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Head of a pharaoh
ca. 2675-2130 B.C.E.

Old Kingdom
Dynasty 5 or 6

Stone and copper
H: 73.0 cm
Egypt

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Whose portrait is this? The headgear and moustache identify the figure as an Egyptian pharaoh; the tall crown with the rounded top, known as the White Crown, signified rule over southern Egypt. Broken at the neck, the head originally belonged to a full, probably standing, statue. In ancient Egypt, such statues were placed in tombs to serve as eternal images of the deceased. Sculptors sought to convey the pharaoh's divine character, while also experimenting with realistic portrayals of the human face and body.

Displayed in a museum case, this head resembles isolated portrait heads familiar in Western art—tempting us to think of it as a finished object. The original statue probably provided further clues to the figure's identity, perhaps including a hieroglyphic inscription naming the pharaoh. Details of the crown and face suggest that this statue was carved in Dynasty 5 or 6, the period following the building of the Great Pyramids at Giza (ca. 2500 B.C.E.). Few royal statues survive from these dynasties, making this head a rare example of Egyptian royal portraiture produced toward the end of the Old Kingdom (2675–2130 B.C.E.)