Sunday, June 25, 2017

Famous Statuette of Pepi II and his Mother

     One of the Brooklyn Museum's most famous works of art is this delightful statuette of the Sixth Dynasty Pharaoh Pepi II and his mother Ankhnes-meryre II. It is made of alabaster and shows the Pharaoh's mother holding her son on her lap. Pepi came to the throne as a child, but is shown here as a small King, rather than as a child.

     This work of art has a few unusual features to it. For instance, even though Pepi is sitting on his mother's lap, his throne is shown to the side of the throne that Ankhnes-meryre II sits on. Also, there are separate inscriptions on the statuette, one for each person shown. The face of the Queen is not carved in great detail. The eyes are barely roughed out and one wonders if they were not painted on when the statue was first created. A hole in the Queen's forehead probably indicates that a uraeus was once appended to this object.

     Pepi is shown with almost impossibly long legs and with the body of an adult even though this statue clearly commemorates his mother's regency for her young son, who may have been about the age of five at his coronation.

     Pepi has the distinction of possibly being the longest reigning king in all of history. After coming to the throne as a child he may have lived to be about one hundred years of age (although some scholars dispute this and think that sixty was a more likely age for his death).

     A nobleman named Harkuf, who served under Merenre and Pepi II put a copy of a letter (which he received from the young king) on the wall of his tomb at Aswan. Harkuf had just led an expedition to Nubia and sent a message ahead to tell the child-king that he was returning with a dancing pygmy to entertain the Pharaoh. Pepi responded with a letter that  reads like a it was dictated by a child who was excited by the prospect of seeing the dancing pygmy. The letter tells Harkuf to guard his small charge carefully and to see that no harm came to him as the King desired to see this wonder more than anything. This letter is one of the few times in all of Egyptian history that we get a glimpse at the personal life of a ruler.

     The bad news to Pepe's reign was that he probably ruled too long and lost control of his kingdom. After his death, Egypt fell into a state of political chaos that we now call the First Intermediate Period.

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