Artist's Sketch of Pharaoh Spearing a Lion

Period: New Kingdom, Ramesside

Dynasty: Dynasty 20

Date: ca. 1186–1070 B.C.

Geography: From Egypt, Upper Egypt, Thebes, Valley of the Kings, Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV 62), debris near the entrance, Carnarvon/Carter excavations, 1920

Medium: Limestone, ink

Dimensions: H. 14 cm (5 1/2 in.), W. 12.5 cm (4 15/16 in.), Th. 1.5 cm (9/16 in.)

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

Accession Number: 26.7.1453


This ostracon (a limestone chip used for writing or sketching) was found in the Valley of the Kings during excavations conducted by Howard Carter for the Earl of Carnarvon. In this lively scene, an unidentified king, accompanied by his hunting dog, is shown in the process of slaying a wounded lion. The scene was drawn with great economy by the confident hand of a skilled artist who required no grid lines as a guide. The drawing style clearly identifies it as a product of the Ramesside Period, Dynasties 19–20.

Although some of the figured ostraca discovered in the Valley of the Kings were trial sketches made to facilitate an artist's work, the subject depicted here is not found in royal tombs, nor do the figures conform to the strict proportions of a formal rendering. In fact, this is not a simple hunting scene as it appears at first glance. The hieratic writing above the lion reads: "The slaughter of every foreign land, the Pharaoh—may he live, prosper, and be healthy." For the Egyptians, their king was the embodiment of the god Horus. As such, he had the power to maintain order in the world and protected Egypt against her enemies.

In this simple, elegant sketch, the artist seems to be expressing his hope that the current pharaoh will dominate the enemies of Egypt. Such a votive offering may have been inspired by some crisis in Egypt's foreign relations, or, upon learning that the pharaoh has died, the artist may be wishing health and prosperity to his successor.