Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Apis bull

Late Period–Ptolemaic Period
664–30 B.C.
From Egypt
Cupreous metal
H. 3.9 cm (1 9/16 in.); W. 2.2 cm (7/8 in.); L. 5.6 cm (2 3/16 in.)
Credit Line:
Gift of Joseph W. Drexel, 1889
Accession Number:
Not on view
The worship of the Apis bull is attested as early as Dynasty I. Arguably the Apis, unlike many sacred animals in Egypt, was not just favored by a certain deity, but was considered a deity in his own right. A single living representative was stabled near the Ptah temple in Memphis. The bull selected for this important role had certain colorful markings, such as a white triangle on the forehead, and black patches resembling winged birds or scarabs on the body. The bull is often shown, as here, wearing a large sun disc, a banded collar, and a decorated rectangular cloth on its back. The sun disc on this figure is broken, but traces between the horns indicate that it was part of the original composition. Similar markings are easily visible on Apis 17.190.62.

The Apis bull participated in ceremonies of fertility and regeneration. When it died, it was embalmed and buried with all honors; at that time, a new bull bearing the requisite markings was selected. Beginning with the reign of Amenhotep III (1390–1352 B.C.) in Dynasty 18, the place of Apis burials gradually became a huge and growing underground system of chambers called the Serapeum in the Memphite necropolis, Saqqara. The bull was so revered that even the mothers of Apis bulls had their own cult and burial place.
Donated by Joseph W. Drexel, Philadelphia, 1889.

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