As early as the second dynasty, copper was used for statuary. Although the shift from copper to bronze (a copper-tin alloy) was gradual, bronze was already in use for statuary during the Middle Kingdom. It strongly predominated in the New Kingdom and later periods when metal statuary was flourishing. Statuary made from the range of cupreous (copper and copper-alloy) materials forms a closely related group, which is considered here under the heading bronze.

Problems of Bronze Statuary.

The study of bronze statuary poses special problems. Bronze was an extremely popular medium in the Third Intermediate Period and the Late and Ptolemaic periods. A very great number of examples therefore require analysis and organization. Archaeology has provided only limited dating assistance, because excavated bronzes tend to derive from temple deposits of statuary cleared after an extended use period. Inscriptional analyses have offered important contributions, but many bronzes are uninscribed. Stylistic analysis has been complicated, because the periods of the greatest popularity of bronze statuary were times of conscious and compounded archaism with two millennia of tradition on which to draw (Third Intermediate Period, Late period) and ones when political and stylistic relations were complicated in other new ways. Furthermore, standards for the representations of gods—the area of greatest bronze production—conservative. Compositional studies (which had been difficult to perform but have become more standard) can provide only broad suggested date ranges, based on a gradual change in alloyed metals, a criterion further obscured by the very probable practice of melting down and reusing scrap metal from earlier periods. Such technological studies and structural analyses are, however, helpful in establishing and evaluating the frauds and the modern interventions often encountered (reworkings and pastiches); these otherwise tend to be among the great numbers of Egyptian bronzes produced anciently skewing our perceptions of the range of authentic productions.

Important developments are underway that will bring new understandings. Until the 1990s, the descriptive and analytical studies of Günther Roeder (1937 and 1956) were the only significant systematic work done on Egyptian bronzes. His observations and information were typologically and technologically oriented, so only incidentally provided historical indications. Much new knowledge and more chronological refinements are promised by publication of the excavations at North Saqqara; studies of important collections, such as that by the Rijksmuseum in Leiden or that undertaken by the Musée du Louvre, which incorporates studies of a Saqqara cache, black bronzes, and Third Intermediate Period large bronze females associated with Karnak; and studies of groups of related bronzes, such as late Middle Kingdom statues, Kushite kings, kneeling kings, and statues with private inscriptions. Gradually, a full history of bronze statuary will result.

Production and General Characteristics.

Representations of Egyptian metal statuary workshops are known but there is only sparse archaeological documentation. Still, ancient methods can be understood in large degree by the study of ancient examples and by analogy with modern methods. Metal statuary could be formed by hammering or casting. The method for most Egyptian bronze statuary was casting, using the lost-wax method—a casting mold was formed around a wax model, which could then be melted out and then replaced by molten metal. The process resulted in solid-cast statuary or elements. If the molten metal was poured around a nonrefractory core material, then hollow-cast statuary or elements were the result. The Egyptians usually did not remove core material. Statuary was either of one piece (integral) or composed of separately cast elements that were joined by a variety of methods.

Several alloys were used to make statuary throughout Egyptian history. In order of earlier to later use but with much overlapping of chronological ranges, they were: copper; possibly arsenical copper; bronze with variable tin content; and leaded bronzes. The shift from copper to bronze for statuary was gradual, owing to artisanal and economic considerations; therefore, for the early transitional period or to refer to the corpus of copper and bronze statuary as a whole, the term “cupreous” would be most accurate. Moreover, the ancient Roman writer Pliny, in his Natural History, noted that Roman-era bronzeworkers recommended the addition of scrap metal to a melt as an enhancing factor; that practice of melting down the copper or bronze scrap of earlier times almost certainly existed in Egypt and contributes greatly to the blurring of distinctions among alloys. Black copper or black bronze, an alloy with gold, known widely in the ancient world as early as the Middle Bronze Age, appeared frequently in high-quality statuary from Egypt's Late Middle Kingdom through the Third Intermediate Period.

Copper and bronze, which retained rich color and metallic luster longer in the dry, unpolluted air than they do today—and which might be partially or completely clad with gold or silver sheet or leaf or inlaid with other metals, stones, or glass—provided important coloristic and tonal possibilities. In contrast to Egyptian stone statuary but like wooden statuary, bronze also provided a pure and emphatic profile.

Roles of Bronze Statuary.

