Visual Analysis of Sarcophagus Lid of Psamtik

Visual Analysis of Sarcophagus Lid of Psamtik


The subject of art history has majorly concentrated on visual arts which comprise of drawings, paintings, sculpture, architecture, ceramic, metalwork, photography, prints and many more (Lichtheim, p. 32). Artwork will majorly be based on the use of skills, imagination, practice and the observation of things or elements that are in the world. Visual art is known to present the most precious aspects and beliefs among a group of people or a culture. When the art provides an aesthetic response for harmony and order, it becomes appealing to the people who created the image and to those who saw it. In this study, the visual analysis will be on the artwork known as Sarcophagus Lid of Psamtik that was pioneered during the 595 BC in Egypt (Lichtheim, p. 48). The study will review the subject matter of the sculpture in terms of objects, actions or figures and if they imitate the real world. The symbolic meaning of the image and its purpose will be discussed. Finally, the study will deal with the visual analysis that entails the composition, surface texture, condition, colour and space.

Image Identification

The sculpture that will be visually examined is the Sarcophagus Lid of Psamtik that was formed during the late stages of Saite under the Dynasty 26. Sarcophagus Lid first existed in the 595-526 BC in Egypt. The sculpture was placed in the Tomb of Harkhebit which is located in Memphite Region, Saqqara. The Sarcophagus Lid of Psamtik has a greywacke medium and its height is 256cm, shoulders with of 127cm and the thickness of the base and lid together is 132 cm (Othman, p. 17). In 1902, the Egyptian Government excavated the tomb of Horkhebit that was in the desert in the east of Djoser in Saqqara and found the Sarcophagus with other remains of a mummy with a gilded silver mask, finders of gold and a decomposed coffin of gilded cedar .The Egyptian government sold the sarcophagus to the Metropolitan Museum from where it was archived. The sarcophagus contains an accession identification number which is 07.229.1a,b (Othman, p. 17). It is noted that in 1907, Rogers Fund was responsible for making the credit line of the image. The image of the Sarcophagus Lid of Psamtik is as shown below.

Figure 1: Sarcophagus Lid of Psamtik


Subject Matter

The sculpture does offer an observational imitation of what happened in Egypt and it also gives a functional purpose. The artwork symbolizes Horkhebit who lived in the early Dynasty 26 as the Shrines’ Chief Priest, the Sole Companion and the Royal Seal Bearer in the lower and upper Egypt (Bolshakov, p. 47). The artwork has some symbols that describe the sarcophagus group. The symbols describe individuals that had feet that were slightly protruding, broad faces that were squarish and plump and the bodies were smooth unarticulated. The image describes a time in Egypt of the rule of Psamtik and the dynasty of Amasis between 595 and 526 BC.


Visual Analysis

It is noted that the Sarcophagus Lid of Psamtik denotes a resemblance of a particular class of people known as a sarcophagus. The artwork is a masterpiece that describes the hard-stone carvings in the late Egyptian. The people had protruding feet, smooth bodies and their faces were broad and plump. It is seen that the lid of the sculpture contains some long texts that were extracted from the Book of the Dead. The interiors of the artwork are made to sink while the figures and hieroglyphs are rough with no painting (Stokstad and Michael, p. 45). The artwork is a sculpture that is presented in a carved three-dimensional composition. The sculpture has observed a vertical perspective as the head which is the higher stack-element that is viewed deeper in the space. When you first view the Sarcophagus Lid of Psamtik, the directional focus is on the head which represent the face of a person with eyes, ears, nose and mouth. The sculpture has pose which demotes a rest and it presents a source of power. The sign of authority is evidenced by the mask that is drawn on the head of the Sarcophagus Lid which indicates that the individual had a significant role during that time.

The sculpture has an enclosed solid volume that is in three-dimensional and it was made to be viewed from all around as it is laid down. The scale of the objects is very proportional as it is seen that the symbols are drawn in their own columns which represent a rectangular shape that runs from the shoulder of the image to the lower abdomen (Stokstad and Michael, p. 23). The symbols that are drawn look like birds, people, strings among others that have a particular meaning like the words used by Isis, Imsty, Nephthys, the Anubis who is considered as the lord of burial and great god etc.; For the sculpture, it is seen that hues were not used. Despite this, the saturation and value contrast of the artwork has not affected the visibility of the symbols in it. The colour of the sculpture is grey in all sections and is that used to carve the rock (Stokstad and Michael, p. 30). The appearance of the artwork suggests that the Sarcophagus Lid who was a Chief Priest had to remain pure, so colours were not used to decorate the sculpture. Despite the surface texture of the sculpture being dull and rough, the quality of work was not affected. The surface is well finished and it has clearly indicated the various symbols like nk, Psamtik, Tmhw, imyr, wsir, Suit, hna, Ast and many more that were made by the artists. Finally, an eagle has been drawn below the neck of the sculpture. This symbolized that the Sarcophagus Lid had a higher status and it was highly valued, praised and respected during the Dynasty 26.


Sarcophagus Lid first existed in the 595-526 BC in Egypt. The sculpture was placed in the Tomb of Harkhebit which is located in Memphite Region, Saqqara. The artist of the sculpture managed to deliver the intended message as the artwork clearly indicated the function of the Sarcophagus as the Chief Priest of the Shrines and Sole Companion. The use of symbols in sculpture has shown that the Sarcophagus Lid of Psamtik served different groups of people in the period of Dynasty 26 and it was considered to be a god with extreme powers.