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Bust of the Goddess Sakhmet

Egyptian, Classical, Ancient Near Eastern Art

On View: Egypt Reborn: Art for Eternity, Old Kingdom to 18th Dynasty, Egyptian Galleries, 3rd Floor
Sakhmet, whose name means “The Powerful One,” wears a sun-disk and cobra on her brow, identifying her as the daughter of the sun god Re. In her role as the Eye of Re, Sakhmet was dispatched abroad to destroy Egypt’s enemies. Angered because Re set another goddess in her place while she was away, the Eye refused to return and protect Egypt, until pacified by wine, music, and dance. The Egyptians explained the sun’s annual motion toward the south and then back to Egypt as the Eye’s departure and return. In other myths, Re’s Eye symbolized natural phenomena, such as the Nile’s annual flood and the Egyptian new year.

The Ambiguous Female: Sculpture as Message and Magical Prayer

Although Sakhmet’s true form was believed to be hidden, this bust’s lioness face refers to her power and fierce nature, which could either defend or destroy. The goddess’s benevolence and protection were deemed particularly necessary at times of transition, such as the new day or year. Amunhotep III commissioned two or more Sakhmet statues for each day in the year, compelling the goddess’s favor and protection.

Many statues of Sakhmet were found in the Precinct of Mut at Karnak. Since Sakhmet’s actions were primarily destructive while Mut represented protection, the two goddesses were sometimes considered as the positive and negative aspects of one deity.

MEDIUM Granodiorite
  • Place Found: Thebes, Egypt
  • DATES ca. 1390-1352 B.C.E.
    DYNASTY XVIII Dynasty
    PERIOD New Kingdom
    DIMENSIONS 39 x 19 7/8 x 15 9/16 in. (99 x 50.5 x 39.5 cm)  (show scale)
    ACCESSION NUMBER 1991.311
    CREDIT LINE Gift of Dr. and Mrs. W. Benson Harer, Jr. in honor of Richard Fazzini and the excavations of the Temple of Mut in South Karnak, Mary Smith Dorward Fund and Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund
    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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    CAPTION Bust of the Goddess Sakhmet, ca. 1390-1352 B.C.E. Granodiorite, 39 x 19 7/8 x 15 9/16 in. (99 x 50.5 x 39.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. W. Benson Harer, Jr. in honor of Richard Fazzini and the excavations of the Temple of Mut in South Karnak, Mary Smith Dorward Fund and Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 1991.311. Creative Commons-BY
    IMAGE overall, 1991.311_view2_SL4.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2014
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