Art/ Collection/ Art Object


Object Name:
7th–9th century
Attributed to Egypt
Bone; carved and incised
H. 2 3/8 in. (6 cm)
W. 1 in. (2.6 cm)
D. 1/4 in. (0.7 cm)
Ivories and Bone
Credit Line:
Gift of Lily S. Place, 1921
Accession Number:
Not on view

Figurines: 2001.761.3 and 21.6.107

Each of these two figurines was shaped from a single piece of bone, with the facial features and details of the bodies formed by simple angular incisions. The decoration is confined to the front, while the back is left plain. The arms and the body of 21.6.107 were made from the same piece, whereas the holes on the sides of 2001.761.3 indicate it once had movable arms.

A number of these figurines have been unearthed in Egypt and attributed to a wide range of dates on the basis of neighboring finds or architectural evidence.[1] These objects were probably toys, although it has also been suggested that they may have been used as amulets related to fertility.[2] Usually linked with the Christian population of Egypt, they continue a pre-Islamic tradition of statuettes that survive in a variety of materials including clay and wood, and some may have been discovered in children’s tombs.[3]

The majority of the figurines that survive are plain and take a variety of forms but in general show some common characteristics, with their simple carving of little artistic value. Some are dressed in clothes and have real hair or black paste on their heads.[4] The great number of them in museum collections and the fact that they are frequent finds in excavations suggest that they were common, everyday objects made in large numbers out of bone, a cheaper material than ivory, and thus more easily available.[5]

Mina Moraitou in [Evans and Ratliff 2012]


1. See George T. Scanlon. "Ancillary Dating Materials from Fustat." Ars Orientalis 7 (1968), pp. 16–17; and Mutsuo Kawatoko and Yoko Shindo, eds. Artifacts of the Medieval Islamic Period Excavated in al-Fustat, Egypt. Tokyo, 2010, pls. 10, 11.

2. Delia Cortese and Simonette Calderini. Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam. Edinburgh, 2006, p. 218.

3. Brahim Alaoui, ed. L’art copte en Égypte: 2000 ans de christianisme. Exh, cat. Paris, 2000, p. 216; Maria Argyriadē. Dolls: In Greek Life and Art from Antiquity to the Present Day. Athens, 1991, no. 24; and Marie-Hélène Rutschowscaya. Catalogue des bois de l’Égypte copte. Paris, 1986, pp. 85–91.

4. For three examples see Alaoui 2000 (note 3), p. 217.

5. As, for example, the Museum für Byzantische Kunst, Berlin (see Cäcilia Fluck and Klaus Finneiser. Kindheit am Hil: Spielseung, Kleidung, Kinderbilder aus Ägypten in den Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin. Exh, cat. Berlin, 2009, p. 49); the Benaki Museum, Athens; and the British Museum, London (see Maria Argyriadē. Dolls: In Greek Life and Art from Antiquity to the Present Day. Athens, 1991).
Lily S. Place, Cairo (until 1921; gifted to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition," March 14, 2012–July 8, 2012, no. 134B.

Strzygowski, Josef. "Koptische Kunst." In Catalogue Generale du Musee du Caire. vol. 12. Vienna, 1904. no. nos. 8869-73, ill. pl. XVIII.

Friedman, Florence D. "Egypt and the Copts in the 2nd to 7th Centuries AD." In Beyond the Pharaohs. Providence, R.I.: Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 1989. no. 75, p. 166, ill. (b/w), Not specifically referenced but like objects in Cat #. 75, defined as dolls, likely, rather than 'concubines' or 'fertility amulets'. Other bibliographic references as well.

Evans, Helen C., and Brandie Ratliff, ed. Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. no. 134B, pp. 193-4, ill. (color).

Flood, Finbarr Barry, and Gulru Necipoglu. "Volume 1. From the Prophets to the Mongols." In A Companion to Islamic Art and Architecture. vol. I. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2017. pp. 505–506, ill. fig. 20.1 (b/w).

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