Temple God Horus
I entered the Rhode Island School of Design Museum from the Benefit Street Entrance, and getting up the stairs I wandered through the halls exhibiting items of contemporary art and the 18-19th-century American art I am quite familiar with. As I have a little knowledge of other historical periods, I was drawn to the more distanced eras. Egyptian art seemed mysterious and rather unexplored by me, so I spent a lot of time in the Ancient Egyptian Gallery. Similar to many ancient people, Egyptians loved lavish decorations and intricate designs. Giving a good look to a sarcophagus and mummy, a number of vases, textile fabrics, reliefs, and different objects, my attention got captured by the statue of the Egyptian god Horus due to its unusual combination of a human body and the head of a bird.
I was mesmerized to see what I had read before in books. Horus is one of the chief Egyptian gods, and he is usually portrayed with a falcon head. I was thrilled to notice how my gaze shifted from a torso to leg to the throne and up to the head and stopped short seeing a bird’s beak. My peripheral vision said it was human, but when I focused and got a better look it turned out a bird’s head. Thus, the image of Horus creates a false impression, especially from a distance. One is approaching a traditionally looking Egyptian Pharaoh sitting on a throne and wearing a tall crown and what is one’s surprise at finding a bird’s head instead of a human face.
Inasmuch as it is difficult to look up from such an unusual face, I, first of all, studied Horus’ falcon-like head. Horus is wearing a voluminous wig with straight locks tucked behind the ears. It creates an effect of jug ears, big and round. The face almost has no forehead. Eyebrows are morphing into a hooked bill of a falcon. However, the eyes are almond-like and delineated like the eyes of Egyptian rulers. Having no chin, the bill runs straight to the neck. On top of the head, there is a tall headdress of a traditional oblong shape. It has a snake modeled on it, called the uraeus.
The sculpture is modest in size and is around 20 inches tall but made from bronze it looks solid and substantial. The tranquil yet majestic posture informs the presence and greatness to the deity’s figure. However, Horus does not look massive or excessively muscular. To the contrary, his arms are slender, and breast muscles are not very developed. While seen from the back, Horus’ shoulders are wide, and his waist and hips are narrow. His hands are lowered on his lap; his right hand is clenched in a fist while his left hand is opened and turned sideways with the back of the hand facing outward.
This statue is roughly dated by the Late Period (664-332 BCE). The deity of Horus had the closest association with the pharaoh. Therefore, it took part in rituals held by priests for the ruler. The sitting position of the god makes him a passive participant of a ritual. Similar to the pharaoh, he is wearing royal attire, traditional for Egyptians pharaohs. The statue is depicted barefoot, sitting on a backless throne. The original statue used to have a footrest, but it was lost or damaged. Sporting bare chest, Horus is wearing nothing but a skirt, its etched lines suggesting pleating. Other incisions on the breast and forearms suggest decoration such as necklace and bracelets. Deep long lines on the wig indicate hairs.
In the Ancient world, the sculptures were often colored but with the flow of time and restoration the color is usually lost, or partially rubbed off. The statue of Horus has a residual red paint stuck in the dents and incisions. The skirt has the biggest amount of red paint. While I was observing the statue, I was able to listen to a RISD podcast on Egyptian art. A curator told that when she was looking at the statue of Maat under the microscope, she saw the traces of black delineation around eyes. Given the fact that both the Maat sculpture and the Horus statue originated in roughly the same time period, the deity under the examination could also have colors other than red. Even if so, it was not visible. Usually, bronze sculptures were polished until they were shiny and bright. However, the spots where paint was preserved look rusty and dull from the distance. Although the statue looks polished and has rich brown color, the throne looks reddish and has a rough texture.
Horus’ figure is sitting on a backless throne and has easy access. It has enough lighting around, and I could closely look at every minutia. Apart from the incisions mentioned earlier, the throne is covered with images. As the statue is made with the lost-wax technique, the images are not etched but easily drawn on wax before casting. According to the technique, wax is formed into a statue, and then covered with clay; when wax gets heated, it runs out of the clay mold, and it is filled with bronze. Therefore, incised decorations are thin-lined and look like drawn. They feature a number of images typical for Ancient Egyptian art. The left side of the throne is in a worse condition than the back and the right side, and the images are hardly discernible. However, I could see the outlines of a falcon side-on and Egyptian hieroglyphs. The back of the throne is incised with the depiction of a falcon with horns and spread out wings holding two large feathers. But underneath it, there are two walking figures with typical for Egypt depiction of heads – side-on. The right side of the throne portrays a human figure standing in profile and holding out two outstretched wings. In front of it, there is a squatted figure of Isis wearing an elaborate round headpiece with horns.
On the whole, I found the experience of visiting an exhibition of ancient pieces very rewarding. It virtually transports one into the historical period long gone. Looking at the statue, I tried to imagine how it was used. I read on the inscription that it was used for ritual purposes, so my imagination drew me a picture of a high ceiling big room full of priests and the ruler at the head of it. Bronze statues lined up around the hall staring with their unblinking gazes. I got a sense of how it might have been several thousands of years ago. From my standpoint, it is very useful for anyone, especially for an art history student, to come and get a taste of ancient cultures.