Granite Sphinx Statue of Hatshepsut

Sphinx statues have a long tradition in Egyptian history, the earliest examples dating to the Old Kingdom, and the most famous being the great sphinx of Giza. These majestic statues, depicting the king with a lion’s body and a human head/face are epitomes of the king’s might, and visual manifestations of his superhuman powers. The presence of this imagery in Old Kingdom pyramid complexes, including reliefs of the king as a sphinx trampling his enemies, suggests that sphinxes probably functioned as guardians of the royal necropolis.

Date: New Kingdom, Eighteenth Dynasty, Reign of Hatshepsut (c. 1508 BCE–c. 1458 BCE)

Provenance: Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahari, Thebes: West

Material: Red Granite

Current Location: Gallery R6, Egyptian Museum, Cairo, Egypt. INV. No. JE 53114 + JE 55191

Sphinx statues continued to be produced throughout ancient Egyptian history and were popular during the New Kingdom. Six colossal granite sphinx statues, in various degrees of preservation, are believed to have originated from Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahari. They were probably arranged in two east-west rows, flanking the processional route to the ramp leading to the temple’s second terrace. They, therefore, acted as guardians to both the temple, and the processions that went through it.

JE 53114 + JE 55191 is one of the red granite sphinx statues from the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut. It shows her with the body of a lion and the head of a king, wearing the traditional royal headcloth, the nemes. A uraeus adorns her brow and a false beard is attached to her chin; both traditional royal regalia, indicating that Hatshepsut is being represented, not as a queen, but as a pharaoh. This is supported by the column of inscription that provides her prenomen (throne name), Maatkare, in the royal cartouche, and describes her as beloved of the god Amun. The statue was badly damaged, probably due to the destruction that was carried out by her coregent and successor, Thutmose III, in order to eradicate her memory. The statue was subsequently restored and is currently on display in gallery R6 of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. Fortunately none of Hatshepsut’s statues were altered to represent another king, and the names and titles on her statues were left intact, unlike her representations and titles in relief, which meant that the statue fragments, when retrieved, were easily reconstructed and clearly identified with the female pharaoh.

The fragments of Hatshepsut’s statuary were excavated by The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s expedition, directed by Herbert E. Winlock. Between 1922 and 1928 Winlock unearthed thousands of fragments in different areas around her temple, which were then reconstructed into more than thirty-five statues that are now housed in both the Egyptian Museum, Cairo and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Hatshepsut’s portrait underwent several changes, that reflect her transition from chief queen of Thutmose II, to Thutmose III’s (her nephew/stepson) regent, then his coregent. Her statuary reflects these transitions, for her earlier royal statues show her as a woman. During her reign her image became increasingly masculine, until she was ultimately represented completely as a man.

Further Reading

Robins, Gay, Women in Ancient Egypt (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993).

Roehrig, Cathleen, Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005).

Smith, William Stevenson, and William Kelly Simpson, The Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt. 3rd ed. Rev., with additions by William Kelly Simpson (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1998).

Model courtesy of David Anderson, Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse ( and