Ancient Egypt, Middle Kingdom, 11th to 13th Dynasty, ca. 2130 to 1649 BCE. An astounding limestone panel hand-carved in low relief to depict a male figure facing left, expertly hand-painted in hues of brown, pink, and ochre atop the creamy beige limestone. Likely part of an agricultural or labor scene, the ancient figure presents a slender body wrapped in a short, shendyt kilt suspended by a belt at the top as it dramatically flares out, pushed forward by his hearty stride. His narrow waist is sharply contrasted by broad shoulders on which he balances a thin, wooden carrying pole. He holds both arms out in front of him, each bending at the elbow to tightly grasp the pole as he gazes forward, fully absorbed on the task before him. Shown in profile, his hairless head displays a stern visage comprised of a large, elongated eye, a sharp nose, fleshy lips, and a naturalistic ear. Size: 5.5" W x 8.5" H (14 cm x 21.6 cm); 11.2" H (28.4 cm) on included custom stand.
A woven rope falls from his carrying pole, acting as a suspension for the sizeable, lengthy object at his side, likely a slab of wood for constructing a boat as carrying poles were frequently used by laborers in lumberyards of Ancient Egypt.
Raised reliefs are some of the most famous art from ancient Egypt. They lined the walls of tombs, temples, and palaces, and have a specific visual style of two-dimensional, profile figures that persisted in Egypt for centuries. Artisans created them in several steps. First, they carved the scene in low relief. Next, they divided the drawing surface into a grid using string coated in red pigment dust. Archaeologists have found models divided into grids to help artists better understand proportions on these often-large works. The painting was then done a single color at a time. Egyptian pigments came from local minerals, and red came from iron oxides ground and mixed with a plant- or animal-based glue that would adhere to sandstone.
The carved (rather than simply painted) and brightly colorful nature of this relief indicates that it was from a prestigious location - most likely a major temple, but also possibly a high-ranking official's tomb or even a palace. Images like this one were part of larger stories, usually a journey through the afterlife or meeting deities in the afterlife, that were designed to help people understand religious concepts and, if found in a tomb, to introduce the dead to their new world.
Provenance: private East Coast collection, New York, New York, USA, acquired before 2010
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Fragment of a larger piece. Repaired from a few pieces with light restoration and repainting over break lines. Chipping to peripheries. Some expected nicks and abrasions. Otherwise, excellent with impressive remaining pigments and detail.