Relief of Mentuhotep II

King Mentuhotep II being embraced by the falcon-god of war Montu (no longer visible)

Middle Kingdom, 11th Dynasty, c. 2055-2004 B.C.

Temple of Mentuhotep, Deir el-Bahari.

Relief of Mentuhotep II
Relief of Mentuhotep II

Limestone relief of Mentuhotep II: this section of raised relief shows Mentuhotep II, wearing the red crown of Lower Egypt, embraced by the god Montu.

Montu embraces the king with both hands as a sign that Mentuhotep is the recipient of the god’s blessings and benefits. Although Montu’s figure here is almost entirely gone, he can be recognized from the traces of his headdress. Montu wore a sun disk circled by two cobras; part of the disk and the cobras are still preserved.

Behind Mentuhotep stood a goddess, probably Hathor. But a closer look at the king’s shoulder reveals too many hands: one hand of Montu and two others, both of which cannot belong to the goddess.

It is possible that something went awry here when the relief was restored during the New Kingdom, as we know it was. But it is also possible that this was an ancient mistake, which would have been hidden under plaster and paint.

The proportions of the figures are quite natural, and there is a good deal of modeling in the king’s face. Most of the detail, however, was painted, rather than carved.

The paint is well preserved, although it has darkened with time and with early preservation treatments. We can still see that the red crown was indeed red, and we can make out the details of the king’s elaborate costume.

In addition to the usual collar necklace he wears a single-strap tunic and a plain, short kilt. Attached to the belt is an apron of bead strings. This partially covers a beadwork panel wrapped across one hip, from which is suspended an amulet representing a swallow with a sun disk on its back.

British Museum. EA1397