‘You can feel the combination of strength, grace and elegance in this representation of a 4,000-year-old noble woman,’ says Laetitia Delaloye, Antiquities specialist at Christie’s in London. Carved from deep brown wood with elongated limbs and a sinuous form, this female statue was made in Egypt during the second half of the third millennium BC, also referred to as the Age of the Pyramids.
In this period, carvers, masons and architects began experimenting with monumental forms for the first time, and a figurative repertoire was developed that lasted for generations. Members of the elite ‘frequently had themselves represented in wood or stone,’ explains Delaloye, ‘and the statues would be placed in their tombs as receptacles for the soul.’
This example, notably large at 71 cm high, would have been commissioned by a woman of means. ‘In ancient Egypt, women could have their own businesses and could inherit from their parents,’ Delaloye explains. ‘Indeed, a number of women became pharaohs.’
For the specialist, wooden artefacts are among the most fascinating survivals from ancient Egypt. ‘It’s all to do with the miracle that is the Egyptian desert,’ she explains. ‘The droughts enabled the preservation of wooden statues’ like this one.
‘The object has such presence. Ancient Egyptians wanted to leave a trace, and this 4,000-year-old statue is testament that they achieved that’
But what makes this piece so moving for the specialist is what it communicates about the person who commissioned it: the desire to be immortalised through art. ‘The object has such presence,’ says Delaloye, for whom the figure is a reminder that ‘people in ancient Egypt wanted to remain eternal, to leave a trace. The fact that this 4,000-year old statue is with us now testifies to the fact that they achieved what they set out to do.’
In the 20th century, the figure belonged to the Dutch artist Johannes Anton ‘John’Rädecker (1885-1956), whose expressionist style took cues from ancient sculpture. His most notable commission, a national memorial to the casualties of the Second World War, stands in Amsterdam’s Dam Square.