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Gallery Text

Egyptian sculptors employed bronze and precious metals as well as stone and wood. The art of bronzecasting reached new heights in the Third Intermediate Period (c. 1070–712 BCE), when statues and statuettes were embellished with intricate inlays of precious metal or were partly overlaid with gold. These two lion-headed deities may be assigned to the subsequent 26th, Saite dynasty. Like the bronze falcon nearby, they served a votive purpose, and might have contained sacrificed ichneumons (Egyptian mongooses). The female figure on the left, identified by an inscription as the goddess Wadjet, wears a long dress and a crown composed of two tall feathers and a sun disk between cow horns. Her throne is incised with a Horus falcon and lion-headed figures. Though most feline deities are female, the other bronze, crowned by a cobra, is recognizable as male by its short kilt. The pierced hands of both statues once held attributes, such as scepters.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Lion-Headed Deity with Cobra Headdress
Work Type
sculpture, statuette
mid 7th-late 6th century BCE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Africa, Egypt (Ancient)
Late Period, Dynasty 26
Persistent Link
Level 3, Room 3740, Ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Art, Ancient Egypt: Art for Eternity
View this object's location on our interactive map
Physical Descriptions
Leaded bronze, gold inlay
Cast, lost-wax process
h. 53 cm x w. 14 cm x d. 26.7 cm (20 7/8 x 5 1/2 x 10 1/2 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: Body
XRF data from Tracer
Alloy: Leaded Bronze
Alloying Elements: copper, tin, lead
Other Elements: iron
Comments: The eye is inlaid with silver. The main alloy has the same elements as 1943.1121.B.

XRF data from Tracer
Alloy: Silver Inlay
Alloying Elements: silver, gold

K. Eremin, January 2014

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Leaded Bronze:
Cu, 73.94; Sn, 8.02; Pb, 17.61; Zn, 0.103; Fe, 0.15; Ni, 0.04; Ag, 0.03; Sb, 0.09; As, less than 0.10; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, 0.022; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, less than 0.001

J. Riederer

Technical Observations: The lion-headed deity is a hollow lost-wax cast. Cracks and casting flaws are present at the lower arms and lower legs. Some porosity is also visible in areas, especially the head and headdress. The remains of black core material are present at the interior. A buff-colored material under the base at the feet may relate to an ancient or modern mounting system, but does not appear to be core material. Although x-radiography shows the legs to be solid to the mid-thigh, cracks in the surface reveal what appears to be a cavity and core material. It is possible that the thickness of the bronze at the legs prevented x-rays from penetrating the metal and showing this. X-radiography does show an interior flash of metal near the bottom of the base caused by a crack in the core material. Seven core pins are evident on the surface and in the x-radiographs on the figure at the back of the head and chest and on all sides of the throne. They are rectangular, measuring from 1.5 x 2.0 mm to 2.0 x 4.0 mm. Several are intact and are visible at the interior.

Although the corroded condition of the surface makes it difficult to be sure, it appears that the incised surface decorations were drawn directly in the wax model for the bronze. The gold foil decorations are 0.1 to 0.2 mm thick. Abrasive cleaning marks are present at the knees and head. The patina is green and brown with areas of red. Interior surfaces exhibit dark blue azurite crystals and areas of a light bluish green identified by R. Gettens as chalconatronite.

Henry Lie (submitted 2000)

