Circa: 19 th Century BC
Dimensions: 2.75" (7.0cm) high x 3.125" (7.9cm) wide
Style: Middle Kingdom
This image of the hippopotamus depicts the heavy, lumbering beast at ease as if it is resting on a bank of the Nile River with its head nestled between its fore-legs. In keeping with ancient Egyptian artistic conventions, the craftsmen have captured the essence of this mammal in a remarkably abstract manner with restrained modeling within a highly modernistic abstract design. Notice how subtly the details of the head are indicated with the slight depression between the eyes and the nostrils in the animal’s snout. Note as well the hieroglyphically designed eyes and their eyebrows. These observations of telling details have not been colored naturalistically because the hippo’s entire body is a turquoise- green in color, and that green surface has been enhanced with the addition floral motifs done in black glaze in a linear, calligraphic style. The turquoise color of the surface and the profusion of floral motifs rendered in black glaze may be taken to symbolize the Nilotic environment in which the hippopotamus lived and prospered.
In general the hippopotamus, particularly the male of the species, was regarded by the ancient Egyptians as a representative of chaos because he often trampled and destroyed crops, as this famous passage from a didactic treatise of New Kingdom date reveals, “…Do you not recall the fate of the farmer when the harvest is registered? The worm has taken half the grain, the hippopotamus has devoured the rest…” Furthermore, the hippopotamus would impede travel on the Nile River and was widely feared by the ancient Egyptians because it posed a hazard to all boats trying to navigate waters in which it lived.