Object of the Month: Lady Sennuwy

My name is Rita Freed, and I am the John F. Cogan, Jr. and Mary L. Cornille Chair Emerita, Art of Ancient Egypt, Nubia and the Near East at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 

You know, of course, that asking a curator to choose a favorite piece of art in his or her collection is no different from being asked to choose a favorite child. So I have chosen a sculpture that to me embodies many of the things I like so much about Egyptian art in general. The piece is Lady Sennuwy, a nearly 4,000 year-old, 1.7 meter high granodiorite statue of a woman.

1.7 meters is her seated height, which would make her well over two meters tall if she were standing – my idea of a woman of power.  What draws me to her is that she embodies the Egyptian ideal of perfection of her time. Her slight smile on an ageless face invites me into conversation with her.  Her long hair, tight-fitting dress over a slender body (slender for her size, that is) are hardly different than what we might see on the streets today. The granodiorite from which she was carved is one of the hardest stones Egyptian artists used, yet her skin appears soft and touchable.  The cracks you see throughout her body were caused by a chemical process from within the stone.

Lady Sennuwy (by the way, we know her name because it is written on the base of her statue) has a story to tell like no other.

Egyptian artists carved her in about 1900 BCE, and we know that because stylistically she embodies the hallmarks of her time, namely the reign of Senwosret I, the second king of the Twelfth Dynasty. It is amazing that we can so precisely date something so old.

Originally she stood either in a temple in the ancient city of Assiut or in the tomb of her husband, Djefahapy, not far away. However, George Reisner, excavating on behalf of the Museum of Fine Arts found her more than 1,200 kilometers up the Nile at Kerma, in present day Sudan. There, she and a statue of her husband occupied a position of prominence in the tomb of a Kerma king datable to around 1600 BCE. How exactly did she get there? That is a secret she retains. We can only speculate, and we do...

If you want to see if she will reveal her secrets to you, you can visit her on the ground floor Egyptian galleries in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
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