Head of a Middle Kingdom Dignitary or Priest
This head was originally part of a colossal (larger than life) statue of a dignitary or priest, dating from approximately 1700–1600 B.C., making it a Middle Kingdom or Early Second Intermediate piece. It is not known if he was seated or standing.
Now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, this statue was excavated at the temple of Osiris at Abydos, this man had intention to be of importance during his afterlife. To be placed in such a location, you could imagine he had hopes to continue his duties at the temple.
Made from Quartzite, this head measures at 30cm tall and depicts the man at middle age or older. This dignitary is depicted with a receding hairline, showcasing his age, with tufts of hair on each side of his head. He stares forth with an ever so slight smile, barely noticeable. The hooded eyes and line work showcasing the face of a mature man is reminiscent of the sculpture of the 12th Dynasty kings, such as Senwosret III specifically:
Some scholars propose that the rather forlorn expression noticeable in sculptures of king Senwosret III of the Middle Kingdom era, was in response to the first collapse of the Unified Kingdom of Egypt. The king was depicted with an expression of strain behind the strength, rather than the serene perfected glances of the Old Kingdom. Senwosret III, undoubtedly depicted in shape and confident but with a slightly mature face, showcasing hooded almond eyes of sympathy, with his usual thin straight mouth in a tight line with a slight frown of contemplation.
Such statues, coming after the rather hopeful, ideal statues of the Old Kingdom, are a rather shocking sight to behold. The cannon of Egyptian art going through change is often credited to the New Kingdom 18th Dynasty king Akhenaten, however, it is more than apparent that such changes took place much earlier on in the Middle Kingdom.
It appears, that in sculpture, the idea within the Middle Kingdom, was possibly to depict the weight on the shoulders of the king or those in elite institutions or roles of power (such as mayors, priests, viceroys, etc). After the trouble of the First Intermediate Period, a king has to showcase strength but sympathy to his kingdom. Statues were likely to showcase a mature, noble glance with a sense of wisdom.
The symbolic nature of Egyptian iconography however was never lost, as the king would also be depicted with overly large ears. Such ears were depicted overly large to make sure those who needed to be aware, were taught that the king, representing Egypt itself, was able to hear even the slightest whispers of those who may be planning and conspiring to cause disruption to the kingdom once more.
Of course, these ideals about the Egyptian art format of the Middle Kingdom are really just conjecture, however, they are educated propositions and do tend to make a lot of sense considering the evidences.
Quartzite head from a large statue of a priest or dignitary
Middle Kingdom–Second Intermediate Period, Late 13th Dynasty, c. 1700–1600 B.C.
From Osiris Temple at Abydos, Egypt.
Now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. 02.4.191