Statue of Khafre

Object name: Statue of Khafre

Date: Old Kingdom, Dynasty 4, reign of Khafre, c. 2520-2494 BC

Materials: Gneiss

Location: Valley Temple of Khafre, Giza

Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, Cairo, Egypt

EMu user since 2008


november_small.gifOne of the most celebrated pieces of Egyptian art, this statue combines skilful workmanship with a high level of symbolism that illuminates important concepts of Egyptian kingship. The king is seated on his throne, wearing a kilt and a royal nemes headdress. Behind his head the hawk-god Horus embraces the king with his wings. Horus was considered the divine protector of Egyptian kingship and the living king was his manifestation on earth, while the deceased king was the incarnation of Horus’s father, Osiris, god of the dead. The throne itself was the hieroglyph for the goddess Isis, wife of Osiris and mother of Horus. Some scholars interpret this statue as an image of the trinity of Horus (the falcon), Osiris (the deceased king), and Isis (the throne).

The statue was found in 1860 by French archaeologist Auguste Mariette in a pit in the entrance corridor of Khafre’s Valley Temple. One of twenty-three life-size statues arranged around a court to receive the offerings of a funerary cult, it is the best surviving example found.

Ancient expeditions sent to quarry the stone of which the statue was made, anorthositic gneiss, had to travel to Gebel el-Asr, a remote desert site to the south of Egypt, about sixty-five kilometers north-west of Abu Simbel. This is a very hard stone and must be worked with stone tools made of other hard materials such as diorite or basalt. It has been suggested that this stone was chosen due to its characteristic blue colour, especially visible in sunlight, linking it to the celestial realm and therefore to Horus, who was also a sky god.

Photograph by Kenneth Garrett