Tessa Godard: Ancient Egyptian Goddesses

For my virtual exhibition, I chose to showcase statues of ancient Egyptian goddesses. Ancient Egypt, renowned for its great power, was rich in culture along with government, arts, writing, and religion. The ancient Egyptian religion was polytheistic in nature and it became an integral part of everyday life. My exhibition starts off with the statue of Sakhmet, moves on to the statue of Hathor, which is made out of Bronze and solid-cast, then to the statue Mut, the bronze figure of Bastet, and the bust of Isis. Looking at my exhibition, the viewer will begin to understand the significant roles each of the goddesses played in ancient Egyptian life. 

Ancient Egypt was located in northeastern Africa on the Mediterranean Sea and is considered one of the world's oldest civilizations. Egypt was founded during the Early Dynastic Period (3150 B.C. - 2686 B.C.) and is one out of six civilizations globally to arise independently. The Egyptians advanced in engineering, agriculture, and applied science. The Nile River runs through Egypt and due to the high fertile lands, the Nile was the source of much of Ancient Egyptians wealth. It flourished the land providing good crops and water for livestock. It also provided great advantages for trade and transportation. The Egyptians left behind great mathematical skills including the geometrical system. The mathematics helped them build pyramids which were used as tombs for the kings. The Egyptians were highly gifted artisans and expressed symbolism through paintings and sculpture. 

The Egyptian civilization developed and maintained an outstanding degree of constancy. Religion played an influential and central role in society. Each deity had his/her own purpose and were believed to be present in their everyday lives and controlled the forces and elements of nature. Many gods and goddesses were depicted with the heads of animals and human bodies and they were rather sacred to the Egyptians. In addition, temples were built in honor of their gods and it became a place of worship. Many of the remaining art and architectural monuments of ancient Egypt we see today were designed for and reflect religious purposes. In many ancient cultures, women were considered subordinate to men. As a result of this, the predominant actors in these religions were men even when the main deity was female. Unlike other civilizations, the Egyptians held women in high esteem. Due to the acknowledgment of women, Egypt had four Egyptian women pharaohs. Hatshepsut, being one them, ruled Egypt during a time when it was unprecedented. As a result of this, Egyptian goddesses were unique and could easily be spotted in drawings, paintings, sculptures, statues, hieroglyphics, and many other works of art. 

            While today we marvel at the beautiful works of art that came from tombs and monuments, much of what we see today was not ever intended to be seen. The royal statues served as a middle-man between the people and the deities. Many of these statues were in temples and would often help the Pharaohs in the afterlife. Egyptian artists produced a wide variety of sculptures and were made with either clay, bone, or ivory. The stylized female figures were often made with ivory and bone and were done with detailed workmanship. Many of these statues are still in extraordinary shape and are a wonder to behold. The statues I have in my exhibition capture a raw emotion and make you understand ancient Egyptian religion and culture a little bit more.

