Ancient Egyptian Statues: Their Many Lives and Deaths

Review by Campbell Price

This finely produced book from AUC Press is written with eloquence by statue scholar and curator Simon Connor. Opening with recent debates about the role and identity of ‘public’ statues, the book sets out to investigate not just the iconographical meaning of statuary, but how it was (re)used in context.

Understanding ancient Egyptian ideas of how non-physical entities might be present in or through images is complex. Connor gives a comprehensive round-up of Egyptological debate concerning the ‘activation’ of images through rituals, before moving on to evidence of interactions with statues. The book considers different types of alterations, their perpetrators, and possible motivations. There are some key tips here for potential visitors to sites and museums: not every type of ‘damage’ is malign.

Much ancient Egyptian sculpture has sustained some sort of alteration, so Connor’s close analysis yields insight into the techniques for deliberate mutilation, reworking certain features, but also how to spot signs of restoration.

This new volume is of great importance for two reasons. Academically, it summarises and advances discussion on the context and use of statuary of various forms and dates, and places the emphasis on the (ancient or more recent) user and viewer. While original conception and meaning of a work is undoubtedly important, how an individual piece was in fact used – even close to its creation – may differ from its intended use.

The book acts as a tremendously useful guide, too, to what one actually encounters at sites in Egypt and in museums, giving the modern viewer – especially those who have not considered the biographies of statues – many new perspectives to employ in considering a statue as an object. Decent photography and some helpful line-drawings bring the subject to life, revealing a dynamic world beyond the often rather clinical presentation of ancient Egyptian statues simply as ‘art’.

Ancient Egyptian Statues: Their Many Lives and Deaths
by Simon Connor
American University in Cairo Press, 2022
ISBN 978-1617-97134-1
Hardback £39.95