Statue of Ramesses II

In this statue King Ramesses II appears in the Blue Khepresh Crown or war helmet, grasping the heqa scepter. The sculpture is world renowned as the Turin masterpiece portrait of Egypt’s longest reigning and most famous king.

Breaking with traditional royal portraits, the great general wears a long full robe that is asymmetrically draped to create an enormous bell sleeve and his feet are shod in sandals. Had the Amarna Period not intervened, we would expect the king to be barefoot and wearing a kilt that allowed free movement, as on the battlefield.

It is also the Amarna artistic innovation that made it possible for the face to be more realistically modeled, with real sockets and lids for the eyes. The nose is extremely large, the mouth is proportionally small. The chin is even recessive, all which are unusual until this point.

A concession to tradition is the incision of the eyebrows and cosmetic stripes. The nine bows, representing the enemy foreign tribes. They are symbolically incised under the king’s feet and two prisoners. An Asiatic and a Nubian are also depicted on the base, underscoring the king’s absolute supremacy over Egypt and its possessions.

Left and right of the king’s legs, on a smaller scale and according to their relative importance, are the figures of Queen Nefertari, identified in the inscription as beloved by the Theban goddess Mut, and Ramesses’ son Amun-her-khepeshef, identified as the right hand plume bearer and beloved son.

It is difficult to estimate the number of craftsmen and hours of work required to make a statue like that of Ramesses II. Black granite could not be modeled with copper tools, usually used for cutting limestone and sandstone, instead it required dolerite tools, a stone of great hardness: hammers and chisels of this material were repeatedly beaten on the surface of the stone to make the splinters come off. If you look at the face of the statue, the nostril cavities for example, you can still see traces of this method. Once finished, the statue was polished with abrasives, sand or sandstone pebbles.

Identifying the material with which a statue is carved can reveal a lot of information. In fact, since Neolithic times and throughout Pharaonic history, the Egyptians have employed a great variety of stones, of different grain, hardness and color in the making of sculptures.The quarries of some of these are located far from the Nile and needed expeditions to extract blocks that were transported across the desert to the Nile valley; an example is the Bekhen stone, extracted in the eastern desert. The stone used for the statue of Ramesses II was extracted from Aswan, in southern Egypt. The block must therefore have traveled along the river to Karnak, where the statue was found.

New Kingdom, 19th Dynasty, reign of Ramesses II, ca. 1279-1213 BC. Dimensions: 196 x 70 x 105 cm. Made of granodiorite. From the Temple of Amun-Re at Karnak. Drovetti collection (1824). Now in the Egyptian Museum of Turin. Cat. 1380