Hatshepsut as a Sphinx

The reconstructed sections of the sphinx of Hatshepsut have been cast from an almost identical, but more complete companion piece now in Cairo. The two small limestone sphinxes may have been on either side of the entrance to the upper terrace of Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahari.

The head of this sphinx differs markedly from Hatshepsut’s large sphinxes in which the human head wears the royal nemes headdress. Instead, this example was fashioned according to a type of sphinx bet known from the Middle Kingdom during the reign of Amenemhat III (1859-1813 BC).

Sphinx of Hatshepsut
Sphinx of Hatshepsut. Metropolitan Museum of Art. 31.3.94

The Metropolitan Museum’s Egyptian collection also includes sphinxes representing Hatshepsut’s successor Thutmose III (08.202.6), his son Amenhotep II (30.8.72), and his great grandson Amenhotep III (1972.125).

In this sphinx, the only human element is the face which is surrounded by a lion’s mane. Remains of pigment show that the face was painted yellow, the color used for women in Egyptian Art.

In spite of her typical representation as a man, she is shown here with feminine facial features, especially in the full cheeks and lips. However, she has a long false beard like all male kings.

The name Hatshepsut is inscribed on the royal cartouche between the forelegs of the sphinx. The body is painted yellow except for the mane. The false beard and the ears are painted blue.

The sphinx has a long history in Egyptian art, the most famous example being the great sphinx at Giza which represents the 4th Dynasty King Khafre who lived almost a thousand years before Hatshepsut. Sphinxes representing other pharaohs may be seen throughout the Egyptian galleries.

New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, reign of Hatshepsut, ca. 1479-1458 BC. Now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 31.3.94