29 September 2007

Hatshepsut Cheek by Jowl with Judy Chicago

Having now visited the Pharaohs, Queens, and Goddesses exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, I have a few updates on what I wrote in the post Hatshepsut Meets Judy Chicago and some odd musings stimulated by this very enjoyable show.

First things first.

Hatshepsut or Thutmosis III?

The unisex granite head (below, right) is 'unisex' no more, for the Museum has decided that it is the head of Hatshepsut after all. Though it is admittedly difficult to distinguish her images from those of her half-nephew and stepson, Thutmosis III, they have plumped for her, citing "the overall facial structure with its tilted eyes and delicate chin" as characteristic traits of her portraits and not his. I'm not convinced by the chin, most of which is missing, but I'm willing to suspend disbelief about the tilt of the eyes.

Or rather, I would have been willing ... had not the British Museum decided that their 'unisex' head (below left) - which had been up for grabs - is now to be Thutmosis III . In a straw poll of eminent Egyptologists, three (Newberry, Carter, and Brunton) had thought it was Hatshepsut, two (Hall and Capart) voted for Thutmosis III and two (Schäfer and Garis Davies) compromised on an idealized image of Thutmosis III.

I have no desire to insert myself into such eminent company (and as a cruel if imprecise 'Anonymous' remarked after my last Hatshepsut post, I am no Egyptologist), but, for the life of me, I see little difference in the tilt of the eyes.

Is the British Museum head perhaps a bit more square-jawed, and thus presumably more masculine?

I leave that to you to decide.

What I left the show thinking about, however, is the extraordinary resemblance between the portraits of the female Pharaoh and her half-nephew. They were, of course, related by blood, so it's possible that the son of her half-brother by a secondary wife truly did look like his 1/2-aunt. But there seems more at work than that. Some Egyptologists think it results from simple artistic habit. After all, sculptors had spent 20 years turning a female face into that of a king; after her death, they might have unwittingly softened the masculine face of a male ruler.

That's hard for me to believe of such master craftsmen.

So I asked myself: what if Thutmosis III wished to be portrayed this way? Just as some of Hatshepsut's early statues resembled those of her adored father, Thutmosis I, could he, too, have wished to illustrate continuity through similarity? But this makes no sense if it is true that, on her death, Thutmosis III obliterated her name on statues and monuments to erase her name from history forever. In that case, he must have hated his aunt (who was also his stepmother, and thus falls willy-nilly into a cliché). Perhaps the idea of the antipathy between the two rulers needs to be reexamined:
New evidence, especially from Karnak, shows that the persecution of Hatshepsut's memory did not begin immediately after her death: her monuments were visible until her stepson’s 42nd year – over 20 years after her death! This changes how we look at the relationship between the two monarchs, and his motive for attacking her monuments: 20 years or more is too long to hold such a grudge before carrying out destructive measures because of it.
In other words, Thutmosis III might have had quite different reasons for destroying her monuments and erasing her name. It's causing a rethink.

The Hathor amulet

In saying that this amulet was inscribed with Hatshepsut's name, I implied that it belonged to her. Wrong. It belonged to Senenmut, Hatshepsut's Great Steward during her kingship, who also held the lucrative post of steward of the temple of the god Amun.

The five lines of text on the top and back of the amulet read:
the good god Maatkare [Hatshepsut's throne name], beloved of Iuynt [a serpent goddess identified with Hathor]

the hereditary prince , steward of Amun, Senenmut.

Both Hatshepsut and Senenmut were devoted to Hathor. Five of Senenmut's statues were adorned with symbols of this goddess , two of them royal gifts from Hatshepsut: Given as a favour of the king to the hereditary prince, and further inscribed :
he lifts Hathor who resides in Thebes ... that he might cause her to appear and elevate her beauty on behalf of the life, prosperity, and health of the king of upper and lower Egypt Maatkare [Hatshepsut], living forever.
The inscriptions go on to list Senenmut's many titles and offices, which - mightily snipped - sums him up as the chief of chiefs and noblest of dignitaries.

Or, as his own scribe put it, writing on a sherd of pottery (ostracon), one of the greatest of the great of the whole land.

Naturally, the scribe did not add that he was also very likely Hatshepsut's lover.

There is, of course, no proof of that -- other than that he conducted himself almost as a member of the royal family, enjoying privileges and prerogatives never before extended to a mere official, particularly to one who was of the humblest origin.

He was, for example, allowed to represent himself at least 70 times in Hatshepsut's mortuary temple, and to excavate for himself a long, sloping coridor tomb, totally unlike those of his fellow officials but strikingly similar to Hatshepsut's own tomb, and to place in it a quartzite sarcophagus of royal type, perhaps a gift from the female king.

It is uncertain if he died before or after Hatshepsut. At his death, however, he was not buried in his great new tomb, which was abandoned unfinished, and sealed with his empty sarcophagus within. Many of his images were then defaced or smashed to pieces, but the motive behind this destruction remains an enigma. The attack against his monuments, in any case, must have begun earlier than the proscription of Hatshepsut (20 years after her own death!), since her cartouche remains intact on some monuments where Senenmut's name and face have been erased!

So, here too, the simple explanation of Thutmosis' white-hot anger against her 'ruthless usurpation' of his throne (abetted by Senenmut) does not seem to fit the facts. For, in truth, the usurpation -- if that is what it was -- was neither ruthless nor rapid. Left by the sudden death of her husband, Thutmosis II, as regent for a young child-king, Hatshepsut was clearly feeling her way....

Seal of Hatshepsut before Amun-Re

The carnelian seal stamp reproduced at the top of the post is from the Hatshepsut-Judy Chicago show at the Brooklyn Museum (and my thanks to the Museum for the photograph). Although broken, Hatshepsut can just be seen dressed as a woman and performing the royal task of making an offering to the chief god, Amun-Re -- a ceremony reserved for the king, who was normally the chief actor in all divine rituals. She wears the ceremonial Atef-crown and a dress rather than male attire. Above is her royal cartouche and the words: May she live!

This seal joins a very small group of images which shows Hatshepsut in female garb but with kingly accoutrements and throne name. Ancient observers must have found this an astonishing combination of woman's costume and kingly protocol. During the early years of the reign, Hatshepsut will clearly be experimenting with different titles as well as different ways of depicting herself as she sets about acquiring royal dignity.

What she is doing and perhaps even 'why' in the Years 1 - 7 , after which she adopts full male garb, will be the subject of my next post.

And, yes, Senenmut is right there with her.

I hope also to have time to comment on Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party which was stunningly installed cheek by jowl with Haptshepsut.


  1. Being very precise, you still need more education. Not cruel, just truthful.

  2. I'm glad, Anonymous, that you haven't given up reading my blog but I would still like to know what you object to.

    Empress of the East is not meant to be an Egyptological blog or an academic blog of any sort, but it is meant to be accurate. And I hope it is always clearly marked when I am speculating beyond the available evidence.

    So what is your objection? If any factual mistakes were made, I'd be delighted if you'd correct them. More education, we agree, is 'a good thing'.


Blog Archive