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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Head of Horus
Work Type
sculpture, head
mid 7th-late 1st century BCE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Africa, Egypt (Ancient)
Late Period to Ptolemaic
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Cast, lost-wax process
7 x 4.2 x 4.8 cm (2 3/4 x 1 5/8 x 1 7/8 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Bronze:
Point 1: Cu, 95.81; Sn, 2.75; Pb, 0.17; Zn, 0.005; Fe, 0.46; Ni, 0.03; Ag, 0.01; Sb, 0.07; As, 0.66; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, 0.041; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, less than 0.001
Point 2: Cu, 96.06; Sn, 2.67; Pb, 0.17; Zn, 0.012; Fe, 0.42; Ni, 0.03; Ag, 0.01; Sb, 0.03; As, 0.56; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, 0.041; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, less than 0.001

J. Riederer

Technical Observations: The patina is reddish brown and covered with areas of green. Losses at the front edge and at the top are due to the mineralized condition of the head, but most surface detail is well preserved.

The head was cast by the lost-wax process. A circular opening (17 mm wide) at the bottom is sealed with a brown wax. The wax appears to be contemporary with the surrounding corrosion products and could be an original seal. The regular shape of the opening and the thickness of the walls of the surrounding metal probably indicate that the interior surfaces do not match the contours of the exterior and that the original wax model was shaped directly over a prepared core. A 1-mm step in the metal surrounding the hole appears to be the result of adding a flat ring of wax to the area surrounding the hole to add thickness to the base. The incised lines in the face and hair are very crisp. They appear to have been made in the wax model but were probably finished by cold working.

Henry Lie (submitted 2001)

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of the Estate of William and Frances White Emerson
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
This falcon’s head, with its characteristic feathered eye and moustachial stripes, would have belonged to a larger piece, perhaps as the top to a container, part of a censor, or a bark attachment. The remnants of an attachment element extend horizontally from the back. A large sun disc and tall uraeus with trailing tail surmount a heavy wig bearing vertically incised striations. The appearance of the disc connects the bird with the sun god. The disc may display the imprint of cloth, indicating that the figure had been wrapped and buried as a votive dedication or cultically discarded.

The soaring flight and predatory character of the falcon linked the mighty raptor to the god of the living king, Horus, early in the pharaonic tradition. The living king of Egypt was identified as an earthly Horus, and from the late Predynastic Period (c. 3100 BCE), the king bore a special royal “Horus name.” The falcon, as the sacred animal of Horus, came to symbolize divine kingship, as the king was the earthly representation of Horus. The common appearance of the Double Crown and uraeus on bronze figurines of falcons reinforces this royal connection. The falcon was also associated with the sky, with its eyes representing the sun and the moon and its large wings outspread to protect the earth below. Later, the falcon became associated with the sun god Re, bearing a sun disc on its head (known as Re-Harakhty). Other gods also had falcons as their sacred animals, such as Montu the god of war, who is distinguished by a double-plume headdress.

As with so many animals associated with the divine realm, during the later periods the falcon became the focus of mummification, burial, and votive offerings. The numerous bronze falcon statuettes are characterized by their upright, yet resting, stance with wings folded at the side. They range in size from small ornaments to large, freestanding figures. Many of the larger examples, such as 1943.1118, were hollow-cast with an inner compartment in which an actual bird could be deposited. Hundreds of thousands of mummified falcons were buried in extensive catacombs at sacred sites throughout Egypt. The Greco-Roman period temples at Philae and Edfu represent the final flourishing of the cult. The more elaborately decorated figures include engraved and inlaid detailing of the feathers and facial markings. The facial patterning, seen on 1943.1118, 1957.165, and 1957.166, follows the conventions established early on with the feathered eye and moustachial stripe. Although the representation of falcons remained constant throughout Egyptian history, it is not zoologically accurate and cannot be identified with any particular species (1).


1. See discussion of the falcon in Egyptian art and Egypt in P. F. Houlihan, The Birds of Ancient Egypt, The Natural History of Egypt 1 (Warminster, 1986) 46-48. See also R. Bailleul-LeSuer, ed., Between Heaven and Earth: Birds in Ancient Egypt, exh. cat., Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (Chicago, 2012) 178-88, which includes discussion of modern scientific analysis of mummified bird remains from Egypt.

Marian Feldman

Subjects and Contexts

  • Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

Verification Level

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