Three main roles for bronze statuary can be recognized for ancient Egypt. Large bronzes—by their size, quality, and the technical complexity of their manufacture—were important images of a person, usually a king or a high official. Their original context is not well understood; perhaps they stood in temples or funerary chapels; small bronzes probably sometimes served similar purposes. Small royal statuary, however, was dominated by types—most significant and most numerous among them the kneeling kings—which were associated with ritual performance roles. Verified examples are rare of other types—such as seated kings or striding kings without offerings—that might have been recipients rather than performers of ritual. Small, relatively indestructible, lustrous, and conveying an important message through their clearly readable postures, such statues were probably used most distinctively in processional equipment and other types of ritual apparatus. In addition, bronze enjoyed a great popularity in the Late and Ptolemaic periods as a medium for votive statuary, generally donated to temples by private persons. The suitability of bronze for such donations may be partly based on the ease with which fair-sized images could be produced in great numbers, because of the comparative ease of producing wax models for casting. Still, despite the great number produced, no evidence has yet been discovered for the actual replication processes or for mass production of ancient Egyptian bronzes. The popularity of bronze for votive statuary may also be related to its long association with the temple cult and, perhaps, to a perceived kinship with precious metals, which allowed it to be used as a substitute in divine statuary.

Before the New Kingdom.

The history of Egyptian cupreous statuary begins with the large hammered copper statues from Hierakonpolis, of Pepy I of the sixth dynasty and a smaller figure (although an earlier copper statue of Khasekhemwy is referred to on the Palermo Stone). The excavators originally suggested that the Hierakonpolis statues were partially cast, but no scientific evaluation has been published. Small cast cupreous statuary that depicted male and female nonroyal persons has been ascribed to the later Old Kingdom, the First Intermediate Period, and the Middle Kingdom. Very few pieces were excavated, but stylistically they seem to span that interval, and their poses are similar to those of nonroyal wooden tomb statuary, including nude or clothed striding males, males with staffs wearing kilts or long official kilts. From the late Middle Kingdom, a large group was said to be from a single find in the Faiyum area; with other pieces attributable to that period, they form a sizeable variety of cupreous statuary. Categorized here to present the emerging roles of bronze statuary before the New Kingdom, they are: large and small statuary of royalty (a near life-size royal male torso and head; a queen; a large striding king statuette; and a small princess of the thirteenth dynasty nursing a child), including royalty with a clear role in temple cult (a small prostrate king on an incense burner and a fairly large kneeling king statuette); large statuettes of high officials; and possible early deity representations (a nursing woman and child, which some scholars think represents Isis and Horus, and a crocodile, surely connected with the cults of Sobek, the crocodile-headed god). The Faiyum group provided verified examples of early hollow-casting, separable elements, metal inlay, and use of the black-copper or black-bronze alloy that served as a contrasting background for the inlay of other, brighter metals.

New Kingdom.

For the New Kingdom, while textual references and likely depictions of bronze statuary (censers with kneeling statuettes of Thutmose III or perhaps processional bark statuary) were found, the number of firmly attributed statuettes remains small. Some number are probably unrecognized; still, particular temple roles for royal bronze statuary had further developed, as evidenced by an important series of kneeling statuettes of kings, including Thutmose III, Thutmose IV, an uninscribed but probable Tutankhamun, and Ramesses II. The coincidence of their appearance with the elaboration of the figural equipment of the great New Kingdom processional barks and other processional equipment depicted in reliefs suggests a possible relationship, especially since later bronze examples of statuary types restricted to baths are known. Other examples, such as a small bronze statuette of an Amarna king further emphasize the role of royal statuary as an element of cult and processional equipment. Rare examples of private and divine statuary have been identified (a small crocodile inscribed with the name of Amenhotpe III has been noted by Christiane Ziegler), and others probably exist. Genre statuary was found as part of utensils, such as mirrors and stands. Shawabtis of royal (Ramesses II) and nonroyal figures (as, for example, the late eighteenth dynasty milling shawabti of Si-Ese, now at the Brooklyn Museum of Art) were found from the New Kingdom onward into the Third Intermediate Period.

Late Ramessid and Third Intermediate Periods.

From the late Ramessid and Third Intermediate Periods, royal statuettes or fragments thereof are known in kneeling, striding, and sphinx poses—and in a variety of sizes. Also from the Third Intermediate Period, and extending even to the twenty-sixth dynasty, came a number of large bronze statues: one of a king and the rest of high persons, especially females; Elisabeth Delange, John Taylor, and their colleagues at the Louvre and British Museum have shown that some of the females especially were connected with the cult of Amun at Karnak, and some served processional uses. A few bronze statuettes of gods are inscriptionally and a number stylistically datable to that time. The bronzes of the period show strong interest in surface decoration and coloristic effects; the large complex bronzes, most of all, testify to a very high level of technical ability.

