The God Nefertem
Egyptian, Classical, Ancient Near Eastern Art
On View: Old Kingdom to 18th Dynasty, Egyptian Galleries, 3rd Floor
The complex nature of Egyptian deities is often indicated by their attributes. Osiris’s tightly wrapped mummy shroud and his crook and flail (symbolizing kingship) point to the legend of Osiris’s murder, mummification, and subsequent resurrection as the ruler of the underworld. The cobra held by his wife, Isis, represents the magic that revived her husband and guarded their son, Horus. As the rightful heir to Osiris’s throne and the embodiment of kingship, the falcon-god Horus wears the Double Crown.
Animals can also reveal divine qualities. The cow or cow-human forms of Hathor refer to her role as provider of milk to Horus and to young kings of Egypt. Bastet, another benevolent female deity, appears as a cat or cat-headed woman, carrying a basket and sistrum.
Certain deities, including Neith, Ptah, Nefertem, and Imhotep, were portrayed in human form. The ancient protectress Neith, associated with war and hunting, wears the flat-topped Red Crown of Lower Egypt. The Memphite creator-god Ptah holds a staff with hieroglyphs for life and permanence. Ptah’s son, Nefertem, a lotus on his head (symbolizing rebirth), defends Maat with his scimitar. Imhotep, the deified architect of Djoser’s pyramid, shares Ptah’s close-fitting cap, and the papyrus on his lap emphasizes wisdom and creativity.
ca. 664-525 B.C.E. or later
14 1/4 x 3 1/16 x 4 1/2 in. (36.2 x 7.8 x 11.5 cm)
mount (display dimensions): 17 3/4 x 3 x 6 in. (45.1 x 7.6 x 15.2 cm) (show scale)
Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund
Archaeological provenance not yet documented; by April 1905, acquired by Claude Camille Rollin and Félix Bienaimé Feuardent of Paris, France; April 25, 1905, purchased from Claude Camille Rollin and Félix Bienaimé Feuardent by the Brooklyn Museum.
Bronze statue of Nefer-tum standing with sickle clasped in right hand and conventional headdress. Of excellent quality. Elaborate naturalistic veining lines intact. From inner center of the lotus rise two plumes (?) joined. From outer surface of lotus on each side over the ears hangs a menat also inlaid originally. Entire wig worked with very fine incised lines. Small uraeus. Braided beard. Eyes, eyebrows and beard strap formed from copper (?) overlays with eyes white inlaid with silver. Left arm hangs at side with small cylinder, originally inlaid (?), clasped in hand. Right arm held against breast and clasps in the hand an instrument, perhaps a sickle, the handle of which is in the form of a lotus. Pleated shenti kilt.
Left leg advanced. Dark green patina. Heavy suspension loop at back of head.
Inscription: Traces of the inscription on all four sides of the base but they are almost illegible. Shallow cutting.
Condition: General condition excellent. Left front corner of base missing. Inlays missing from headdress. Nose battered. Two patches on green on right side of face. Bronze in excellent condition.
Technique: Cast solid. Worked in great detail. Large lotus flower blossom on top of head, outer sides of which were inlaid with glass or paste (now missing).
The God Nefertem, ca. 664-525 B.C.E. or later. Bronze, silver, 14 1/4 x 3 1/16 x 4 1/2 in. (36.2 x 7.8 x 11.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 05.393. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, CUR.05.393_wwg8.jpg)
installation, West Wing gallery 8 installation, CUR.05.393_wwg8.jpg
. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2006
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Tell me more.
The god Nefertem, as you may have guessed from the large lotus flower on his head, is closely associated with this symbolic and fragrant flower. He is associated with creation because the sun is said to have first appeared out of a lotus flower and he is considered the patron of perfume.
What is he holding in his right hand?
This is a blade or weapon that Nefertem would use to defend Ma’at, the Egyptian concept of truth and balance in the universe.
Is he holding anything in his left fist?
There is a small cylinder in his fist. This is a common feature of ancient Egyptian statues, but scholars aren’t certain exactly what it represents. Some guesses are a rolled up prayer, an amulet, or even a stand-in for a longer staff.