Silver Statuette of a Kneeling Ptolemaic King

As the chief intermediary between gods and men, the Egyptian king is often shown kneeling in adoration. This silver statuette was undoubtedly part of a group composition in which the king faced a larger figure of a god.

Temple inscriptions suggest that for much of Egypt’s history, silver was valued more highly than gold. However, unlike gold, which is known to have been brought from the Eastern Desert and Nubia, the sources of silver are obscure, and in view of the relative scarcity of local geological resources, assuredly much was imported from neighboring lands. Because of its pale color, the Egyptians associated silver with the moon (as opposed to the golden sun), ritual purity, and the bones of the gods (coupled with their golden flesh).

Silver Statuette of a Kneeling Ptolemaic King
Silver Statuette of a Kneeling Ptolemaic King

Very few metal statues survive that date from before the Late Period (ca. 664–332 BC), though the Egyptians did have the technology to make large copper statues as early as the Old Kingdom (about 2613-2160 BC), if not before. Perhaps the scarcity of metals meant that such statues were usually melted down and the material re-used. Egypt’s increased wealth during the New Kingdom may be a reason why more examples survive from then than from earlier periods.

Ptolemaic Period, ca. 305-30 BC. Now in the Saint Louis Art Museum. 220:1954