The reasons for the particular flourishing of bronze, and indeed precious metal, statuary during the Third Intermediate Period remain obscure and are surely numerous. Moreover, our poor knowledge of the New Kingdom artifactual record may contribute to an exaggerated contrast. Nonetheless, it may be that the periods overlay of cult structure—where precious metal and bronze statuary had their most distinctive and coherent use—with political structure might have combined to influence the types and materials favored.

Kushite Dynasty.

Considerable emphasis was placed on royal bronze statuary by the Kushite kings of the twenty-fifth dynasty. Numerous kneeling kings date to that dynasty, and a number of new ritual positions are represented by statuettes that may also date to the dynasty. The elaboration of a typology and the multiplication of ritual examples might be the extension of a process that began in the Third Intermediate Period. Kushite depictions and the existence of distinctive types of bronze processional bark statuary indicate that the dynasty gave attention to bark processions; the remains of what was conjectured to be a wooden bark in temple A at Kawa, along with bronze royal statuary scattered about the site, is however, not a convincing association.

Several examples of a type whose first certain examples were dated to the Third Intermediate Period are preserved from the Kushite period, that is, kings with arms extended and palms facing inward (as the Athens Shabako). These are often referred to as “offering bronzes,” whose offering (such as a vessel) is missing or implied, although no bronzes of this type have preserved offerings, and royal bronzes seem to be generally associated with a restricted set of offerings (nw-pots or the goddess Maat or the wḏʒt). The pose is that of royal figures shown protecting baldachin (canopy) poles on a divine processional bark or protecting and holding divine standards and emblems and the like; such statuettes, which became increasingly popular, may actually have filled that type of protective role.

The Kushite period also provided the earliest preserved example of a kneeling bronze king, offering round nw-pots in a fixed grouping with a god (Taharqa with Hemen, now in the Louvre). That is a rather special piece, however, without archaeological provenance uniting what seems to be an older, rather crude stone image of the falcon god Hemen with a fine bronze image of Taharqa—the god covered with gold sheet and the unifying base with silver. If not surprising, this is the first preserved physical indication that the use of bronze royal statuary extended beyond employment in ritual and processional equipment to small, simple groupings which might have been set in shrines, like those seen in the Festival Reliefs of Osorkon I. Divine bronze statuary can be attributed to the Kushite dynasty both by inscription and by style, and it provides an indicator for the major trend in bronze statuary for the rest of the Late period and the Ptolemaic era. Kushite inscribed nonroyal donations seem to be restricted to high officials of the divine adoratrices, and made on behalf of the latter.

Although they are smaller and simpler and display less interest in inlay techniques, the bronzes of the period are often very fine sculptures, with high-quality detailed castings.

Late Period through the Ptolemaic Period.

Distinctions among these periods are difficult to make because the record is suffused with great numbers of votive bronzes, most without either inscriptions or very precise archaeological context, if any. A few indications of the situation are given here. Some large or otherwise important bronzes of private persons belong to the twenty-sixth dynasty; for example, the Brooklyn Museum's Harbes and the British Museum's Khonserdaisu, from the time of Psamtik I, and the Ephesus Museum's Ihat, from Necho II/Psamtik II.

Small, kneeling bronze kings with royal names inscribed on the statuette were made through the twenty-sixth dynasty, with the last known that of Hakoris of the twenty-ninth dynasty. Numerous other bronze kings are datable to the periods by style. In that class must be included a number of important Kushite bronzes, whose inscriptions and distinctive regalia were modified (probably at the time of Psamtik II) while the statuettes were apparently retained in use. Royal statuettes, though uninscribed, continued to be made during Ptolemaic times. At the same time, royal statuettes in various reverential positions, grouped with a deity, begin to appear.

While the private practice of donating votive bronzes had roots in earlier periods, for reasons that are poorly understood, it gained great currency in the Late and Ptolemaic periods, along with a number of other votive practices. Many important questions about the nature of religious practices, temples, and the production of votive objects have not yet been satisfactorily answered. (For bronzes, publication of the deposits of statuary found in the Egypt Exploration Society excavation of the Saqqara Sacred Animal Necropolis will be a great step forward.)

