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Statue of “The Divine Adoratrice of Amun” Amenirdis I

datation
25th Dynasty (8-7th centuries BC)
provenance
Luxor
area
period
materials
themes

This magnificent statue shows Amenirdis I, daughter of Kashta and sister of Piankhy (refer also the caption for Harwa), both kings of Kush. Piankhy the Nubian (Piye) conquered Egypt around 747 BC, becoming Pharaoh and founding the 25th Dynasty. The statue, carved in granitoid and once covered in gold leaf, shows the princess standing adorned with attributes of Egyptian queens and goddesses. On her forehead is a Uraeus, protector of kingship. Her crown, consisting of a sun-disk resting on cow horns and surmounted by two tall feathers, is identical to that of the goddesses Isis and Hathor. She holds tightly against her breast the floral sceptre of queens. The attitude and costume of Amenirdis are purely Egyptian and the quiet majesty that emerges from the work betrays no foreign elements. But some aesthetic details reveal African influences: the contours of the body with chubby thighs, a round opulent bosom and a broad face with pronounced cheekbones, full lips and the “Kushite” fold which encircles the mouth. We find these stylistic details in numerous bas-reliefs and statues of the 25th Dynasty. For example, the statues of Harwa and Iriketakana, also exhibited in the museum in Aswan, illustrate this stylistic dialogue with force (see their captions). All these works are representative of the “Kushite style” that flourished in Egypt during the 25th Dynasty. They combine subtle debt from African influences and Egyptian classicism, drawing inspiration from the art of the 12th and 17th dynasties.

The statue of Amenirdis was discovered in Thebes where Amenirdis held the position of “God’s Wife” and the “Divine Adoratrice of the god Amun”. This title was held by queens and princesses of Egypt, starting from the very beginning of the 18th Dynasty (c. 1539 BC) to the end of the 26th Dynasty (c. 525 BC). It symbolizes the ritual marriage of women in the ruling dynasty with Amun-Re, “king of the gods”. Amun is one of the main Egyptian deities, patron of kingship, whose major shrines, of Karnak and Luxor, are situated in Thebes. The cult of Amun also grew in Nubia from the New Kingdom onwards as evidenced by the temples of Gebel Barkal and of Kawa, embellished by the Kushite rulers. There was widespread use of the image of his sacred animal, the ram, even found in Egyptian jewellery of the 25th Dynasty (refer to the caption for the Queen and prince of Meroë).

Practicing the greatest temporal and spiritual power in the Theban region, the “Divine Adoratrices of Amun” were strategically placed. They were sworn to celibacy, a practice which can be traced as far back to the year 1000 BC, and were expected to adopt a daughter who would follow as the next Divine Adoratrice. Each new dynasty named a princess of royal blood as “Wife of Amun”. She is adopted by and associated with the existing Divine Adoratrice, and would keep her post until death regardless of political turnovers. Thus the princesses of Egyptian origin were succeeded by those of the Libyan royal blood who ascended the throne.

Amenirdis I was adopted by the last of the princesses, Shepenupet I. With the advent of the 26th Dynasty, the title returned again to a princess of Egyptian origin, Nitocris, a daughter of Pharaoh Psamtick I.

see also