This highly important tomb sculpture shows a seated court official accompanied by his wife and son. Inscriptions name the main figure as Ka-nefer, “Overseer of the Craftsmen, Priest of Ptah,” and the others as “His wife, the Royal Confidant, Tjen-tety” and “His son, the Overseer of Craftsmen, Khuwy-ptah.” Carved from limestone, the figures were originally painted and retain much of their color on the hair and eyes, with traces on the skin, garments, and jewelry.The statue was probably made for Ka-nefer’s tomb at Saqqara, the principal burial ground of the Old Kingdom capital, Memphis. In Egyptian belief, some tomb sculptures also served as “homes” for the spirits of the deceased, especially when the embalmed body had perished.While Ka-nefer’s tomb has not been found, two offering tables from it are today in the British Museum, London, and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen. Objects from his son’s tomb at Saqqara have also been found.
Ka-nefer holds a cylinder (a common symbol of office) and is represented much larger than the other figures, following the Egyptian artistic convention of indicating rank and importance through scale. His facial features, especially the broad nose, are most closely paralleled in sculptures from the reign of King Sahure (c. 2458-2446 B.C.), which provides an approximate date for the work.
The Old Kingdom was the formative period of Egyptian art, when its distinctive motifs and principles of representation crystallized into the classic style that would remain largely unchanged throughout three thousand years of pharaonic history.