Statue of the goddess Isis

This figure of turquoise-coloured fayence was put together from individual fragments over the course of several excavation campaigns. The base with the feet was found first. It stood, apparently still in situ, on the altar in the sun court of the Temple of Amun, next to an offering basin and a pile of clay plates. Legs and lower body, the upper body which had shattered into two halves, as well a small fragments of the head, including the diadem and modius, were found in the rubble strewn across three adjoining rooms. When the Temple of Amun collapsed, the hypostyle columns, falling eastward, caused the eastern wall of the Sun Court to topple over the altar, on which an offering had just been placed. The fragments of the upper part of the figure, rising over the rubble, were then dispersed in the surrounding area.

A flat back pillar and the square base give the figure a formal structure following Egyptian conventions, as does the placement of the left foot, slightly forward, which was typical for female figures. Draped over a dress falling in symmetrical folds on either side of a central double pleat, a shawl is knotted between the figure’s full breasts. The tips of corkscrew curls have survived on the shoulders. This hairstyle and the knot are both clear iconographic clues that this is a depiction of the goddess Isis. As a goddess, Isis holds the sign of life in her right hand. Armlets are visible on her upper and lower arms and at her wrists.

Numerous iconographic parallels put this statue in the context of Ptolemaic-Roman sculpture, in which the principles of Egyptian art are combined with Hellenistic garb. Though it may at first appear as though this statue is an import from Roman Egypt, the style of the modelling of the body makes it undeniably the work of Meroitic artists. A comparison with Late Ptolemaic and Roman female sculpture shows that the statue’s thick arms, short legs and generous thighs and hips depict that ideal of female beauty that also characterises the female figures of the temple reliefs and stelae of Naga. Thus this statue incorporates aspects of Egyptian, Hellenistic-Roman and Meroitic art to create an artistically autonomous work of art.

Statue of the goddess Isis from the Temple of Amun in Naga.© SMÄK, Leihgabe des Nationalmuseum Khartoum
Statue of the goddess Isis, on loan from the National Museum Khartoum, fayence (49,6 x 16 x 13,2 cm), 1st century AD, from the Temple of Amun in Naga.