Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
This large, beautifully cast, and richly detailed falcon wears the Double Crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. The royal uraeus fronts the Red Crown, while a small hole at the front of the White Crown indicates the position of the spiral, now lost and which would have been a separate piece. Around the neck hangs an engraved depiction of an amulet with two tear-shaped pendants suspended from it. Engraving also details the elaborately patterned feathers and typical facial markings. Thin gold foil surrounds the slightly raised eyes. The thick heavy ridges of the legs contrast with the delicacy of the feathering, uniting the power and majesty of the falcon. The feet were cast separately and then attached to the rest of the body. The intricacy of the original wax model is evident in the powerfully curved talons that leave open spaces between the feet and the thick base. X-radiographs reveal a compartment in the belly, in which small, hollow bones, probably of a falcon, were deposited. The rectangular opening into the cavity remains sealed with a bronze plate (1).
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 (2).
1. Compare Brooklyn Art Museum, inv. no. 05.394, a Horus Falcon-Form Coffin, which has lost its sealing plate.
2. 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.