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Head of Serapis

Egyptian, Classical, Ancient Near Eastern Art

Each of these works is the product of a religious tradition that synthesized and adapted new beliefs and art forms to existing faith systems. Both objects are testaments to the long-standing global nature of African religions, ideas, and art.

The stone sculpture represents Serapis, a composite god created early in the Ptolemaic (Greek) rule of Egypt to unite Greeks and Egyptians. The deity combined aspects of Egyptian gods (especially Osiris, the ruler of the Underworld) with Greek deities (particularly Zeus, the king of the gods). Worship of Serapis continued in the Roman period and eventually spread to Europe.

The painting depicts al-Buraq, the winged horse with a woman's head on which the prophet Muhammad flew the mi'raj, his nocturnal journey to heaven to meet God. Like many in Senegal, Gora Mbengue was a member of a Sufi order, a group dedicated to the practice of a mystical interpretation of Islam. Sufism played an important role in the spread of Islam in West Africa, inspiring schools and movements particularly open to melding new and existing systems of belief and image making. Reverse glass painting (souwère) developed by 1900 in Senegal's cities, as pilgrims on the hajj to Mecca brought the technique back from the eastern Mediterranean.
  • Place Made: Egypt
  • DATES 75-150 C.E.
    PERIOD Early Roman Period
    DIMENSIONS 10 3/8 x 7 3/8 x 6 7/8 in. (26.4 x 18.7 x 17.5 cm) 21.2 lb. (9.62kg)  (show scale)
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    CREDIT LINE Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund
    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
    You may download and use Brooklyn Museum images of this three-dimensional work in accordance with a Creative Commons license. Fair use, as understood under the United States Copyright Act, may also apply. Please include caption information from this page and credit the Brooklyn Museum. If you need a high resolution file, please contact (charges apply). For further information about copyright, we recommend resources at the United States Library of Congress, Cornell University, Copyright and Cultural Institutions: Guidelines for U.S. Libraries, Archives, and Museums, and Copyright Watch. For more information about the Museum's rights project, including how rights types are assigned, please see our blog posts on copyright. If you have any information regarding this work and rights to it, please contact
    CAPTION Roman. Head of Serapis, 75-150 C.E. Marble, 10 3/8 x 7 3/8 x 6 7/8 in. (26.4 x 18.7 x 17.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1522E. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 37.1522E_SL1.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 37.1522E_SL1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2010
    "CUR" at the beginning of an image file name means that the image was created by a curatorial staff member. These study images may be digital point-and-shoot photographs, when we don\'t yet have high-quality studio photography, or they may be scans of older negatives, slides, or photographic prints, providing historical documentation of the object.
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Marble Ammon-Serapis head with wavy beard and moustache. Rams horns crown the head. Condition: The tip of both horns is broken off. The head was made separately and attached to statue. A thin crack is seen across the tip of the nose and nostrils. A brown stain exists, which covers as area on the right side of the head behind the horn. All the work of the beard etc. was done with the running drill.
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