The Tutankhamun Exhibit
Statues, Sculptures and Containers
The King as Harpooner
Carved in wood, the figure was gessoed and gilded. The ends of the painted papyrus skiff were also gilded. The harpoon which the king holds in his right hand and the coiled rope in his left are made of bronze, like the slippers he wears, the uraeus (serpent) attached to his crown, and the inlaid eyebrows.
On the walls of many private tombs both before and during the New Kingdom, the owner is often shown on a small raft fowling or fishing in the marshes. While the action illustrated by this statue is similar, the king hunts neither fish nor fowl, but the hippopotamus, the animal sacred to the god Seth. Like many other objects in the tomb, it relates to the traditional religion restored by Tutankhamun. Since the king is the embodiment of the falcon god Horus, the figure is a three-dimensional representation of the conflict between Horus and Seth, a mythical confrontation between these two gods. This statue, found in the Treasury, was one of a pair, and both, covered with linen, were inside a darkly varnished chest. Neither one, however, contained the hippopotamus of Seth, the enemy of Horus's father, Osiris. The omission of the hippopotamus is not accidental; it was never meant to be part of the composition. Seth being understood as an evil deity, his presence, even as an animal, the in the royal tomb would constitute a threat to the king; so his absence was deliberate.
The elegance of the carving and the grace of the figure is almost unparalleled in Egyptian art. Although more naturalistic than its predecessors, the art of the Amarna period tended often to the extremes. This piece illustrates the best characteristics of the Amarna period, balanced with the restraint characterized by Tutankhamun's reign. The uniqueness of the figure is not limited to the style, but extends also to the composition itself. Although similar representations can be found in two dimensions, three-dimensional representations of royal figures in such an active pose are extremely rare.