Feature object: Statue of Metjetji, Old Kingdom

Statue of Metjetji via Google Cultural Institute
Let's look in detail at the exquisite wooden statue from the Old Kingdom held in the Brooklyn Museum. 

The statue is one of a number of ka statues meant to represent the deceased. It shows Metjetji in a typically modified striding pose with the left foot forward which is typical of ancient Egyptian art. As is common with these quasi-contraposto compositions, the left foot had been detached, possibly due to structural weakness.

Although the piece is an idealised portrayal, it also includes personalised details which inform us about the owner and their life.

Metjetji was a high official who lived during the reign of 5th Dynasty king Wenis (Unas).

In this portrayal, he wears a short wig, and is clean-shaven, although moustaches (eg prince Nefermaat) and small beards were also worn during this period. Elsewhere in his tomb he was portrayed with a longer wig and a small beard (see links to other collections below).

Like most people, Metjetji most likely wore a number of different hairstyles and attire during his life. An example of different attire can be seen in the smallest of the three statues in the Brooklyn Museum which shows Metjetji with a shaved head and a long white linen kilt suggestive of priestly or ceremonial duties.

As evidence of his status, he wears two broad collars one of which is unfastened -  its ends hang down either side of his chest. He is also wearing a short kilt which is decorated by a beaded apron.

This statue would have been interred in the owner's tomb and its functions could include receiving offerings of sustenance on behalf of the deceased or serve as an abode for the soul should the owner's mummy be damaged or destroyed.

A number of ka statues for this man have been found, which suggests he was an individual of importance - having the means to have multiple images of good quality commissioned or gifted to him for his burial. In some instances tomb owners record the gifting of tomb architecture by the king himself as evidence of their importance in Egyptian society, thereby proving they were worthy to receive cultic offerings.

Statue of Metjetji, ca. 2371-2288 B.C.E. Wood, pigment, 27 9/16 in.
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 53.222.
The style of Metjetji's wig and facial sculpt is indicative of the Old Kingdom. Both men and women wore wigs in ancient Egypt. This short wig style was common in the Old Kingdom, although it was worn during other periods and became popular among some royal women in the Middle (eg the wives of Montuhotep II) and New Kingdom (eg Kiya). 

Wood was a valuable resource in ancient Egypt, native timbers were unsuitable for most furniture because of their size and shape, so timber was one of the most important imports from Egypt's neighbours to the north east. Native timbers could be used for objects but often required filling and joining. Note the rough base made of lesser quality timber.

The statue is made in various pieces held together with a variety of different joints some of which, due to damage, can now be seen, such as those securing the arms. (Probably via a pinned or pegged tenon). X-rays (see Brooklyn Museum site linked below) show the statue was fixed to its base using a mortise and tenon joint.
Detail of chest showing pinned tenon joints on either side of the chest to secure the arms

After the statue was assembled, it was coated with gesso - a mixture of chalky powder or gypsum and binder. This covered blemishes and provided a surface for painting. The details have been painted using powdered mineral pigments which were often bound with agents like gum arabic - made from powdered resin. The gesso and paintwork have been damaged on this artefact but much of the original detail survives.

Detail of beaded apron and short kilt
One of the most beautiful details of this piece, and certainly the one that most caught my eye to select this piece for the post, is the beaded apron Metjetji wears at the side of his short kilt which is secured with a knot. He may also have a short baton tucked in his waistband. It's a reminder of colourful decorative garb such as beaded netting and ornamental aprons that was probably more prevalent in ancient Egyptian life than funerary art might lead us to assume. 

The hands appear to be holding what might be kerchiefs, an artistic device which appears in sculpture from the Old Kingdom onwards in which the hands appear to be holding a small object. This may be symbolic of linen, or a solution to the difficulty of internal spaces in early sculpture. For a discussion of the possible meaning of this artistic convention, see link below[1].

Brooklyn Museum, CUR.53.222_back.jpg
We rarely get to see more than one view of objects, so let's take advantage of one of the different views available for this piece and check out the back. If you get the opportunity in a museum to look at the sides and backs of the artefacts, take it, surprising details await you there!

Here we can see the painted beaded counterpoise for Metjetji's broadcollar - it is designed to balance the weight of the collar and helps it to sit without sagging on the wearer and is of a standard shape.

References and further reading
[1]  Free pdf download of the article (1975)
Detail images screencapped from: https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/statue-of-metjetji/WwFlDmvuE5I_qw
Explore the Statue of Metjetji more at the Brooklyn Museum:

Brooklyn Museum

These two wooden statues, like another example nearby, come from the tomb of an official named Metjetji. They depict him at different stages of his career, signified by different details of his costume. On these statues, the unusually well-preserved paint shows beaded jewelry around his neck and strands of beads hanging from his belt.