Votive statuary—comprising either individual figures or groups of figures, with the occasional inclusion of what seems to be a royal or priestly intermediary figure—generally depicted the gods and the animal manifestations of gods. Some of the statuary served also as coffins for votive animal mummies, another major votive practice of the time. Osiris seems the most popular of the subjects, but a great range of choices was displayed; some, such as statuettes of Neith or of Mahes of Leontopolis, had narrower chronological or geographical ranges. Moreover, a number of inscriptions have been dated to the Saite period, based on various criteria. Inscribed examples may name a royal or private donor (one Saite statuary corpus collected by Herman DeMeulenaere [1990], seems to record both a donor and a temple subaltern as facilitator of the donation), and they most often request that the donor be given life, indicating that one large purpose of the donations was direct request for eternal life. Some seemingly uninscribed bronzes may have been inscribed on wooden bases that are now missing.

Beyond Egypt, there were successors to the Kushite period bronzes, created by the cultures of Nubia and Sudan. Most are small and the subject matter not surprising; however, a major bronze statue of a standing, armed Meroitic king has been found on the Isle of Argo, and it has been dated to 200 BCE (by D. Wildung, Sudan Antike Königreiche am Nil, 1996, no. 270).

Roman Period.

There are perhaps traditional Egyptian bronzes made in the Roman period, but they represent increasingly marginalized subjects. There are, however, also some Egyptianized Roman types, such as winged, kneeling kings who hold offering tables against their thighs.

Archaeology.

As mentioned above, the archaeological record for bronze statuary is frustrating. Many excavations of temple sites included bronzes among the finds, but listed below in roughly chronological order are groups that either suggest a restricted date or otherwise offer important information:

  • • A few private statuettes from the First Intermediate Period and Middle Kingdom were traceable to tomb contexts in Middle Egypt. New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period shawabtis, whether royal or private, have or clearly imply a nontemple provenance.
  • • A temple structure at Hierakonpolis yielded the large statues of Pepy I and the associated figure. Several large Third Intermediate Period bronzes are traceable to Karnak and chapels there.
  • • Deposits of Osiris statuettes at Medinet Habu were found in a number of areas, none clearly datable before the later Ptolemaic period, though the likely time of deposition may in some cases be narrowed. Some, at least, may be associated with the Gods' Wives buried there, since stone Osirises were certainly offered in their names at that site. Osiris statuettes, other gods, and king's statuettes some definitely of the twenty-fifth dynasty derived from temples constructed in the twenty-fifth dynasty at Kawa but destroyed in Meroitic times.
  • • Deposits from the first stage of the Heraion at Samos, which has been dated to the late eighth and first half of the seventh centuries BCE, preserved an important group of Egyptian bronzes including large statues of males and some goddesses. Other bronzes of early date are still being found. This suggests the possibility of Egyptian influence on Greek bronzes at a formative time.
  • • Excavations by the French near Dush in the Kharga Oasis (reported yearly in Bulletin de l'Institut français d'archeologie orientale) have uncovered a temple that seems to date from the mid-twenty-seventh to the early twenty-ninth dynasty and contains large deposits of bronze votive Osirises.
  • • A large number of bronzes came from deposits in the area of the Saqqara Sacred Animal Necropolis. Many were excavated in the nineteenth century, and the archaeological records have been difficult to reconstruct. Others derive from controlled excavations by the Egypt Exploration Society and publication of most of these is awaited; the preliminary reports by H. S. Smith promise useful segregation of the votive deposits by date and, to some extent, by purpose.

