Bust of Prince Ankhhaf

Prince Ankhhaf. Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition. 27.442
Prince Ankhhaf. Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition. 27.442

Prince Ankhhaf was the son of an Old Kingdom king, most probably king Sneferu, making Ankhhaf the brother of king Khufu.

This bust made of a limestone core and painted plastered covering was discovered within the Mastaba of Ankhhaf, at the Great Eastern Cemetery in Giza. It dates from approximately, 2520–2494 B.C. It is thought that the statue of Ankhhaf was actually a part of an offering altar, also known as a False Door.

Prince Ankhhaf, was likely the son of Khufu, builder of the Great Pyramid.
Prince Ankhhaf, was likely the son of Khufu, builder of the Great Pyramid.

Although commonly referred to today as a False Door, to the Egyptian, there was nothing false about it, as such a construction was in fact a spiritual portal from one world to the next: the realm of the living and the dead.

False door from the Tomb of Idu. G 7102
False door from the Tomb of Idu. G 7102

Through such a creation, the False Door, made it so that the deceased would be able to travel through the entrance and receive the offerings from their living loved ones. It is said that around the remnants of Ankhhaf’s False Door, over 90 models of eternal offerings had been left for the prince.

In Old Kingdom Egypt, three-dimensional representations of the deceased would often be displayed within the doorway, sometimes striding or sometimes just a display of the dead from their upper torso upwards with hands flat upon the floor or pedestal, ready to receive the offerings brought to them. It is therefore thought this torso of Prince Ankhhaf came from such a display.

reconstruction drawing of the bust of Ankhhaf with its base
reconstruction drawing of the bust of Ankhhaf with its base

Such a realistic portrait from the Old Kingdom was deemed to be a rare find, and in 1942, the bust of Ankhhaf was even purposely evacuated to protect it during World War II. During this time, curators had a little fun and dressed a replica of the bust in modern male clothing, as seen below.

Bulletin of the Museum of Fine Arts. Volume XLI Boston, February, 1943. Number 243
Bulletin of the Museum of Fine Arts
Volume XLI Boston, February, 1943. Number 243

And it is interesting to note that the hat and coat of the writer, who is six feet tall and weighs about 160 pounds, fit the ancient Egyptian perfectly. – Dows Dunham, Bulletin of the Museum of Fine Arts, 1943.

The bust of Ankhhaf showcases him as likely middle-aged, as a receding hairline is noticeable and eyebags are present under the eyes. Many write that realism was rarely seen in such early works, and it wasn’t until the Middle Kingdom with the Senwosret line, and much later with the Amarna Period under the reign of Akhenaten or much, much later under the Greeks that Egyptians took on the realistic depiction within art and sculpture. However, that is highly debatable, and to say that realism was not a forte of the Egyptians would be wrong. Many beautiful realistic sculptures from the Old Kingdom exist, such as the glorious Nofret and Rahotep, who sit staring out into eternity with their inlaid eyes and beautifully carved and painted faces, likewise with the wooden statues that capture the chubby face and soft neck of Ka’aper from Saqqara. They are just two of multiple examples of Egyptian craftsmanship that gives the Greeks and Romans a run for their money, while predating them thousands of years.

The bust of Ankhhaf as discovered. Tomb G 7510, Giza.
The bust of Ankhhaf as discovered. Tomb G 7510, Giza.