Wood with remains of black pigment
L. 5 in. (12.7 cm)
Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 2006 (2006.16)
The smoothed edges of this foreleg of an ox indicate that it is not a fragment from an animal figure but a complete three-dimensional object in its own right. In fact, this masterpiece of wood carving is a miniature representation of a khepesh, the most important meat offering that ancient Egyptians presented to the gods and the deceased.
The khepesh played a role, for instance, in the consecration ceremony called "opening the mouth," which was believed to instill life into a newly made statue or a just completed building. Initially, real joints of meat were deposited, together with other objects, under the foundations of sacred buildings, but from at least Dynasty 19 (ca. 1295–1186 B.C.) onward, small khepesh models became part of foundation deposits. The elongated shape and delicate rendering of this khepesh, however, suggest a date in the second part of Dynasty 18, when the art of animal representation was at its peak. Either the piece is the first evidence of the custom's earlier existence or it served in some other dedicatory capacity.