Work of Art: Bust of the Goddess Sekhmet
New Kingdom
Dynasty XVIII
Bust of the Goddess Sekhmet
circa 1390-1352 B.C.E.
23 x 15 1/2 x 14 in. (58.4 x 39.4 x 35.6 cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Hanes

Sekhmet, whose name means “the mighty one,” was a goddess of war, always allied with the king during battle. Her name may derive from the story of her terrible fury when her father, the sun god Re, sent her to earth to destroy humankind for plotting against him. After a great massacre, Re relented but was unable to restrain his daughter’s bloodlust. He finally stopped the killing by flooding a field with beer, dyed red so that Sekhmet mistook it for blood and drank until pacified. Although Sekhmet brought death and disease, the Egyptians also credited her with the ability to cure illnesses, and she became the patron goddess of doctors. Her priests were the earliest known veterinarians.

This is one of the more than 600 granite statues of the lion-headed female goddess erected by King Amenhotep III in his mortuary temple and at the Temple of Mut at Karnak, where many remain in situ. Presented in standing and seated form, both types wore on top of the head a moon disc, now missing from this statue, and both originally stood more than two meters in height. The flower of the papyrus scepter visible beneath her breasts indicates that this statue stood erect, holding the scepter with her left hand. Her right would have held an ankh sign, the symbol of life, along the side of her body. The variegated color of the granite emphasizes the subtle carving of the lion’s muzzle and the mane framing the face.

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