Statuette of a nude woman with moveable arms, one missing

Third Intermediate Period

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 130

This statuette of a woman is an ancient mechanical figure. Both of her arms were attached to an axle that runs between her shoulders; a string was wound around the axle, then ran through a channel in her body and left leg to emerge beneath the base under her feet, so that pulling the string caused the axle to turn and the arms to rise. Such figures, called automata, are known: the museum’s figure of a pygmy (34.1.130) was part of an ensemble of dancing pygmies that turned on a base by a string mechanism, and the mouth of the ivory dog (40.2.1) opens by a simpler lever system.

The figurine had been considered problematic, but a recent study has adduced strong technical evidence to support its antiquity, thus restoring it to a place in our displayed collection.

The study also endeavored to place the statuette in terms of style, suggested a reconstruction for the pose of its missing left arm, and posited an identity that the author viewed as a clue to understanding a larger group of first millennium figures.

Statuette of a nude woman with moveable arms, one missing, Boxwood

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