Face of Senwosret III

Period: Middle Kingdom

Dynasty: Dynasty 12

Reign: reign of Senwosret III

Date: ca. 1878–1840 B.C.

Geography: From Egypt

Medium: Red quartzite

Dimensions: H. 16.5 cm (6 1/2 in.); W. 12.6 cm (4 15/16 in.); D. 11.4 cm (4 1/2 in.)

Credit Line: Purchase, Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1926

Accession Number: 26.7.1394


The face of Senwosret III is one of the most individual and recognizable in all of Egyptian art. The deep-set, heavy-lidded eyes, the thin lips, and the series of diagonal furrows marking the rather hollow cheeks give representations of this king a brooding expression not usually found on the faces of Egyptian kings, who are generally portrayed with a more youthful countenance. Although it lacks an inscription, this fragment of a quartzite statue is easily identified as a likeness of Senwosret III. However, unlike the stern features seen on the face of the king's gneiss sphinx (17.9.2), the expression here is somewhat softened, suggesting the face of a living, aging man. This image is one of the few instances in Egyptian art in which the ruler seems consciously to have chosen to represent his humanity rather than an idealized image of eternal kingship.

Senwosret III is noted for his military achievements. He mounted four campaigns into Lower Nubia, where he confronted the powerful kingdom of Kush, based at Kerma in the Sudan. He established the southern border of Egypt at Semna at the Second Cataract and founded or expanded a string of fortresses along the Nile in Nubia to control all movement and trade. He built his pyramid complex at Dahshur, which is being excavated by the Metropolitan Museum, as well as a rock-cut tomb and cenotaph at Abydos.