Ex collections Dourighello, W. Randolph Hearst, Grenville Lindall Winthrop.
Bought by Winthrop from Brummer Gallery, Inc. (NY) June 5, 1939 (Brummer inv. no. N4664).
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop
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
The short kilt with rounded edges and rectangular tab hanging between the legs is the only indication that this leonine deity is male. The well-sculpted bare torso displays an elaborate, four-banded broad collar. Gold leaf inlay ornaments the eyes, and a single, large rearing cobra crowns the lion head. The long, elongated feline face has a narrow, almost humanoid, nose. The whiskers on the rounded muzzle are represented by an abstract petal-like pattern. The god holds both of his hands clenched with holes through them, indicating the original placement of attributes. The proper left fist is positioned vertically and attached to the leg by a short strut, while the right rests horizontally across the knee. Overall, this statue exhibits a sensitivity in the modeling of the human form, evident in the slight swelling of the belly, the slender arms and legs, and the individually detailed toes. The boxlike footrest is attached to the throne by a thin strip of bronze, now broken. Faint incisions mark the edges and sides of the throne, but the designs are no longer visible to the naked eye. It is possible to make out what appears to be a falcon between lotus buds, which is similar to the depiction on the throne sides of 1943.1121.B.

The two magnificent statues of enthroned lion-headed deities represent Late Period Egyptian bronze working at its finest. They may belong to Dynasty 26 (c. 664-525 BCE) based on comparisons with dated examples (1). The two figures depict a female deity (1943.1121.B) and a more rarely found male deity (1943.1121.A); they do not, however, constitute a matched pair, as the workmanship and stylistic features distinguish them as products of different artists. A study of similar bronzes in the Berlin museum revealed that they were often used as containers for sacrificed ichneumons, although the Harvard examples are empty (2). The ichneumon, as the hunter of dangerous serpents with which the lioness goddesses are connected, transforms the potentially destructive nature of the divinity into a tamed protector.

The lion (or more accurately lioness) head is the most common animal head for female deities and it is associated with several different ones. In the absence of an inscription, it can be difficult to determine which goddess is represented. In the New Kingdom, one goddess who was represented in large stone sculptures of lion-headed goddesses was Sakhmet, whose name literally means “She who is Powerful.” Similarly forceful goddesses assume the leonine attributes, including Matit (“She who Dismembers”), Mehit (“She who Seizes”), and Pakhet (“She who Scratches”) (3). Inscriptions on Late Period lion-headed bronzes most commonly name the goddess Wadjet, associated with the Delta site of Buto, as is the case with 1943.1121.B. As the regional goddess of Lower Egypt, she appears in the form of a fire-spiting serpent and was paired with Nekhbet, the vulture-goddess of Upper Egypt. Together they appear as protomes on royal headdresses, Wadjet taking the form of the cobra-head (known to us through the Greek name, uraeus). Wadjet also encompasses a solar aspect and, along with Sakhmet, is equated with the fiery eye of Re, hence the common occurrence of the solar disc in the iconography of lion goddesses. There is also evidence that the destructive qualities of these goddesses were softened by their syncretism with more benign goddesses such as Bastet, Hathor, and Mut. A bronze seated lion-headed goddess in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, that is quite close iconographically to 1943.1121.B, is inscribed with a prayer to Mut (4).

Most feline deities are female, and the depiction of lion-headed male deities is unusual. The identification of 1943.1121.A as male is based on the fact that the deity wears a short kilt instead of the tight-fitting long dress (5). The leonine heads are not differentiated between the male and female, since both have a slightly flaring mane that surrounds the face and a long tripartite wig, which conceals the junction between animal and human forms. Inscribed examples of male lion-headed deity statuettes are much less common than inscribed female examples; Roeder notes one example with a prayer to Horus, Son of Wadjet in Berlin (6). A second piece inscribed with epithets of Horus is in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem (7). Such inscriptions, however, may also be associated with Wadjet, as is the case for Harvard’s female deity 1943.1121.B. In addition, the lion-headed gods can be connected with Shu, the son of the creator-god Atum and brother of Tefnut. The brother-sister couple, who began the sexual cycle of reproduction through their mating, were identified with the lion and worshipped at Leontopolis (Tell Muqdam in the Delta). Also worshipped in leonine form at Leontopolis was Mahes (Greek: Miysis or Mios), a war god and guardian of sacred places (8). A Greek commentary mentions sacred enclosures and catacombs for mummified lions at this site, but no archaeological finds have confirmed this practice (9).


