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Jessica Nicholson

Professor Strum

Art History

November 14, 2017

Bust of Sekhmet

Created by an unknown artist in the Age of the New Kingdom in Ancient Egypt

during the 18th dynasty, the Bust of Sekhmet is currently sitting within the walls of the

Albany Institute of History and Art. It’s time, 1388-1350 BCE places it amongst the New

Kingdom era while Amenhotep III was the ruler. This piece was deemed to officially been

from the Temple of Mut at Ka, which was located in Thebes. This piece of art came at a time

that the ancient Egyptians were taking strides and leaps into a more artistic world. Though it

is still a plain standard bust to most eyes, it has a depth with story and small details that are

sometimes hidden from the eyes of most.

There is high dispute between sources as to where the original location of this one of

hundreds Bust of Sekhmet was originally from, it has been disputed between places that are

very similar in location, but the transport would have made all the difference. The Albany

Institute of Art and History states, “-the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet that had been

relocated to the courtyard of the Mut temple from the Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III on

the opposite side of the river.” This believes that the statue was displaced from its original

stomping grounds. The Metropolitan Museum of Art states that “-today many scholars

believe that originally the statues all stood at the Kom el Heitan mortuary temple,” which is
now a belief that has been spreading around and exploring by historians. Other sources stuck

by the belief that the Temple of Mut was its home from it being created. Either way, the bust

was found on the south side of the Temple of Mut along with dozens of other black granite

structures of this lion-headed goddess.

The Temple of Mut was made for a consort of Amun-Re and her temple was

classified as a “cult-temple” that was in the area of Thebes, this temple lied right next to the

very important Temple of Amun-Re at Karnak. This temple was quite basically completely

dedicated to the goddess of Sekhmet seeing that there were about 600 of her statues scattered

around its courtyard, whether they were moved there or made there, it still classified the

temple as hers. It’s a smaller scaled Temple but it still held significance. This temple was

absolutely covered in homages to the goddess Sekhmet, who was the form that Mut

ultimately took upon. The temple was considered highly protected due to the intense spirt of

the goddess being present within.

The subject of this piece is very obviously the goddess Sekhmet. This goddesses

name interestingly stands for “power” and “might” or even “The Powerful One”. In a

separate source she is described as, an “ambivalent goddess of war, disease, and chaos who

could also cause such calamities to cease and, in her role as the sun’s destructive eye, could

repel hostile powers threatening Egypt” (Watts 131). Sekhmet is, as seen in figure 1,

depicted as a woman’s body with an intriguing and intimidating lions head. From occasion

this goddess’s depiction also includes a sun dick on her head which our piece is lacking. This

goddess was always highly tied to another goddess, Hathor, who is the goddess of joy,

music, dance, sexual love, pregnancy, and birth. In this pairing it is very obviously seen that
Sekhmet is the harsher side of the of the partnership. This goddess had many varying stories

surrounding her. She was highly tied to the god, Ra. It is said that Ra created this goddess

from a fiery rage to punish mankind who showed Ra disrespect. She was then forced into

thinking by the other gods that she destroyed mankind when they diabolically died the entire

Nile river with red die which made it appear as the people’s blood (Albany Institute of Art

and History). Another source states that Sekhmet was created out of the “Eye of Ra” which

was a violent creation, she proceeded to carry out Ra’s wishes of destroying mankind, but as

Ra changed his mind because he was kind at heart, the goddess would not quit her efforts.

She continued in her blood thirst. From here, Ra was forced to drug/intoxicate the goddess to

stop her violence in its tracts. She ultimately became worshiped as “the destroyer” because of

the stories attached to her name. She was terrifying to those who weren’t close to her. As for

those close to her, she acted as a healer in ways. She carried both the names “Lady of Terror”

and “Lady of Life” which were very contradictory to one another.

The ruler during the time of this piece was Amenhotep, the Grandfather of King

Tutankhamun. This king was known for his ability to satisfy the balance in the New

Kingdom. He maintained peace and prosperity, which gave him a good amount of time to be

able to focus on the art of the Egyptian world. This ruler had a strange appreciation for lions,

he held them to great standards. This could explain why he had 600 statues of the goddess

Sekhmet made and spread around a temple that signified a Lioness. As he died, he ended an

era of complete peace and prosperity in the art aspect of this ancient world. As his successors

followed the kingdom fell into a rut.


Interestingly, this piece can be heavily compared to the hundreds of additional statues

and busts made of this goddess. It is disputed that this bust was previously a full statue but

due to the fact most of the temple was in ruins, there’s really no way to prove or disprove

those ideas. Still, all the busts and statues alike had very specific, individualized aspects but

they could also all very easily be strung together and the similarities were uncanny.

The style of the piece is simple, as went with the time period. Our bust exemplifies

the very flat facial expression which was common for the time and showed a significance of

some sort of power. A big indication of the power she held over mankind and gods and

goddesses alike was the pharaoh crown that was placed upon her head in this bust. It shows

that in some way she ruled her surroundings. This figure features very tiny and intense eyes

that seem to bare through the soul of most. This was to exemplify her blood thirst and need

for power and control over many. The Metropolitan Museum of History goes into detail of

facial structures on the bust stating, “lioness head with its small intense eyes and prominent

sinewy jaws bespeaks her potential for violence” which speaks of her demeaning jaw, meant

to scare, and assert her dominance amongst all, living and not. This bust also had a cartoon

like quality, like most Egyptian pieces. They had not yet moved into the use of very realistic

art so the sculpting was made to look unrealistic and more like something you would expect

a god or goddess to resemble. The process of this bust being made is with mainly stone tools,

not including the end and smaller, more fine details which are done with very valuable

bronze tools which are only utilized for this rare aspect.

The Bust of Sekhmet is a beautiful piece of art that captures many of the aspects of

this time periods artistic choices. Though the artist is not specifically known, it would have
been a man or woman with much talent for this craft. The Egyptian exhibit within the Albany

Institute of Art and History was beautiful and eye opening to realize how much has really

been captured from such a far-off time. We can learn so much from the littlest things, art

gives us a whole new look at the society at the time. The New Kingdom in Ancient Egypt

took many strides toward beautiful art which was exemplified especially in this period.
Work Cited

"Chapter 4: Section 6: Late Egyptian Art." Art History, Volume I: Prehistoric—1400.

N.p.: Boundless, 2013. N. pag. Print.

Budge, E. A. Wallis. The Gods of the Egyptians: Or, Studies in Egyptian Mythology. Vol.

1. New York: Dover Publications, 1969. Print.

Lythgoe, A. (n.d.). Statues of the Goddess Sekhmet. New York, NY: Metropolitan Museum of

Art. Print.

Ranke, H. (1936). The Art of ancient Egypt; architecture, sculpture, painting, applied art.

Vienna: The Phaidon Press. Print.

Egyptian Art (article). (n.d.). Retrieved November 14, 2017, from

https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ancient-art-civilizations/egypt-art/beginners-guide-

egypt/a/egyptian-art

Mark, J. J. (2017, May 30). A Brief History of Egyptian Art. Retrieved November 14, 2017,

from https://www.ancient.eu/article/1077/a-brief-history-of-egyptian-art/

Sekhmet. (n.d.). Retrieved November 14, 2017, from

http://www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/sekhmet.html

Mark, J. J. (2011, July 15). Amenhotep III. Retrieved November 14, 2017, from

https://www.ancient.eu/Amenhotep_III/
Figure 1: Bust of Sekhmet

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