Obsidian (volcanic glass) head of Senwosret III

This obsidian head, a masterpiece of Egyptian craftsmanship, was part of a full-length statue that probably portrayed king Senwosret III in his mature years. The king is wearing a pleated head-dress (nemes), with the sacred serpent (uraeus), the symbol of royal power.

In this piece the artist conveys the impression of a firm but very human character, though revealing the burden of enormous responsibility inherent in his position.

Obsidian (volcanic glass) head of Senwosret III. Calouste Gulbenkian Museum. Inv. 138
Obsidian (volcanic glass) head of Senwosret III. Calouste Gulbenkian Museum. Inv. 138

Made of obsidian, volcanic glass, a material of great strength and fragility, this portrait was produced at a time when a definite cultural and artistic renaissance was taking place in Egypt, as was illustrated by the flourishing of portraiture.

Senwosret III, who ruled Egypt for about 39 years, was a great king of the 12th Dynasty and is considered to be, perhaps, the most powerful Egyptian ruler of the dynasty.

During his reign, artists did not follow the older idealistic forms in rendering the features of the royal sculptures, but showed a tendency towards more realistic, mostly exaggerated features.

Obsidian head of Senwosret III
Obsidian head of Senwosret III

Middle Kingdom, 12th Dynasty, c. 1860 BC. MacGregor Collection. Acquired by Calouste Gulbenkian through Kehyaian at the sale of MacGregor Collection, Sotheby’s, London, 6 July 1922. Now in the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum. Inv. 138

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