This portrait of an elite member of the Egyptian
bureaucracy is designed as an idealizing image.
The ovoid-shape of his head is one which gained
in popularity over the course of the Late Period
and one which exhibits several variations.
Although such heads are more commonly
represented as completely shaved, others, such
as our portrait here, are shown with short
coiffures, resting snugly against the scalp with
the hairline simply indicated by a raised plane
which ends in a tab in front of the ears. The
small, almond-shaped eyes are hieroglyphic in
design, their lids plastically rendered with the
upper crossing over the lower. These are set into
fairly deep sockets beneath a natural brow which
merges imperceptibly into the narrow bridge of
the nose. The wings of the nose are small with
their nostrils somewhat prominently revealed. A
perceptible philtrum and protruding, round chin
frame the mouth with its lips pursed into a smile.
The upper lid is thinner than the fleshier lower,
and their corners are drilled. There is an attempt
to call attention to the cheek bones via a series
of subtly merging planes of the face which
represent its muscles reacting to the smile of the
lips. The resulting image is canonical, and as
such is a consummate example of one of most
popular types of idealizing portraits created by
the artisans of the Egyptian Late Period.
In keeping with Egyptian design tenets, the
statue to which this head belonged, was
with a back pillar which is rectangular in shape.
The top of the back pillar extends to just above
the occipital bulge at the nape of the neck to
about the level of the hair line. Such a design is
known from statues dated by their inscriptions to
the fourth century BC.
There is the possibility that the individual
represented by this idealizing portrait wished to
be associated with Imhotep because the ovoid
shape of his head and the cap-like, short hair cut
defined by its raised plane are common to
images of Imhotep in both bronze and stone of
the period. Such an association is also implied in
the very similarly designed image of Tha-aset-
imu whose enigmatic inscriptions associate him
with ancient Egyptian intercessors who act on
behalf of their neighbors. The individual
represented by this portrait perhaps styled
himself as just such an intercessor for the
of those under his authority.
In addition to the publication cited above, see B.
V. Bothmer, et al., Egyptian Sculpture of the Late
Period (Brooklyn 1960), nos. 65, 74 (Tha-aset-
imu), and 78; Robert Steven Bianchi, .”The Egg-
Heads: One Type of Generic Portrait from the
Egyptian Late Period,” Wissenschaftliche
Zeitschrift der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.
Gesellschafts- und Sprachwissenschaftliche
Reihe 31, nos. 2/3 (1982), 149ff (=Römisches
Porträt: Wege zur Erforschung eines
gesellschaftlichen Phäonmens), for this portrait
type; Dietrich Wildung, Imhotep und Amenhotep
(Munich 1977), pl. III, passim, for images of
Imhotep in this style and with their coiffure in
both sculpture in the round and in relief; and E.
A. Arslan [editor], Iside. Il Mito Il Mistero La
Magia (Milan1977), page 451, number V.83, for
a very recently discovered monument depicting
an image, identified as Inhotep by inscription, in
this same style. Note further that the back pillar
of our portrait contains an inventory number,
L74.11.2, painted in red ink on its lower, right
hand side, which was added to this portrait
during the period when it was on public display
as part of the Bastis Collection. Published:
Bernard V. Bothmer, in B. VC. Bothmer, et al.,
Antiquities from the Collection of Christos G.
Bastis (New York 1987), no. 23.