Head of female sphinx
Chlorite head of a female sphinx with missing inlaid eyes, wig clip visible. Middle Kingdom, 12th Dynasty, c.1876-1842 B.C. Heliopolis, Egypt. Possibly found within Hadrian’s Villa, Rome, Italy. Brooklyn Museum. 56.85
Small details sometimes provide crucial clues to understanding a sculpture. On this object, for example, the back of the wig extends horizontally instead of downward, indicating that the head originally belonged to a sphinx, a mythological creature with a human head and a lion’s body. Sphinxes represented the king’s ability to crush Egypt’s enemies. Although sphinxes were usually male, the heavy striated wig shown here only appears on representations of women.
This statue’s inlaid eyes, probably of metal and colored stones, were pried out in antiquity, resulting in extensive damage. Repairs to the eyes, lips, and chin were apparently made in the eighteenth century.
Sphinxes generally represented the king’s ability to crush Egypt’s enemies. So the depiction of a woman as a sphinx is definitely indicative of her high status as a queen or princess. Lions were revered for their strength, courage and majesty and the lioness’ motherly instinct represented the mystical duality of fury and care.
When statues fall, the noses tend to be the point of impact, as well. Many statues may have had their noses removed late as a way to “kill” the statue and harm the soul of a deceased person.
It’s believed that a restoration attempt was made during the 18th century. Restorers of the time likely repaired the damaged uraeus (snake at the hairline, that you see on lots of Egyptian works) reducing it to a jewel like hair clip and eliminating all traces of the snakes body which likely was coiled on top of the head.