Sekhmet, in Egyptian mythology, was the sun goddess of war, destruction and healing. Her name means “the powerful one,” and it complimented her well. With a body of a woman and a head of a lioness, Sekhmet was one of the most powerful and fiercest of the goddesses. She was one of the oldest of the deities and is usually depicted wearing a sun-disk and a cobra on her head; which identifies her as the daughter of Ra, the son god. Ra, who was immortal, was subject to aging and began to fade, like the sun does at night. The humans then worshiped Aapep instead of Ra and because of this, Ra was enraged. He sent Sekhmet and Hathor to punish them. Sekhmet, fueled by rage and revenge, began slaughtering the humans and then in turn, drank their blood. After sometime, Ra realized that the human race began to dwindle. Ra tried to put a stop to the absurdity, but Sekhmet was on the prowl and did not back down. As a result, Ra tricked her into thinking she was drinking blood from the Nile, which was actually a mixture of beer and pomegranate juice. After drinking of this concoction, she slept like a cat. She then became a healer and put her rage on Egypt’s enemies instead of on the Egyptians. This statue reveals her powerful and fierce nature, which could either heal or destroy. She has the body of a woman and a head of lioness. Her small piercing eyes and prominent jaw line expose her potential for violence. Made of Granodiorite, this statue was found in Thebes, Egypt (1390-1392 B.C.E). This statue dates back to the eighteenth century of ancient Egypt, during the reign of King Tutankhamun’s grandfather, Amenhotep III. Several hundred statues of Sekhmet, including this one, were found in the Precinct of Mut at Karnak. Today, it is located in the Brooklyn Museum and is 3'3" tall. At first glance this statue appears black, but when you look closer, you can depict and tinge of emerald. Sekhmet is a great representation of strength and power.
Hathor, an ancient Egyptian goddess, was the most import and most popular of the deities. Her name means “House of Horus” and was considered the mother of mothers. She was identified with the Aphrodite by the Greeks and was an advocate of all women, no matter their social status. She was a daughter of Ra and was paramount in every aspect of life as well as death. Known as “The One of Many Names,” Hathor was also a goddess of women, fertility, and children. Although she was known for being a goddess of beauty and love, she was not prideful or vain. Hathor assured herself in her beauty and and loved beautiful things. Hathor is considered a sky goddess, a sun goddess, a moon goddess, and a whole lot more. She was a multi-faceted goddess who could handle pretty much anything. She was highly favored and was the most liked of the deities. She was also considered joyful and loved to sing, dance, play instruments, and celebrate. Hathor, a nurturer, would help the dead into the next life and would let them rest and helped them with their transition. This statue here depicts Hathor with a body of a woman and a head of a cow. She was also depicted a cow who had wings who gave birth to creation. It is made of bronze, solid-cast, with eyes inlaid with gold and electrum. She is wearing a headdress of cow-horns holding the solar disk. This statue dates back to the Late period to Ptolemaic Period and was made in Memphis, Egypt (664-30 B.C.E). Her stature is very serious and her hands are placed on her sides. Many ancient Egyptian statues are striding forward with their left foot leading, like the statue here. It may be because the heart is on the left side and the goddesses tried to lead with their hearts.
Mut was a sky goddess and a divine mother, specifically to the elderly women. She was a Queen of the Goddesses and was depicted as a woman wearing a double crown of Egypt. This double crown represented the Upper and Lower Egypt; this concept appears in temples, tombs, and in titles of Egyptian Kings and Queens. Mut was later shown as a woman with a head of a lioness, a cow, and a vulture; she took on other attributes of other goddesses. Amun, who became Mut’s husband, was considered the most powerful god and became the national god of the New Kingdom. Together, they adopted a son who was named Khonsu; he was the moon god. As a result, Mut became associated with the mother of the nation and who was also the queen. Amun joined up with Ra, the sun god, and as a result of this, Mut naturally inherited the “Eye of Ra.” Mut was already called “Mother of Sun in whom He Rises,” and because she was associated with Ra, she became the mother and daughter of the sun god. She became a powerful, all-in-one goddess and she gained popularity within the kingdom. This statue, made of green schist and a matte polished surface, was made in Egypt. Dating back to the twenty-fifth dynasty of Egypt (664-525 B.C.E.), Mut has made a new home in the Brooklyn Museum. She is seen wearing a double crown, striated wig, uraeus (rearing cobra), and a sheath. In her left hand she appears to be holding an ankh sign; a well known symbol which represents the key of the Nile. Although the statue is in pretty good shape, it is broken off diagonally from the calf. There are also nicks on the right leg and there are also chips missing from the face, nose, and cheek.
Bastet, the Egyptian goddess, took form of either a cat or a lioness. A goddess of pleasure, war, and cleanliness, Bastet was always covered in elegant garments. She was one of the most loved goddesses because she remained true to her origins while maintaining her war-like manner. She expressed herself as a playful, graceful, affectionate, and cunning cat. Depicted as a cat or a woman with the head of a cat, she was often shown holding the ankh (the key of the Nile). She was worshipped mainly in Lower Egypt. She was one of the daughters of Ra and was considered to be the wife of Ptah. The ancient Egyptians adored cats not only because they were sacred to Bastet, but because the cats would look after the crops. They would also kill vermin which would often carry diseases. The Egyptians had cats as pets and they would bring them hunting. Bastet was also known as a protector and would look over homes and pregnant women. She was seen as a goddess of fertility and was noted for her fruitfulness. She also had an aggressive side that was seen in battle. Bastet, shown here as a cat-headed goddess, has the figure of a woman. This statue is made of bronze and gold and is seen as having a body of a woman with a cat’s head. It was found in Bubastis, Egypt and dates back to 900-600 B.C.E. Thousands of cat mummies and several cat statues were found in Bupastis as well. Bastet is wearing a thick patterned garment with no less than four kittens by her side. Her embellishments and garments are always elaborate on her statues and is sometimes seen wearing a dress. She stands with confidence as she holds a sistrum in her left hand and a lion-headed aegis in her right hand.
The goddess of rebirth and magic, Isis became one of the most popular deities of ancient Egypt. At first, she was an obscure goddess who did not have any dedicated temples. As the dynastic age progressed, she grew in influence. She did not only cure the sick and bring the deceased back to life, but she was a mother to all and became a role model to many women. Her role as a goddess was a mother, fertility goddess, magic and healing. She was worshiped from England to Afghanistan and had a following all over the Roman Empire. Isis later married Osiris, the king of Egypt. Not only was she a great queen, but she was a great supporter of her husband and taught the women of Egypt how to sew and bake. Seth, Osiris’s brother, was jealous of him and murdered him. Osiris became the king of the dead and Seth became king of Egypt. After sometime, Isis bore Osiris’s son and named him Horus. She was an astounding mother and had several temples dedicated to her. There are several images of Isis nursing her son Horus and it may have influenced the Christian artists with the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus. Isis, seen here, is nursing the baby Horus. This statue, made with Egyptian blue frit, was made in Egypt and it dates back to the Ptolemaic Period. This figure now lives in the Brooklyn Museum. Isis, which is only preserved from the waist up, is missing her left arm that held Horus. The goddess was originally seen nursing Horus. However, because her left arm is missing, it looks like she is just holding her breast. She is depicted wearing a tripartite wig that is partially covered with a vulture ornamental covering. She appears to be wearing eyeliner and is smiling. Pagans still worship the goddess Isis today.
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