Statue of Ramesses VI

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[Image: courtesy of the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden and the Oriental Institute Museum of the University of Chicago]

What is it?

This granite statue depicts Pharaoh Ramesses VI, who reigned 1144-1137 BC. On the back is a hieroglyphic inscription that reads: ‘May [he] live, [the] good god, son of [the god] Amun, the protector, bull of Thebes, king of Upper and Lower Egypt, lord of the two lands, Meriamun, lord of the truth.’ It is believed that the statue originally stood around 1.8m tall, but it was broken into pieces at some point in the past, and the head, the torso, and the legs, feet, and statue base were separated. Thanks to recent research by Egyptologists Lara Weiss (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden) and Rob Demarée (Leiden University) the head and torso have now been matched together again.

Where was it found and when?

Unfortunately, the statue’s original location is unknown, as is the date when and reason why it was smashed into pieces. After it was broken, the head, legs, and torso of the statue all went to different places. The head was bought in Egypt in 1929 by the Oriental Institute Museum in Chicago, whilst the torso was bought by a private collector from Amsterdam, and later sold to the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (National Museum of Antiquities) in 1941. The location of the lower part of the statue remains uncertain.

It is thought that the statue was probably once part of the temple to the god Amun in the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes (present-day Luxor).

Why does it matter?

Not much is known about Pharaoh Ramesses VI: he reigned for only a few years, in a politically troubled period, and there are not many archaeological remains that can be traced back to building activities under his rule. Furthermore, only a few monuments and statues of him are known, making this finding particularly important.

The recent discovery that the head and torso of the statue – which were separated by thousands of miles, in the collections of museums in Chicago and Leiden respectively – appear to belong together, was made thanks to an unopened letter from 1987, found in the archives of the Egyptologist Professor J. F. Borghouts, who died in 2018. In this letter, Thomas Logan (then chief curator of the Egyptian collection at the Oriental Institute Museum of the University of Chicago) suggested that the head in the museum’s collection belonged to a torso in the collection of the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden. Recent examination, 30 years after the letter was written, confirmed this hypothesis. It was revealed that the fractures of the torso and the head fit together perfectly, and the inscription on the back pillar continues from the head to the torso.

Discussions between the two museums are ongoing to determine when it will be possible – given restrictions due to COVID-19 – to exchange casts of the missing pieces, but this will be done at some point in the future. 

The torso is on special display in the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden’s permanent Egypt exhibition until 28 February 2021, while the head is at the Oriental Institute Museum of the University of Chicago.
Websites: www.rmo.nl/tentoonstellingen/vaste-tentoonstellingen/egypte

This article appeared in issue 105 of Current World ArchaeologyClick here for more information about subscribing to the magazine.

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