The Joy of Museums

Finding Beauty & Meaning in Museums

The Sphinx of Hatshepsut

Sphinx hatshepsout MET NYC

Hatshepsut, also spelt as Hatchepsut, which means “Foremost of Noble Ladies” was one of only two female pharaohs in Ancient Egyptian history, who ruled as full Pharaoh not just as a regent for a younger male relative. She is the first significant female ruler in documented history.

Born in 1507 BC, Hatshepsut came to the throne of Egypt in 1478 BC. Officially, she ruled jointly with Thutmose III, who had ascended to the throne the previous year as a child of about two years old. Hatshepsut declared herself king sometime between the ages 2 and 7 of the reign of her stepson and nephew, Thutmose III.

This seven-ton granite Sphinx of Hatshepsut has the body of a lion and a human head wearing a nemes head-cloth and royal beard. The statue has the usual symbolic, powerful muscles of the lion and the idealised face used for pharaohs. This sphinx is one of a number granite sphinxes that once stood in Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri.

The MET has a number of other statues of Hatshepsut. Below is the Seated Statue of Hatshepsut. This statue has more feminine features than the Sphinx of Hatshepsut.

Hatshepsut 1

The Seated Statue of Hatshepsut is a life-size limestone statue. It shows Hatshepsut in the ceremonial attire of the Egyptian king, wearing the nemes head-cloth and the shendyt kilt.

Many of the statuses of Hatshepsut in the MET were smashed into fragments or defaced at the orders of Hatshepsut’s nephew and successor Thutmose III and dumped in quarries.  Thutmosis III ordered that Hatshepsut name and memory be removed as a Pharaoh from Egyptian history and ordered her statues destroyed and her achievements erased.

Hatshepsut offering nw jars

The above enormous kneeling statue and two others in the MET collection were made for the procession pathway to Hatshepsut’s temple at Deir el-Bahri. Each statue has an inscription that includes her personal name with the feminine pronoun or verb form. Thus the masculine dress and physique were not intended to deceive people into thinking that she was a man. The objective was to depict Hatshepsut with all the symbolism associated with kingship.

These masterpieces of Egyptian art that are over 3,500 years old were discovered during the Museum’s  excavations during 1927-28. They were acquired by the Museum in the division of finds in 1929 and dominate the Egyptian collection at the MET.

The Egyptians believed that the spirit could live after death, only if some remembrance of a body, a statue or name of the deceased remained in the land of the living. By visiting and reflecting on Hatshepsut statues, we have fulfilled her hopes and beliefs.

Essential Facts:

  • Date:                   ca. 1479–1458 B.C.
  • Representing:  Hatshepsut (1507–1458 BC)
  • Period:                New Kingdom
  • Dynasty:            Dynasty 18
  • Reign:                 Joint reign of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III
  • Excavation:      1927
  • Medium:           Granite, paint
  • Original Location: Thebes, Deir el-Bahri, Egypt (Upper Egypt)
  • Dimensions:            H: 164 cm (64 in.); L: 343 cm (135 in.); Wt: 6,759 kg (14,900 lb.)
  • Museum:                   Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET, New York, USA

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“What you are doing does not matter so much as what you are learning from doing it. ? It is better not to know and to know that one does not know, than presumptuously to attribute some random meaning to symbols.” Ancient Egyptian Proverb

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Photo Credit 1)By Urban (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons 2) Postdlf from w [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons 3) Postdlf [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons