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Pregnant Hippopotamus with Crocodiles

Egyptian, Classical, Ancient Near Eastern Art

On View: Egypt Reborn: Art for Eternity, Old Kingdom to 18th Dynasty, Egyptian Galleries, 3rd Floor

The strange vignette of a pregnant hippopotamus with a lion's mane, similar to the goddess Taweret, with a crocodile on her back and another nipping her paw is often found in Egyptian astronomical texts in connection with the northern constellations. However, the inscription at the left on this relief makes such a setting uncertain because it mentions Hapi, the god of the Nile's inundation. The textual genre and the provenance (temple or tomb wall or part of a sarcophagus?) thus remain unknown. The relief comes from either an unparalleled astronomical scene or a tableau featuring Hapi in which the representation of the hippo was "'borrowed" from astronomical scenes. If the hippo is Taweret, then the connection with Hapi is understandable because both had strong denotations of fertility.

MEDIUM Limestone
  • Place Made: Egypt
  • DATES ca. 664-30 B.C.E.
    PERIOD Late Period to Ptolemaic Period (possibly)
    DIMENSIONS 14 5/16 x 13 1/2 x 2 3/4 in., 23 lb. (36.4 x 34.3 x 7 cm, 23 lb.)  (show scale)
    CREDIT LINE Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund
    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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    CAPTION Pregnant Hippopotamus with Crocodiles, ca. 664-30 B.C.E. Limestone, 14 5/16 x 13 1/2 x 2 3/4 in., 23 lb. (36.4 x 34.3 x 7 cm, 23 lb.). Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 70.2. Creative Commons-BY
    IMAGE overall, 70.2_version1_PS6.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2013
    "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 Portion of a limestone relief. Represented is the goddess Taweret shown in her normal guise of a pregnant hippopotamus with lion's feet and a crocodile upon her back. The goddess is shown striding left with outstretched arms. Before the goddess, and touching one of her hands, is a small crocodile. Behind Taweret is a partially preserved column of text. In front of her-above and below her arms- are preserved portions of smaller inscriptions. Traces of original red pigment appear to be preserved upon her tongue. Condition: Back and sides rough; numerous chips, scratches and encrusted dirt; long surface cracks running from top to bottom through the crocodile upon the back of the goddess.
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