Back to Main Page

<< Back           the pyramids : giza : sphinx in pictures


Giza Sphinx in Pictures


<<PREV [1] [2] [3] [4] NEXT>>

The earliest pictures of the Sphinx were produced by the ancient Egyptians themselves during the New Kingdom, when the Sphinx was already more than a thousand years old. Archaeological finds at the site of the Sphinx, particularly those made by Selim Hassan in the 1930s, include many stelae with depictions of the monument, showing considerable variation as to the details they record, or purport to record.

On some of the stelae, the Sphinx sits on a corniced pedestal, on others there is no pedestal. Sometimes a crown tops the head of the Sphinx: in some cases the combined Red and White Crowns of Lower and Upper Egypt, in others a tall plumed crown. Sometimes the beard is shown wedged like a king's beard, at other times curled at the tip like a god's (as is the case with the actual fragments of the beard). On some of the stelae, the Sphinx wears the plumage of a bird, and a collar or cape.

The Sphinx according to the "Description de l'Egypte" at the end of the eighteenth century.

On most of the stelae, the proportions of the Sphinx are shown more in accordance with the standard design of sphinxes after the Great Sphinx, but it is interesting to note that the Dream Stela itself depicts the proportions of head and body a little closer to the real Sphinx than the rest; this stela of Tuthmosis IV between the Sphinx's paws shows no crown on its two Sphinx representations and the beard is of the divine pattern. But on the Dream Stela, no statue is shown before the Sphinx's breast, though many of the others do show it there. One of the most interesting of these is that of the scribe Mentu-Hor which uses unconventional artistic means, by the standards of the ancient Egyptians, to suggest that the statue is between the Sphinx's forelegs, by hiding the lower part of the statue's legs behind the outstretched limb of the Sphinx.

In a similarly bold way, two pyramids are shown behind the Sphinx, part-hidden by its body, and one part-obscuring the other.

The Sphinx according
to Pococke, 1743.

The Sphinx according
to Norden, 1755.

This sort of perspective drawing is very unusual in Egyptian art and suggests that on this occasion a more than usually naturalistic effect was sought, which inspires confidence in the potential accuracy of details like the presence of the statue and the collar about the neck.

Some two-and-a-half thousand years after Mentu-Hor, the German traveller Johannes Helferich visited Giza and left us an account of the Sphinx which, though containing fanciful material about the ancient priests' getting inside the Sphinx's head to address the multitude, does circumstantially suggest that he was reasonably familiar with the site. The woodcut he had made for publication in 1579 however, would suggest the opposite: this Sphinx is blatantly female and the beast is shown buried in the sand with, the hair resembling the damaged head-dress of the Great Sphinx. We recall that Helferich thought the Sphinx was an image of Isis.

The illustrator of George Sandys' "Relations of a Journey" which began in 1610 made a much better job of depicting the Sphinx. Sandys noted that 'Pliny gave it a belly' though only its head was visible to him. He must have made a pretty detailed sketch of it in the field, for the woodcut in his book is remarkably apt at showing the erosion of the neck, with knobbly protuberances, and the damage to the head-dress, with grooves and notches. What is more, this illustration of Sandys' book largely avoids the cultural contamination with the classical style that spoils many of the renditions of Egyptian art made before the end of the eighteenth century.

The picture of the Sphinx in Richard Pococke's account of his Egyptian travels, published in 1743, does not altogether escape the classical influence. Erosion and damage are fairly accurately recorded, but the nose of the monument - gone for several centuries by Rococke's time - is shown intact.

The Danish marine architect Frederick Norden published the story of his travels in 1755, with a Sphinx drawing in more recognizably ancient Egyptian spirit. The erosion of the face and the damaged nose are recorded in Norden's picture and something of the George Washington set of the head is captured, with its slight Backward tilt. But the eyes, lips and chin are still not right. With the magnificent Description de l'Egypte that was published over a number of years in the early part of the nineteenth century, the first really accurate depictions of the Sphinx became available to world scholarship - in a limited way - for the volumes were necessarily very expensive and printed in small numbers.

Napoleon's team had done their work well and their efforts in the field were well served by those who brought out the volumes of the Description back to France after Napoleon's downfall. The engravings of the Sphinx vividly portray the damaged state of the face and head-dress and the erosion of the neck as seen by Napoleon's engineers and servants.

<<PREV [1] [2] [3] [4] NEXT>>

Giza Main Sphinx Main Sphinx in Pictures Age of the Sphinx