Ancient Egyptian Hippo for Sale at Bonhams

. September 21, 2010 . 0 Comments

A turquoise faience hippo – very similar to the one nicknamed ‘William’ the unofficial mascot of the Metropolitan Museum in New York – is for sale at Bonhams next Antiquities auction on October 6th.

Estimated to sell for £80,000 to £120,000 this charming figure dates from the Second Intermediate Period, circa 1786-1590 B.C. Modelled with bulging hooded eyes and small pricked ears, the rounded plump body decorated with lotus flowers and marsh plants with hunting nets arranged in an ‘X’ motif across the back, a lotus flower emanating from the short ‘v’ shaped tail, it stands on squat legs. It measures just 5¼in (13cm) long, 2¼in (5.5cm) high.

This charming fellow was collected by the Adda family from Alexandria and was part of their collection formed in the 1920s-1930s. Due to its associations with hunting and fertility the hippopotamus was seen by the ancient Egyptians as both threatening and protective. The decoration of marsh plant and lotus motifs can be explained as a reflection of its habitat as well as symbols of rebirth.

The River Nile was the lifeblood of the Ancient Egyptian civilization, as a method of transport, and through irrigation, a crucial source of food. To the ancient Egyptians, this seemingly ‘cute’ gentle lumbering creature was one of the greatest dangers they could be faced with. The immense animals were a risk to fishermen and were capable of destroying entire crops. As such it was entirely reasonable that a person would want to protect themselves, even in the afterlife from such a threat. It is thought that this is the reason many such hippos have been found with their legs and snouts ‘ritually’ broken, to ensure that they could be of no danger to the deceased.

Ancient Egyptian civilization was based on a religious belief in rebirth after death which became the driving force behind their funeral practices. Death was simply a temporary interruption, rather than complete cessation, of life, and that eternal life could be ensured by piety to the gods, preservation of the physical form through mummification and the provision of statuary and other funerary equipment in the tomb for the afterlife.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is renowned for its vast collection of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian art and artifacts. One piece has emerged as the unofficial mascot of the museum. Dubbed ‘William’, the blue faience hippo dating to about 1900 B.C. is a fine example of ‘faience’ also known as ‘glazed composition’, which is a type of glazed earthenware pottery. ‘William’ was originally discovered in 1910, in the Tomb of Senbi at Meir. William has captured the hearts of museum visitors ever since his arrival.

Head of Antiquities at Bonhams, Madeleine Perridge, comments: “Egyptian faience hippopotami of varying size are today in a number of major international museums, including in New York, Paris and Vienna. Produced in Egypt only for a relatively short period of time, these brightly-coloured creatures are one of the most evocative images found in Egyptian art and are always highly sought-after. The Bonhams hippo is a fine example of the type and is a rare opportunity for a private collector to acquire a museum-quality piece of strong provenance.”

Category: Fine Art News

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