 2208 (Fig. 21).88

Investigating the meaning of such devices in the general context of the evolution of the aesthetic and cultural sensibilities underpinning New Kingdom formal art falls outside the scope of the present article. It is enough here to remark the occurrence of this peculiarity in the Turin statue of Hel, which stands as an at once typical and idiosyncratic expression – in its style, iconography, and inscriptions – of these sensibilities, as well as of the sophistication of the elites of the time, and of the artists in their employ.

Coffin lid Turin Cat. 2208, detail. Photo: Nicola Dell’Aquila and Federico Taverni/Museo Egizio.


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