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Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Inlay depicting Thoth as the ibis with a maat feather

Late Period–Ptolemaic Period
4th century B.C.
From Egypt; Possibly from Middle Egypt, Hermopolis (Ashmunein; Khemenu)
H. 15.5 cm (6 1/8 in.); W. 1 cm (3/8 in.); L. 15.6 cm (6 1/8 in.)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1926
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 134
This exquisite piece of inlay from a shrine shows Thoth, god of writing and all things intellectual, as an ibis walking atop a standard. Its beak is supported by a feather—the symbol of Maat, goddess of justice and closely associated with Thoth. The artist beautifully captured the halting stride of the bird, which seems to be considering its every step.
This figure is one of a group of finely executed polychrome hieroglyphic inlays (18.2.8-.9 and 26.7.991-.1004, .1006-.1007) in the museum's collection; with the exception of the royal figure (26.7.1006), which is said to be from Memphis and 26.7.1007 which arrived separately in the Carnarvon collection, the inlays are all said to be from a single find at Ashmunein, ancient Hermopolis. The presence in the group of Thoth (26.7.992) and figures that could well represent the seated mummiform Hermopolite solar and creator god Shepsi offers some confirmation of this provenance.
Examination of the figures as a group suggests that they formed part of a large inscription detailing a king's names (including the Horus of Gold name, 26.7.996) followed by epithets naming Thoth and Shepsi. The presence among the figures of Anhur, Re, and goddesses who could well be Hathor, along with larger Horus falcons, suggests elements of the name(s) of 30th Dynasty pharaohs, with Nectanebo II's names precisely suited. There is some variability in color and manufacture among the pieces, so repairs or additions to the inlaid inscriptions over time are possible.
The great winged falcon (26.7.991) might have presided over the larger scene, which might have occupied the side of a large wooden shrine, for example.

Marsha Hill 2010
Formerly Carnarvon Collection, purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art from Almina, Countess of Carnarvon, 1926. Previously purchased by Lord Carnarvon from Nicholas Tano, Cairo, 1918.

Capart, Jean 1927. Documents pour servir a l'étude de l'art égyptien. Paris: Les Éditions du Pégase, pp. 92-93, pl. 98.

Lythgoe, Albert M. 1927. "The Carnarvon Egyptian Collection." In The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, vol. 22, no. 2 (February), p. 39 (photo).

Breasted, James H. Jr. 1936. Geschichte Ägyptens. Zürich, Pl. 323.

Pijoán, José 1950. Summa Artis: Historia general del arte, Vol. III. 1950. Madrid, Color plate I, opp. P. 8.

White, J. E. Manchip 1952. Ancient Egypt. London: A. Wingate, pl. 10, below right.

Cox, Warren E. 1979. The Book of Pottery and Porcelain, 1. 1979. New York: Crown Publishing, p. 278, pl. 81.

Schorsch, Deborah 1988. Arts in Virginia, 28, p. 51.

Arnold, Dorothea 1995. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, new ser., vol. 52, no. 4 (Spring), New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 30, no. 29.

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