This head depicts an ancient Egyptian princess, daughter of King Amenemhat II, and originally had a lion’s body. Over the centuries, it has traveled from collection to collection, acquiring different meanings in each place.
The sphinx first served as a protective deity in a temple. It was brought to Italy, perhaps in ancient times, for sacred use in a temple of the Egyptian goddess Isis. In the eighteenth century, it represented typical Egyptian art in the collection of Cardinal Alessandro Albani. William Petty, second Earl of Shelburne, purchased it in 1772 to decorate his London house. A Sotheby’s clerk bought it for himself from a London antique shop in 1945. The Brooklyn Museum acquired it in 1956 as one of Egypt’s greatest masterworks.