Cult image of the god Ptah, Dynasty 22–early Dynasty 26 (ca. 945–600 b.c.)
Lapis lazuli; H. 2 1/4 in. (5.6 cm)
Anne and John V. Hansen Egyptian Purchase Fund, 2007 (2007.24)
This statuette represents the creator god Ptah, the patron deity of Egypt's capital city, Memphis. His shrouded human form and tight-fitting cap make him quite recognizable. The high quality of workmanship indicates that the sculpture was produced in a royal workshop as a gift from the pharaoh to the god in his great temple in Memphis. It could also have been dedicated to a shrine outside the capital city, as the cult of Ptah became more widespread in the late New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period (ca. 1190–664 B.C.).
The detail the artist was able to carve on such a tiny sculpture in very hard stone is impressive. Lacking room for an inscription, the artist cleverly used iconography and the material itself to communicate Ptah's most important roles. Ptah's epithet, Lord of the Sky, may be read from the lapis lazuli, which stands for the deep blue cosmos studded with stars. The royal beard, the composite scepter, and the sed-festival garment link Ptah with the king and justify his title, Lord of the Two Lands. The sumptuous broad collar signifies his role as Master Craftsman, and the small wedge-shaped base represents the hieroglyph maat, or universal order, an allusion to another of Ptah's epithets, Lord of Truth.