Bust of Ramesses II, c. 1250 BC
Red granite and granodiorite
266.8 (height) x 203.3 (width) cm
Found at Thebes (modern Luxor), Egypt


This colossal bust of the ancient Egyptian king Ramesses II is 2.7 metres high, but was only the upper third of a seated statue carved from a single piece of stone. With a smaller colossus it flanked a doorway inside the Ramesseum, the ruler’s mortuary temple in Thebes. The bulk of the sculpture remains in its original location.
Ramesses had a long and prosperous reign (about 1279–1212 BC) and was remembered by later generations as one of the greatest pharaohs. This was largely due to his knack for self-promotion, resulting in a vast number of temples and statues erected in his name. Ramesses was keen to maintain a visible presence throughout his kingdom to assert his authority. As was customary in Egyptian royal imagery, representations of Ramesses are highly idealised, showing him as a handsome youth with a benevolent smile. His royal status is indicated by his pleated head-cloth and by the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, which he originally wore on top. The cobras round the bottom of the crown and the one placed on his forehead (now broken) are a symbol of divine protection. This and other colossal sculptures testify to the extraordinary achievements of ancient Egyptian society. The state could avail itself of immense manpower, artistic resources and logistical skill to carve and move the statues from quarries at Aswan, in southernmost Egypt, to destinations throughout the land.


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