Cosmetic Container in the Form of a Bes-image

Period: Late Period

Dynasty: Dynasty 27

Date: 525–404 B.C.

Geography: From Egypt

Medium: Faience

Dimensions: h. 9.2 cm (3 5/8 in); w. 4.4 cm (1 3/4 in); d. 3.9 cm (1 9/16 in)

Credit Line: Gift of Norbert Schimmel Trust, 1989

Accession Number: 1989.281.94


This squat human form with leonine features is commonly identified as the god Bes, but several other minor Egyptian gods were also represented by this image. These were protective deities, so they appear frequently as apotropaic figures in the decoration of furniture and personal belongings. Here, the god stands holding the cap of a kohl container, which has a small round hole in the top for insertion of an applicator. It seems likely that the hollow cap fit over a tube that could be detached for easy filling.

The god's features are carefully modeled. His protruding tongue is outlined against the full lower lip. The eyes have a center dot of gray-blue and are rimmed with raised cosmetic lines that extend to the hairline, as do the heavy eyebrows. The hair is smooth, but manelike whiskers are sharply etched, with small holes at the ends indicating tight curls. Although the god usually has a tail of his own, the tail here clearly belongs to his leopard-skin garment. The narrow brown belt was applied separately; a section has chipped away, leaving a distinct groove. The hollow rectangular modius on the god's head perhaps held a feathered crown, cemented in place with Egyptian blue, traces of which remain. The back of the right arm has been repaired.

The earliest firmly dated Bes image wearing a leopard skin comes from Dynasty 25, and it has been convincingly demonstrated that the style and iconography of this example date to Dynasty 27.