1. See, for example, B. V. Bothmer, “Statuettes of W3d.t as Ichneumon Coffins,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 8 (1949): 121-23, esp. 121 n.2 (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, inv. no. 11867, excavated at Sais in the Delta).

2. Ibid.

3. A. K. Capel and G. E. Markoe, Mistress of the House, Mistress of Heaven: Women in Ancient Egypt, exh. cat., Cincinnati Art Museum; Brooklyn Museum (New York, 1996) no. 67.

4. M. Saleh, The Egyptian Museum Cairo: Official Catalogue (Mainz, 1987) no. 254, thought to come from Sais.

5. For comparable male deities, see G. Roeder, Ägyptische Bronzefiguren, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin Mitteilungen aus der Ägyptischen Sammlung 6 (Berlin, 1956) 66-68, pls. 11.1 and 12.a-b, .d-e) (Berlin inv. nos. 13131 and 13788).

6. Ibid., 68 (Berlin inv. no. 13788).

7. Although with an elaborate hmhm headdress consisting of three papyriform columns, maat feathers, uraei, and sun discs; see A Glimpse into the Past: The Joseph Ternbach Collections, exh. cat., The Israel Museum, Jerusalem (1981) 154-55, no. 120.

8. “Miysis,” in Lexicon der Ägyptologie, Pt. 26, vol. 4, pt. 2 (Wiesbaden, 1980) 163-64.

9. P. F. Houlihan, The Animal World of the Pharaohs (London, 1996) 95.

Marian Feldman

Publication History

Dows Dunham, "The Egyptian Antiquities", Bulletin of the Fogg Art Museum (1943), Vol. 10, No. 2, 40-43, p. 41, fig. 5.

Clifford Frondel, "On Paratacamite and Some Related Copper Chlorides", Mineralogical Magazine (1950), Vol. 42, 34-45

Clifford Frondel and Rutherford John Gettens, "Chalconatronite, a new Mineral from Egypt", Science (1955), Vol. 122, No. 3158, 75-76, p. 75.

Rutherford John Gettens and Clifford Frondel, "Chalconatronite: An Alteration Product on Some Ancient Egyptian Bronzes", Studies in Conservation (1955), Vol. 2, No. 2, 64-75, figs. 1a-b.

Jacques Vandier, “Quadjet et l’Horus léontocéphale de Bouto", Monuments et Memoires, Fondation Eugène Piot (1967), Vol. 255, 17-21, figs. 3b, 5.

Dorothy W. Gillerman, ed., Grenville L. Winthrop: Retrospective for a Collector, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, 1969), p. 256 (checklist).

Rutherford John Gettens, "Patina: Noble and Vile", Art and Technology: a Symposium on Classical Bronzes, ed. Suzannah F. Doeringer, David Gordon Mitten, and Arthur Steinberg, M.I.T. Press (Cambridge, MA, 1970), 57-68, p. 63.

Kristin A. Mortimer and William G. Klingelhofer, Harvard University Art Museums: A Guide to the Collections, Harvard University Art Museums and Abbeville Press (Cambridge and New York, 1986), p. 94, no. 102, ill.

Séan Hemingway and Julie Wolfe, "Art and Technology: The Study of Ancient Bronzes at the Harvard University Art Museums into the 21st Century", Proceedings of the XVth International Congress of Classical Archaeology, Amsterdam, July 12-17, 1998, ed. Ronald F. Docter and Charlotte Moormann, Allard Pierson Series (Amsterdam, 1999), 196-99, p. 197.

Stephan Wolohojian, ed., Harvard Art Museum/Handbook (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2008)

Exhibition History

Re-View: S422 Ancient & Byzantine Art & Numismatics, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 04/12/2008 - 06/18/2011

Ancient to Modern, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/31/2012 - 06/01/2013

32Q: 3740 Egyptian, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

Google Art Project

Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

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