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Head of a Mature Man

Egyptian, Classical, Ancient Near Eastern Art

On View: Egyptian Orientation Gallery, 3rd Floor
Changing Faces of the Ancient Nile Valley

Despite the common belief that Egyptian artists were reluctant to change, close examination of works produced over many generations shows that they could be quite innovative in artistic style— the distinctive features of aesthetic expression characterizing a period.


The chief royal sculptor, responsible for official images of the king, usually developed at least one standard “court style.” But styles often varied from one dynasty to the next, and two or more styles often evolved during a single dynasty or even a single reign.

Several forces could result in a new style. A pharaoh’s death could motivate the chief royal sculptor to devise a fresh “standard” for depicting his successor. The replacement of one chief sculptor by another might also inspire innovation. Or perhaps young carvers reacted to the teachings of the chief sculptor, introducing subtle modifications that, over time, became an entirely new style.

The carved heads in this case and in the one on the right, spanning more than three thousand years, demonstrate clear changes in stylistic expression.
MEDIUM Basalt
  • Place Made: Egypt
  • DATES early 2nd century B.C.E.
    PERIOD Ptolemaic Period
    DIMENSIONS 6 1/2 x 4 3/4 x 7 1/2 in. (16.5 x 12.1 x 19.1 cm)
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is on view in Egyptian Orientation Gallery, 3rd Floor
    ACCESSION NUMBER 86.226.14
    CREDIT LINE Gift of the Ernest Erickson Foundation, Inc.
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Black basalt head of a man broken from a statue. Curly hair, realistic portrait of an elderly man, deep furrows from nose to mouth, broken off at neck. Remains of back pillar without inscription.
    RECORD COMPLETENESS
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