Middle Kingdom Faience Hippopotamus - SK.020 - For Sale
Middle Kingdom Faience Hippopotamus - SK.020
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Circa: 2040 BC to 1640 BC
Dimensions: 2.15" (5.5cm) high x 4.6" (11.7cm) wide
Style: Middle Kingdom
This faience hippopotamus belongs to a group of statuettes found in large numbers in Egyptian tombs of the Middle Kingdom period. The black line drawings represent flowers, plants and insects native to the Nile Region. Often shown standing or striding forward, this example is unusual for its seated and almost docile pose. The animal is fashioned as though lying on the banks of the Nile with its legs tucked beneath the body and the head lowered as if to graze.
The symbolism of the hippopotamus in ancient Egypt was ambiguous. Known for their aggression, these animals were a threat to crops and people. As a force of destruction they were often associated with the evil god Seth. One of Egypt’s earliest kings was believed to have been killed by a hippopotamus and many temple walls depicted the god Horus hunting them with a harpoon. In the Old and New Kingdoms court officials had themselves depicted on tomb walls engaged in the same activity. The faience examples discovered during recorded excavations were often placed behind the mummy’s back or below the feet. Many of the standing statuettes had their legs deliberately broken before burial. This has been interpreted as an attempt to render evil spirits harmless. However they were also associated with fertility and rebirth. The composite goddess Tawaret, for example, was believed to protect women during pregnancy. The use of faience also suggests that the figurine was used to achieve rebirth in the afterlife. Faience, or ‘tjehnet’, literally means ‘what is gleaming’ and was associated with the light of the sun, moon and stars. Grave goods such as ushabtis or amulets were made from this material in the belief that this would help impart life to the dead.