The Pharaoh Ramesses the Great brought peace and prosperity to Egypt throughout his lengthy sixty-six year reign, having established a truce with the Hittites early in his career. With prolific building and sculptural programs, the visage of Ramesses II was produced in more colossal statues than any predecessor. Among his most renowned efforts, the Pharaoh moved his capital to Pi-Ramesses ("Domain of Ramesses") in the Delta, signifying the political and strategic importance of the area during this period (see p. 46 in Baines and Málek, Atlas of Ancient Egypt). Ramesses II lived to quite an old age, calculated to be into his 90s. With several wives, the king is thought to have fathered as many as 100 offspring. Predeceased by many of his sons, his 13th, Merneptah, succeeded him. The lore surrounding his life and career has customarily identified this great king as the Pharaoh of the Biblical Exodus.
During the reign of Ramesses II, sandstone for his sculptural programs was quarried at Gebel Silsileh, 95 miles south of Thebes. Stone from this quarry was used in the famed hypostyle hall of the Ramesseum at Karnak (see p. 74 in Freed, Ramesses The Great, an exhibition at the Boston Museum of Science).
This portrait is perhaps re-cut from an earlier portrait of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III (1391-1353 B.C.). Although few portraits of him are known in sandstone, it is possible that, due to the softness of the stone, most were re-cut for later rulers. The features that have been altered on the present example include the mouth, which was drilled in the corners to make it narrower, the chin, and the eyes, which have been re-cut at their inner corners.
The presence of the Double Crown atop a nemes-headcloth indicates a date late in the King's reign.