Seated Statue of King Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II
By Kylie Thomsen, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, University of California, Los Angeles.
Date: Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 11, reign of Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II, ca. 2051-2000 BCE
Provenance: Thebes, Deir El-Bahri, Bab El-Hosan
Material: Sandstone, Paint
Current Location: Egyptian Museum, Cairo, JE 36195
In 1900, Howard Carter discovered this seated statue of the deified King Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II. While on horseback, Carter (quite literally) stumbled upon the Bab el-Hosan, a subterranean chamber found in the center of Mentuhotep II’s mortuary complex forecourt, when the ground gave way exposing the stonework of the structure. Once excavation was underway, Carter found this statue within the chamber placed on its side, completely wrapped in fine linen, beside an unnamed, empty coffin. Additional objects found within the chamber include offerings such as meat, sealed pots and model plates.
In painted sandstone, this statue depicts Mentuhotep II wearing the Red Crown of Lower Egypt, a jubilee garment, and a divine beard. The knee-length robe he dons is meant to be worn during the sed-festival, a royal rejuvenation ritual celebrated after thirty years of a king’s rule. His arms are crossed with closed fists that have been pierced for the insertion of royal insignia, likely once holding the crook and flail. The skin of the statue is painted black, as opposed to the usual dark red used when depicting men in ancient Egypt, a color symbolic of renewal, resurrection and, also, the god Osiris. Moreover, his ceremonial beard, distinguished by its length, narrowness and curled end, is also Osirian.
The Bab el-Hosan is now interpreted as a symbolic burial place of Osiris. The accompanying coffin lends itself as further evidence for this explanation. It is plausible that this statue would have been an actor in a ritual wherein it was the recipient of the offerings found within the tomb. It is also telling that the forecourt above this tomb was planted with sycamore figs and tamarisks, possibly symbolizing the sacred grove of Osiris. Considering the nature of the statue’s iconography and deposition, this Osirian association is a likely interpretation.
The facial features on this statue are strong, consisting of a broad nose, large ears, and thick lips. He has large eyes with the inner canthi turned down, and the eyebrows are modeled in relief. Not unlike the group of standing statues of Mentuhotep II in the jubilee garment also found at his mortuary complex (for example MET, New York 26.3.29), the broad, heavy lower half of this seated statue is seemingly archaizing to earlier phases of Egyptian art. For example, the Predynastic statues of the god Min, such as the statue found at Coptos (Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, Oxford AN1894.105e), and the statues of Third Dynasty king Djoser found at his mortuary complex in Saqqara also exhibit the same heavy legs and feet.