Immensely famous ever since its discovery, this statue of Khafre represents the apotheosis of the sculptural skill of the court artists applied to the sublimation of royal divinity.
King Khafre is portrayed on a cubic throne carved entirely with symbols of royalty: on the front, lion paws and protomas, and on the sides, the symbol of the sema-tawy, the emblem of “Uniting of the Two Lands” (Upper and Lower Egypt) represented respectively by the papyrus plants and the lotus knotted around the hieroglyph of the trachea.
The purpose of the statue was to legitimize and celebrate the universal authority of the king, of whom the throne was one of the most powerful expressions, as the guarantor of the stability and unity of the country. The concept is further emphasized by the presence of the falcon-god Horus who protects the head of the king between his wings as though to underline the perfect symbiosis of the man and the god.
Khafre wished to give an unequivocal sign of the supreme function that the gods had assigned to him and to whose world he belonged by the creation of an unspecified number of identical reproductions of this statue (23 of them were found in the funerary temple) to illustrate the synthesis of earthly and heavenly power. The statue overcomes the formal limits of simple sculpture and becomes a message in itself: it is a three dimensional hieroglyph cut from stone.
The skills of the sculptor succeeded in turning a work of complex ideological content into a masterpiece. As often happens, the choice of stone was a determining factor in the success of the execution; in this case, a high quality stone like the hard and compact diorite was an ideal material to create full but not heavy volumes, with the three dimensional relief rendered softer by the careful polishing of the surfaces.
The figure of the king seems therefore to reflect the light of his own divine essence, an effect that is cleverly emphasized by the dark green veined with white of the diorite.
Old Kingdom, 4th Dynasty, around 2570 BC. Made out of anorthosite gneiss (related to diorite). Excavation by Auguste Mariette (1860)From the Valley Temple of Khafre. To be in the Grand Egyptian Museum, Giza. JE 10062