We were first notified of this surprise appearance from a comment in our online collection by Marlene F. Emmett, who spotted a statue that sure looks like our “Bird Lady” in the first episode of the second season of the HBO series True Blood. When I heard about it from Shelley via e-mail, I began to search the web and found an art history shout-out to us at this blog.
Great eye, ladies, and thanks for letting us know about it! Shelley meanwhile got some screenshots to me so I could study them:
Of course, this is not our actual “Bird Lady,” but the prop in the pictures is clearly based on our most complete examples, like the one on our website. I know this because we included two fragmentary “Bird Lady figurines” in our recently closed exhibition, The Fertile Goddess and I did a lot of research on Predynastic female figurines from Egypt in order to write the labels.
Like the figure used in True Blood, the Brooklyn Museum figurines have white paint on their lower halves, representing a skirt, and their legs are not indicated. They were all excavated from graves at one site in Egypt in the early twentieth century. Other Predynastic figurines with raised arms and beak-like faces exist but they don’t have the skirt and their legs are indicated. For an example of this type see this figure at the British Museum.
I would love to know how True Blood got the idea for this prop! Did someone from the show come to Brooklyn and see ours? Did they see it online or in a book? It is certainly an iconic and much reproduced image but not necessarily one I’d expect to turn up in a television show.
I am also very curious about where they found the replica that is used in the show. I did find a few websites that sell replicas based on our “Bird Lady” (here, here and here) and even a photo of one of these replicas on Flickr. However, these have very different bases from the one on True Blood. Maybe they had a different base made or even commissioned an artist to make a replica. I’d be grateful to hear from anyone who might know the answers to these questions.
Madeleine Cody is a Research Associate for Egyptian, Classical, and Ancient Middle Eastern Art. She has a B.A. in Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology from Bryn Mawr College, an MA in Egyptology from Brown University, and is currently completing her Ph.D. in Egyptian and Ancient Near Eastern Art and Archaeology at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. She has worked on excavations in Italy, Yemen and Egypt. Since coming to the Museum in 1997, she has been involved with numerous projects and assisted the late James F. Romano, Project Director, with the second phase of the reinstallation of the Egyptian Galleries, which opened in 2003. With Jim and Richard A. Fazzini, she is a co-author of Art for Eternity: Masterworks from Ancient Egypt (Brooklyn, 1999) and has written about other Egyptian objects from the Museum’s collection. Currently, she is working with the ancient Middle Eastern Art collection, her other area of expertise. She is co-curator of the Herstory Gallery exhibition, The Fertile Goddess, (December 19, 2008 – May 31, 2009).