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9 / Portraits

Standing Statue of Hatshepsut
Standing Statue of Hatshepsut
Artist / Origin Unknown artist, Thebes, Egypt
Region: Africa
Date New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, ca. 1479–1458 BCE
Material Granite (originally with paint)
Medium: Sculpture
Dimensions H: 94 ½ in. (242 cm.) (without base)
Location The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, New York
Credit © The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource, NY

expert perspective

Anne McClananProfessor of Art History, Portland State University
Richard BrilliantProfessor Emeritus of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University

Standing Statue of Hatshepsut

» Unknown artist, Thebes, Egypt

expert perspective

Anne McClanan Anne McClanan Professor of Art History, Portland State University

A power portrait has a pretty specific aim. It has to fit within the needs of a whole political structure. It’s about establishing and codifying the person who’s in power to give them authority, to give them credibility as a ruler. Therefore, with a power portrait, it’s essential they get it right. That all the details fit in terms of people’s expectations at that time, at that place in terms of what a powerful person looks like. They have to have the right costume, the right position, the right setting. And when it works it works. You know, you look at the great examples of pictures of Napoleon, pictures of, well even Marie Antoinette, pictures of Hatshepsut, they have all the right markers so that people could read the language they were expressing.

Looking across history you see other examples of cases where women had to appropriate men’s dress as part of having the visual language that expressed that they were in power. Hatshepsut a good example of this, if we look backward in time. Because to show herself as a pharaoh, inevitably she’s implicated in showing herself as a man.

She has the beard, which surprises us and we kind of titter thinking oh she’s cross-dressing, you know, that naughty Hatshepsut. But remember that even for the male pharaohs, it was a ceremonial beard. It’s not their actual beard, it’s just, it’s part of the regalia of Egyptian court life. To be the ruler that’s what you do. And so I think that it’s a more natural expression of power and more, and part of their sense of the representation of rule is that she’s just wearing the regalia of a pharaoh. The goal is to just assume the full accoutrements of power. It’s not about her assuming a male identity.” 

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