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Magical Relief

Egyptian, Classical, Ancient Near Eastern Art

Although the winged god with a lion’s face and legs resembles Bes, this image is a composite of several forces represented by the multiple animal heads on the god’s crown. This multifaceted feline divinity stands over bound captives and animals symbolizing chaos—scorpion, turtle, and, apparently, a lion—because they inhabit the dangerous desert or marshes. The god’s power over chaos suggests his protective function.

Originally, water flowed through the opening at the bottom of the stela, providing magical security, curing ailments and preventing harm.
CULTURE Egyptian
MEDIUM Limestone
  • Place Made: Africa
  • DATES 305-30 B.C.E.
    PERIOD Ptolemaic Period
    DIMENSIONS 31 1/2 x 25 1/2 x 5 in., 238 lb. (80 x 64.8 x 12.7 cm, 107.96kg) with mount: 322 lb. (146.06kg)  (show scale)
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    ACCESSION NUMBER 37.229
    CREDIT LINE Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund
    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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    CAPTION Egyptian. Magical Relief, 305-30 B.C.E. Limestone, 31 1/2 x 25 1/2 x 5 in., 238 lb. (80 x 64.8 x 12.7 cm, 107.96kg). Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.229. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 37.229_PS9.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 37.229_PS9.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2016
    "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 Soft limestone stela. The central portion of the piece is occupied by a large four-handed figure of the god Bes. He wears a high crown decorated with various animal heads. His two upper hands support figures which occupy the upper corner of the stela, the left figure being a cynocephalus ape, the right an ibis, emblems of the god Thoth. Behind the body of the god are elongated figures which may be conventionalized serpents. At the feet of Bes are two bound captives. Below these figures is a register with three bound and kneeling captives at each end, the intervening space being filled by three animal figures which appear to be a lobster, crab, and a lion-like animal. There is a semi-circular opening in the middle of this register. It probably served a magical purpose in guarding Egypt from the foreign invaders depicted in the captive figures. The workmanship is good. Condition: The limestone is extremely soft and is chipping in various places. The base of the piece is badly weathered and there are numerous chips, the head of the ibis being badly chipped.
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