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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

Additional Resources

Joyce, Rosemary. Embodied Lives: Figuring Ancient Maya and Egyptian Experience. London: Routledge, 2003.

Robins, Gay. The Art of Ancient Egypt. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

Roehrig, Catharine H., Renee Dreyfus, and Cathleen A. Keller. Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005.

Silverman, David P. Ancient Egypt. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Spanel, Donald B. Through Ancient Eyes: Egyptian Portraiture. Exhibition catalog, The Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Alabama. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988.

Standing Statue of Hatshepsut

» Unknown artist, Thebes, Egypt

Likeness was never a chief concern for Egyptian portraiture, which instead emphasized idealized appearance.

The longevity of certain poses and gestures in Egyptian art points to a desire on the part of the Egyptians to convey a sense of stability and order in the world, and portraits of the elite, especially, tend to depict their subjects in the prime of life, eternally young, strong, and healthy. The standing statue of Hatshepsut exemplifies all these qualities. At the same time, the unique circumstances of Hatshepsut’s position called for art that was in other ways atypical.

Hatshepsut, who reigned from 1479 to 1457 BCE, was a descendant of Ahmose, founder of the Eighteenth Dynasty and first ruler of the New Kingdom, and the chief queen of Thutmose II. When Thutmose II died prematurely circa 1479 BCE, his heir, a son by another wife, was still in his infancy. Hatshepsut first acted in the capacity of regent, ruling on behalf of the child. Early in his reign, however, she claimed the title of kingship for herself. She seems to have ruled alongside Thutmose III until her own death.

While women claimed legal equality with men in ancient Egypt, they were nevertheless generally excluded from official positions. Hatshepsut is one of the few women in Egyptian history to have assumed the role of pharaoh. In portraits such as this one, Hatshepsut is depicted not only in the vigorous, forward-striding stance common in Egyptian art, but also bare-chested and wearing the royal kilt. She is shown, moreover, donning symbols of power traditionally reserved for male rulers—the striped Nemes headdress and the false beard, a ceremonial item associated with the gods, hence with the pharaoh’s divine aspect. Images in which Hatshepsut adopts this masculine attire coincide with her increased claims to power and seem to have been one of several methods by which she sought to legitimize her rule.

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