Art of ancient Egypt, 2 statues of Userkaf and Zoser

Ancient Egyptian art

The 2 statues of Userkaf and Zoser belong to the art of ancient Egypt, the old kingdom, the era that seized an important portion of Egyptian art.

The head of Userkaf

Ancient Egypt art
Egypt art, the head of Userkaf

It’s made of greywacke or schist (from the eastern desert and Sinai). It was discovered in 1957 by the German and Swiss expeditions at the solar temple of Userkaf at Abuser by the German excavator Ranke.

At first, scholars thought that it belongs to goddess Neith because goddess Neith was always represented wearing on her head the red crown, but this idea was soon rejected for two reasons:

  • The presence of a thin mustache on the upper lip so the head had to belong to a man and probably it was Userkaf because it was discovered in his solar temple.
  • Another reason to reject this idea is that there were no stand-alone statues found for goddess dating to the old kingdom.

This head was broken off a statue but we aren’t sure if this statue was a seated or a standing statue. Userkaf is wearing the red crown of Lower Egypt, which is partly broken; we only have the base of the red crown.

King’s face is oval in shape, and the oval face extends towards the tapering line of the red crown and terminates with the gentle curve of the chin.

The eyebrows are represented in high relief and are elongated. The eyes extend by cosmetic eye lines, which are carved in high relief on his face.

He has a fleshy rounded nose. His nostrils are small, not wide if compared to that of Cheops (4th dynasty). Under this rounded nose, there is a slightly wider and more decisively drawn mouth topped by a mustache.

His ears are represented small in shape and are just visible when this portrait is viewed from the front.

This sensitive portrait has great appeal and is one of the rare examples of sculpture from the old kingdom to portray the king wearing the red crown of Lower Egypt. It is a striking example of the style marking the beginning of the fifth dynasty.


When we Look to the lower lid of the left eye: we will notice that it is made in high relief while the right one is missing … why??

Maybe the sculptor left something unfinished in the head because of he, like all the Egyptians, believed that when he finished the statue completely this represents a bad luck or ill omen for the king or the private people.

Mouth: on the left corner of the mouth there are remains of a chisel, notice the light smile. We can see the gap between the lower lip and the chin.

The pyramids of the kings of the fifth dynasty are considered humble if compared with those of their predecessors.

Egypt art: statue of Djoser

Ancient Egyptian art
Art of ancient Egypt, the statue of Djoser

It dates to the third dynasty, the reign of Djoser (2630 – 2611 BC).

It is made out of limestone (known as inr hd in hieroglyphics, which means the white stone), which was brought from Tura, Maasara and Mokattam Hills, covered with a layer of plaster and then painted. Its height is about 142 cm.

It was discovered at the step pyramid Complex at Saqqara of Djoser inside a square building called Serdab, North of the step pyramid.

It has no doors except for two holes in the front wall opposite to the face of the statue of Zoser found inside.

The 3 theories about the presence of these holes

1- Either to enable the king’s statue to smell the incense.

2- Or to observe the funerary rituals performed outside.

3- Or to face the never-setting circumpolar stars (the North Star).

The statue was placed at the northern side of the pyramid why?

To face the northern star as it was believed that after the death of the king his soul will ascend to the sky to be a star.

It is considered the first life-size royal statue to be discovered from ancient Egypt. This is statue is the real one while the one at Saqqara complex is a replica.

The description

Art of ancient Egypt
Art of Egyptians, the statue of Djoser

The statue represents king Zoser seated on a low-backed throne with wooden supports marked out the sides.

He is wearing a very heavy tripartite wig surmounted by an atchai version of the Nemes headdress, which is the royal headdress that takes the form of a simple cloth fixed at the front leaving the ears exposed.

He has a mustache upon his mouth and wearing an artificial ceremonial beard.

The neck of the statue is supported by the heavy wig and the false royal beard, which was a technique used by the ancient sculptor to avoid the points of weakness in the statue.

He is represented with high cheekbones, hollow cheeks, and a slightly prominent lower jaw.

Thick eyebrows overshadow deep and closely set eyes that would once have been inland (might have been made of semi-precious stones) rock crystal, the eyes still retain a very faraway look.

They don’t look at the viewer but to the Horizon as it was believed that the king was divine and holy, he was a semi-god so the faraway look separates the divine king from the ordinary human beings.

He is dressed in the Heb Sed or the jubilee garment, which envelopes his body and extends down to his calves leaving the top of his shoulders exposed.

His right hand is resting on his chest as a sign of following the heart, holding either a piece of cloth or a seal (Royal statues normally depicts the kind clenching his fist on any of those objects so that the sculptor could show his muscles and prove his power), while the other hand is flat on his knee (as a sign of mercy).

The king is represented looking a far-away look, emphasizing the idea of the divinity of the king.

The colors on the statue

The face and wig we can see traces of black color. The skin had been painted yellow. The statue was once covered with plaster and then painted.

Ancient Egyptians used to paint their statues with colors from natural minerals, for example:

  • Green from malachite (copper oxide)
  • White from limestone
  • Red from hematite (iron oxide)

Inscriptions on the base of the throne:

These 2 statues consider great examples of the art of ancient Egypt during the Old Kingdom.