Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Bes on a column holding a knife

Late Period–Ptolemaic Period
664–30 B.C.
From Egypt
Cupreous metal
H. 9.7 cm (3 13/16 in.); W. 2.5 cm (1 in.); D. 1.5 cm (9/16 in.)
Credit Line:
Gift of Lily S. Place, 1921
Accession Number:
Not on view
Although often named simply Bes, this unusual figure is properly termed a Bes-image because it serves to represent a number of different deities who were protective gods, often with a close association to the protection of women and children during and after childbirth. The Bes-image has a mixture of attributes, displaying a dwarf’s body but also incorporating leonine features, such as a lion’s mane and tail. The Bes-image normally wears a feathered crown, which is broken on this figure. Here "Bes" stands on a papyrus column and brandishes a knife, which he would have used to attack and subdue any malignant forces that would threaten the owner.
Bes-images could be standalone offerings, as this one may have been, but they were also frequently incorporated into furniture or personal items to bring good fortune and protection daily. Bes figures had no central cult location, but they were widely manufactured and were closely linked with child gods, who were important in temple cult. Some small Bes shrines are known and the Bes-image also had a role in temple mammisis, or birth houses.
Collection of Lily S. Place, Cairo. Donated by Lily Place to the museum, 1921.

Harer, Ben 2008. "The Drexel Collection: From Egypt to the Diaspora." In Servant of Mut: studies in honor of Richard A. Fazzini, about collector Lily S. Place.

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