Philippe de Montebello (Director Emeritus) and Dorothea Arnold (Department of Egyptian Art) discuss Ritual Figure (2003.154) (July 2008).
Wood, formerly clad in lead sheet
H. 8 1/4 in. (21 cm), W. 5 5/8 in. (14.3 cm)
Purchase, Anne and John V. Hansen Egyptian Purchase Fund, and Magda Saleh and Jack Josephson Gift, 2003 (2003.154)
The fluid pose and chest-beating gesture of this extraordinary figure evokes a stately performance. Egyptian relief representations depict figures like this as part of a troupe of similarly genuflecting divine beings with falcon- and jackal-heads. This troupe is usually seen attending the sunrise or the birth and coronation of a king; and three-dimensional figures of the same type were set around the processional shrines of certain gods, doubtlessly to accompany the epiphany of the deity during a procession.
It is not easy to explain the presence among the animal-headed divinities of the human-headed figure wearing—as seen here—the regalia of a pharaoh. Some scholars interpret the figure as the representation of an actual king. Others understand it as a mythical being that introduces royal aspects into the otherworldly ritual. Whatever its exact meaning, this masterpiece of the wood carver was certainly part of a temple's equipment. Its ritual character was further emphasized by a covering of lead sheet, now vanished.