Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Depictions of the Foreign "Other": The Old Kingdom Prisoner Statues
by Prakash, Tara, Ph.D., New York University, 2017, 599; 10261755
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation is the first detailed study of the ancient Egyptian limestone statues of kneeling bound foreign captives that are commonly referred to as prisoner statues. Fragments of these nearly life-size, free-standing statues have been discovered in six late Old Kingdom royal pyramid complexes (c. 2465-2150 B.C.E.), namely those of the pharaohs Neuserre, Djedkare-Isesi, Unas, Teti, Pepi I, and Pepi II. Several unprovenanced examples are also in American and European collections. As depictions of defeated enemies, these statues magically reinforced the king’s overarching power and his ability to maintain cosmic order. I argue that the statues first arose as a new form of architectural decoration at a time when the decorative program of the pyramid complex was changing. They became a major feature of the late Old Kingdom pyramid complex, and consequently, this study significantly adds to the modern understanding of the appearance, function, and symbolism of these monuments.

Using data gathered from direct examination of fragments and archival photographs, notes, and original excavation journals, I trace the prisoner statues through the Old Kingdom, focusing on the evidence from each complex in order to highlight how the genre changed and developed. I address several crucial and unresolved questions, including their original location in the pyramid complex, their relationship to similarly themed reliefs in each complex, and the possibility of their ritual destruction. I also consider the question of portraiture and realism in Egyptian art through a critical examination of the heads and facial features. These differ from the typically idealized features of most Egyptian statuary and instead reflect a degree of individualization, which is partly a result of stylistic developments during the late Old Kingdom but also the artists’ attempt to convey a wide range of different ethnic characters.

In addition, in order to better situate the prisoner statues within the history of ancient Egyptian art, they must be compared to other three-dimensional representations of foreigners. The relevant monumental depictions are clearly related in terms of theme and need to be considered when trying to understand the function and purpose of the prisoner statues themselves. Thus, this dissertation also offers important preliminary observations on earlier and later statues of foreigners. In this way, I begin to consider the overall role of statuary in ancient Egypt. By analyzing more unusual representations that differ considerably from the common Egyptian statues of divine, royal, and private, elite individuals, I hope to facilitate broad observations and comparisons of the prisoner statues as a distinctive genre of ancient Egyptian statuary, while expanding scholarly understanding of the purpose of statuary in ancient Egypt.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: O'Connor, David
Commitee: Goelet, Ogden, Hill, Marsha, Roth, Ann Macy
School: New York University
Department: Fine Arts
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 78/12(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Archaeology, Art history, Near Eastern Studies
Keywords: Ancient Egypt, Foreigners, Old Kingdom, Prisoner statues, Pyramid complex, Statuary
Publication Number: 10261755
ISBN: 9780355128727
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