Old Kingdom Art: Rare Egyptian Sculpture Puts a Human Face on a Remote Civilization

Article excerpt

The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, set a world record when it bought this ancient Egyptian limestone sculpture at auction Dec. 9. Extraordinarily, earlier in the same sale, another statue, a granite figure, also set a record for an Egyptian antiquity, when it sold for $2,256,000.

But the granite figure didn't hold that record for long. It was spectacularly overtaken by this "Group Statue of Ka-nefer and His Family," which sold for $2,816,000. According to inscriptions, this tomb sculpture represents the "Overseer of Craftsmen, Priest of Ptah," "His wife, the Royal Confidant, Tjen-tety," and "His son, the Overseer of Craftsmen, Khuwy-ptah." Characteristically,the wife and son are shown smaller. Relative size indicates importance. These two smaller figures affectionately embrace the larger one's legs.

Timothy Potts, the director of the museum, explains the sculpture's remarkable quality by pointing "first and foremost" to "the extraordinary fineness of the carving. Then also the delicacy of the gestures of the son and wife, and the exceptional state of preservation." Some of the original pigment even remains.

Ka-nefer held a relatively high office, according to Dr. Potts, although he was not necessarily in the inner circle of the Pharaoh. "But importantly, it would have given him access to the finest artists," Potts says. …