Egyptian, Classical, Ancient Near Eastern Art
On View: Old Kingdom to 18th Dynasty, Egyptian Galleries, 3rd Floor
This goddess, whose name means “she who loves silence,” combines the body of a cobra with the head of a woman. An animal with a human head is a common Egyptian artistic convention. As a local deity, Meretseger guarded the Valley of the Kings, where monarchs were entombed, and the village of craftsmen who worked there. Though a dangerous animal, her purpose was to protect the workers in the valley, and also sometimes to punish wrongdoers.
ca. 1479–1400 B.C.E., or later
Dynasty 18, or later
14 x 4 5/8 x 8 7/8 in. (35.6 x 11.7 x 22.5 cm) (show scale)
Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund
One sandstone votive figure of the goddess Meretseger. Meretseger is here represented as a human headed cobra. Sculpted in the round, the figure is fairly rectangular-- there being no smooth transitions from side to front view, or at least totally so. From the side we see the coiled body on the snake; two coils being indicated on each side, forced up into loops. From the front the human face (much rubbed down) is shown wearing a tripartite wig capped by a crown composed of a ka sign embracing a solar disc, a vertical line above the disc divides the apex of the roughly triangular crown. The area behind the crown and when viewed from the side, above the coils is left uncarved, save for a smoothing down which has left the piece of untouched stone. The figure sits on a rectangular plinth.
Condition: The whole of the body is superficially pitted--a small chip is noted above the sun disc on the crown. Traces of red paint exist on the front of the cobra body and on the rim of the crown as well as the solar discs. CRW mentions traces of paint on the flanks. These are not evident today.
Meretseger, ca. 1479–1400 B.C.E., or later. Sandstone, pigment, 14 x 4 5/8 x 8 7/8 in. (35.6 x 11.7 x 22.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1749E. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum (Gavin Ashworth,er), 37.1749E_Gavin_Ashworth_photograph.jpg)
overall, 37.1749E_Gavin_Ashworth_photograph.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph (Gavin Ashworth, photographer), 2012
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How was Meretseger worshiped? Would they provide her with votive sacrifices of snakes?
Meretseger was a local deity in Western Thebes where she was associated with a particular mountain peak, she was certainly the focus of a lot of prayer. The most common dedications to her are inscribed stelae or images of her, like this one.
Inscribed stelae typically included personal messages from the donor to the goddess. This was a new type of interaction with a deity in Egyptian belief beginning the New Kingdom period.
Establishing a personal relationship with the gods was influenced by the religious practices of Near Eastern cultures. There was increased contact between Egypt and the Near East at this time as both of their empires were expanding closer and closer together.