At over five metres in height, this striking ancient Egyptian statue is the tallest Egyptian statue in the western Hemisphere. One of a pair of identical statues, this one is on display in the Oriental Institute Museum of the University of Chicago, while its better preserved twin is in the National Museum in Cairo. The two statues were excavated from a temple on the West Bank of Luxor, near the temple of Medinet Habu, by archaeologists from the Oriental Institute in 1930.

The colossal statue bears all the hallmarks of a king. For example, he stands with his left foot forward and is wearing head-dress that was reserved for Pharaohs; the striped cloth over his head onto which the double crown was placed, here the double crown of a united Upper and Lower Egypt. Above his forehead is the cobra goddess, which was believed to spit fire at the king’s enemies. While he appears to be carrying scroll-like objects that are thought to represent the documents by which gods affirmed a king’s right to divine rule. The beaded collar and pleated kilt are also typical of royal dress. And tucked into the waistband is a falcon-headed dagger – symbols of the gods Horus and Re.

But which king does the statue represent?

The cartouches on the back pillar of the statue and the belt buckle of the kilt all bear the title of King Horemheb (who ruled between 1321 and 1293 BC). Under these hieroglyphs, however, are the traces of hieroglyphs that name an earlier king, i.e. Aye (who ruled from 1324 to 1321 BC), Horemheb’s predecessor. Given that the pair of statues were associated with a temple initially built for Aye and then completed by Horemheb, understandably Horemheb’s name was re-cut over Aye’s name. Mystery solved … or is it?

Anyone who has seen one of a number of representations of Tutankhamun’s face (and as one of the most popular faces of ancient Egypt – lets face it most of us have) will recognise the striking similarity between the facial features of this colossal statue and those of other images of Tutankhamun. And so on stylistic grounds, Egyptologists believe this statue to have been made for King Tutankhamun, which was then appropriated by Aye, and appropriated later by Aye’s successor Horemheb – who also appropriated his temple.

Although this imposing statue looks complete today, only the crown, head and torso are original. These ancient pieces were attached to a metal frame, the height of which was determined from the other, more complete statue. Casts of the arms, legs, feet and base were taken of the Cairo statue and then added to the Chicago statue. The reconstruction is sensitively done, and it is a truly impressive artefact that complements a number of the other colossal artefacts in the Oriental Institute’s collection from the Middle and Near East.

If you like your archaeology big, the Oriental Institute Museum is the place to go!

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