Bibliography

  • Bianchi, Robert S. “Egyptian Metal Statuary of the Third Intermediate Period (Circa 1070–656 B.C.), from Its Egyptian Antecedents to Its Samian Examples.” In Small Bronze Sculpture from the Ancient World, edited by Marion True and Jerry Podany, pp. 61–84. Malibu, 1990. Focus on the Third Intermediate Period and the period of importation of Egyptian bronzes to Samos.
  • Davies, Sue, and Harry S. Smith. The Sacred Animal Necropolis at North Saqqara. Falcon Complex and Catacomb. London, forthcoming. This report deals with a significant proportion of the bronze statuary from the Sacred Animal Necropolis excavations and gives reference to the Saqqara reports.
  • Delange, Elisabeth, Angélique de Mantova, and John H. Taylor. “Un Bronze égyptien méconnu”. Revue du Louvre 5 (1998), 67–75. Close art historical and technical study of a large bronze female in the Louvre, with gathering of related objects.
  • Delvaux, Luc. “Les Bronzes de Sais. Les dieux de Bouto et les rois des marais.” In Egyptian Religion. The Last Thousand Years, Part 1, edited by Willy Clarysse, Antoon Schnoors, and Harco Willems, pp. 551–568. Louvain, 1998. Pieces together an early bronze find and notes other pieces that might belong iconographically.
  • DeMeulenaere, Herman. “Bronzes égyptiens de donation.” Bulletin des Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire 61 (1990), 63–81. Identification of a group of votive bronzes, with inscriptions that tell us something more about the votive practice.
  • Hill, Marsha. “A Bronze Statuette of Thutmose III,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Journal 37 (1997). Discussion of New Kingdom royal kneeling bronzes and their role; the appendix by the technical author includes a discussion of black copper or black bronze.
  • Jantzen, Ulf. Samos VIII: Ägyptische und Orientalische Bronzen aus dem Heraion von Samos. Bonn, 1972. Illustrates many Egyptian bronzes from Samos. For other material and discussion, see Bianchi (1990) and also Helmut Kyrieleis's contribution in the same collection.
  • Leahy, Anthony. “Egypt as a Bronzeworking Centre (1000–539 B.C.).” In Bronzeworking Centres of Western Asia c. 1000–539 b.c., edited by John Curtis, pp. 297–309. London, 1988. Provides the larger historical and regional picture.
  • Müller, Maya. “Der kniende König im 1. Jahrtausend.” Bulletin de la Société d'Égyptologie, Genève, 13 (1989), 121–130. Very condensed study that outlines the problems of bronzes depicting kneeling kings in the Late period; includes extensive references to dated material.
  • Ortiz, George. In Pursuit of the Absolute: Art of the Ancient World, nos. 33–37. London, 1996. Most of the finds from the Middle Kingdom Faiyum group are discussed and illustrated; references are given to those not in the Ortiz collection.
  • Roeder, Günther. Ägyptische Bronzewerke. Glückstadt, 1937.
  • Roeder, Günther. Staatliche Muszeen zu Berlin: Mitteilungen aus der Ägyptischen Sammlung, vol. 6, Ägyptische Bronzefiguren. Berlin, 1956. With the previous work, the basic iconographic and technological organization of the material.
  • Romano, James. “A Statuette of a Royal Mother and Child in The Brooklyn Museum.” Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts 48 (1992), 131–143. Detailed study of a small royal bronze female from the pivotal late Middle Kingdom period and listing of early small statuary.
  • Russmann, Edna R. The Representation of the King in the XXVth Dynasty. Brussels and New York (Brooklyn), 1974. Includes a compilation of known Kushite bronze kings.
  • Russmann, Edna R. “An Egyptian Royal Statuette of the Eighth Century B.C.” In Studies in Ancient Egypt, the Aegean, and the Sudan, edited by William Kelly Simpson and Whitney M. Davis pp. 149–156. Boston, 1981. Observations about royal bronzes, including stylistic assessments of the known Third Intermediate Period royal bronzes, which point the way toward further identifications.
  • Schorsch, Deborah. “Technical Examination of Ancient Egyptian Theriomorphic Hollow Cast Bronzes—Some Case Studies.” In Conservation of Ancient Egyptian Materials, edited by S. C. Watkins and C. E. Brown, pp. 41–50. London, 1988. Structural studies.
  • Taylor, John, Paul Craddock, and Fleur Shearman. Egyptian Hollow-Cast Bronze Statuettes of the Early First Millennium B.C. Apollo (July 1998), pp. 9–14. Technical and archival overview of a number of large bronzes.
  • Thieme, Andrea. “A Brief Note Concerning the Filiation zʒ Nʿ[-n-]-f-'Iʿḥ msj ḥpt.ti.” Göttinger Miszellen 153 (1996), 101–105. Includes listings of securely dated bronze deity and animal representations.
  • Vassilika, Eleni. “Egyptian Bronze Sculpture before the Late Period.” In Chief of Seers: Egyptian Studies in Memory of Cyril Aldred, edited by Elizabeth Goring et al., pp. 291–302. London, 1997. Some suggested new datings; useful correlation of these and known pieces with compositional analyses.
  • Ziegler, Christiane. “Les arts du métal à la Troisième Période Intermédiaire.” In Tanis L'or des pharaons, cat. exp., pp. 85–101. Paris, 1987. Review article; listings of Third Intermediate Period bronze statuary.
  • Ziegler, Christiane. “Jalons pour une histoire de l'art égyptien: la statuaire de métal au Musée du Louvre.” Revue du Louvre 1 (1996), 29–38. Surveys bronze history through the Louvre collections, in particular. Many important dated pieces are noted, a number of ongoing investigations are signaled.

Marsha Hill