Rameses II, Egypt, Heracleopolis (Temple of Harsaphes) ca. 1897-1843 BC
Limestone and Rock
Rameses II is a statue of imposing quality. The statue, made of limestone, is massive and made as such to depict the kind of power held by pharaohs during their reigns. This sculpture is of the Egyptian ruler, Rameses II. However, it is believed that this was not completely created during his reign but rather, usurped from a previous ruler.
The statue’s head is notably slightly disproportional to the rest of the body.
This gave rise to the belief that the head was only refitted to an original carving from the Middle Kingdom.
From an artistic point of view, the statue has stiffness peculiar to Egyptian art. The head, with its headdress, is held high. The body is sitting erect with arms folded on the lap. The lower part of the body, including the legs and feet are bigger compared to the rest of the body. There is an attempt at defining contours and body parts, as evidenced by the slightly muscular-looking arms. The sculptor uses curves and lines to define and make the statue appear as realistic as possible. The right leg appears more linear and bigger compared to the left leg whose muscles are better formed. Both feet have well-defined toes but still bigger in relation to the size of the statue. The facial features do not show emotion, or perhaps, it shows the reserve and sternness of ancient rulers. The bull’s tail that can be found at the back of the ruler’s kilt has been moved and sculpted to make it appear to be hanging between the ruler’s legs.
The Rameses’ statue is sitting on a throne made of rock. There are hieroglyphic carvings on the throne that say some things about the ruler. There is however, an error in the carvings. Instead of carving “Son of the Sun,” the sculptor had reversed the order and made it sun of son.
The Rameses II sculpture is an example of how monumental artworks and architecture
were during the Middle Kingdom. There is a naturalistic quality to sculptures during this period as artists attempted to capture realism. As seen in figure, the head has facial features that look realistic despite the absence of any real emotion showing on the face. The body, arms, and legs also resemble the limbs and body of humans. There is a degree of imbalance in size and proportion, but still, the naturalistic look has been maintained. Also, the form shows roundness and lines, which reflect qualities of Old and Middle Kingdom sculptures.
This period has been disrupted by political upheavals and invasions from various quarters. As a result, works of art reflect more expressions on pharaoh sculptures. The Sesostris III, ca. 1878 to 1841 BC, is an example of this. A bust of Sesostris shows lines of concern and worry lining his face. This attempt at portraying the ruler as the shepherd of his people is in line with Sesostris’ belief that he was like the guardian of his flock.
Comparing it with Rameses II’s sculpture, the basic difference is on the expression on their faces. While the Rameses sculpture portrays more of Old Kingdom traditions, Sesostris departs from the usual divine image and portrays a humane personality. Also, the original Rameses sculpture was made during the Old Kingdom, hence the rather disproportional qualities of some body parts. On the other hand, Sesostris was made during the Middle Kingdom that’s why there were great details included in the sculpture to reflect the true nature of the ruler. There are eye bags and creases between the eyebrows on Sesostris, two characteristics that show how humane the leader was by lying sleepless at nights thinking of the people he ruled. Perhaps, during this time, it was prudent for Egyptian pharaohs to show compassion and concern for their people, rather than keeping themselves in the style of gods.
I have specifically chosen Rameses II because he is considered as the greatest Egyptian ruler. Although interpretations of his victories in battles vary, the fact remains that he fought great battles and lived to tell about them. He also erected a large number of monuments and sculptures to declare and affirm his divine power and glorious battle records. The number of monuments he erected is an affirmation of Egypt’s prosperity during this time.
As for the Rameses II sculpture, I have been impressed by the size of the statue. It would take real talent to actually make that figure. The sculpture inspires awe and calls for admiration from the viewers. The size of the statue gives the impression that the ruler was larger than life. Pharaohs were viewed as divine beings with corresponding powers, exactly why their representations were huge. The original sculpture was made during the time when tools were still crude, requiring more hard labor from the artist. Yet, it was completed and was able to stand without support. The head, according to accounts, has been refitted to resemble that of Rameses, a more difficult task since the original head had to be removed, and for the new one to be connected to the body. I also admire how this piece of art survived centuries after it was created. The craftsmanship, material used and the skill of the artist are commendable considering the length of time that has come and go.
The areas where I find the sculpture weak include the disproportion of body parts and stiffness of the figure. The legs are too big that they look more life limbs of a giant. Also, the statue appears more like a mummy than a real, live king. Given the degree of difficulty and the absence of modern tools in making this statue, I understood that giving the impression of movement would be undeniably difficult, even nearly impossible to achieve. Also, the base of
the statue is blackened, which distracts from the beauty of the piece.
University of Pennsylvania Museum Upper Egyptian Gallery. Available from
“Middle Kingdom.” ThinkQuest.
“King Ramses II.” Encylopedia Britannica
 University of Pennsylvania Museum Upper Egyptian Gallery.
 “King Ramses II,” Encyclopedia Britannica.
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