Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Design Amulet, Cow Nursing Calf and also a Kneeling Suckling Man Visible on Opposite Side on the Back, Device showing Antithetical Falcons with an Ankh Sign over a Lion

First Intermediate Period
Dynasty 8
ca. 2150–2100 B.C.
From Egypt
Steatite, glazed
L. 2 × H. 1.5 cm (13/16 × 9/16 in.)
Credit Line:
Gift of Helen Miller Gould, 1910
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 103
Design amulets from the late Old Kingdom and First Intermediate Period, also called button seals or figure seals according to their form, were at least in some instances used as seals. They seem overwhelmingly, however, to show devices (base decoration) and combinations of figural backs and base decoration that are clearly amuletic in nature; moreover, at least at Qau, they came mainly from the burials of women and children. Examples are preserved from tombs where they were buried with the dead, sometimes incorporated in strings of beads and amulets.

A recent study has cast considerable light on the motifs and their amuletic significance. For the design amulets with three dimensional figural backs, the backs and the device on the base relate in some manner. Here the base device shows antithetical falcons on either side of an ankh, emblems of royal power and royal protective power; the crouching lion that appears beneath them is thought to represent in this context dangerous powers controlled by the king. In conjunction with nursing mothers or, as here, the closely connected nurturing and nursing animals, the amulet can be thought of as the alignment of powerful protective forces and wishes for the vulnerable young or the vulnerable dead.

From the opposite side of the mother cow and calf, a kneeling male is visible nursing from the cow's udders.
Formerly in the collection of the Reverend Chauncey Murch (died 1907). Collected between 1883 and 1906 while Murch was a missionary in Egypt. Collection purchased by the Museum from the Murch family with funds provided by Helen Miller Gould, 1910.

Mace, Arthur C. 1911. "The Murch Collection of Egyptian Antiquities." In The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, vol. 6, no. 1 (January, Supplement), p. 13, fig. 7.

Hayes, William C. 1953. Scepter of Egypt I: A Background for the Study of the Egyptian Antiquities in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Part I: From the Earliest Times to the End of the Middle Kingdom. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 142-142, fig. 84-85.

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