8 1/2 in. x 6 1/4 in. (21.5 cm x 16 cm)
Purchase, Gift of Henry Walters, by exchange; Liana Weindling Gift, in memory of her mother, and Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 2011 (2011.96)
Solar hymns of about 1400 B.C. call this divinely poised and alert animal a "sib" and describe it as "trampling the sun god's enemies." The sib sphinx was one of the figures populating the decks of the portable boat-shaped shrines on which Egyptian gods rode into processions. The god, concealed in a shrine at the center of the boat, or bark, was identified to onlookers by the benevolent figureheads at the prow and stern. Royal statuettes encircling the shrine provided ritual protection. Near the prow stood the god's personal entourage: Matt and Hathor, daughters of the sun god Re, who acted as guides, and the sib, or bark sphinx, who warded off enemies and whose expressive form telegraphed the otherworldly nature of the procession.
The sib stands on a platform in the form of a divine standard. Cobras undulate alongside it, reinforcing its power. The sphinx evokes the typical Egyptian composite of human and lion, but its elongated body, high hips; and backward-thrusting legs allude to the dangerous grace of the leopards and panthers associated with Re's daily voyage across the sky. The perfect oval shape and narrowed, slightly tilted, and full-lidded eyes of the smiling human face endow it with an ethereal beauty.