'My highlight of 2016' — An Egyptian figure of a lady
Specialist Max Bernheimer on an ancient ka sculpture, believed to have acted as a vessel for the soul after death
'This Egyptian wooden figure of a lady sold for $845,000 in April, nearly doubling what it sold for in 1992,' explains Max Bernheimer, Christie's International Head of Antiquities. The remarkable piece, which is dated to between 1900 and 1800 B.C., demonstrated the strength of the market, while offering a fascinating insight into Ancient Egyptian tradition.
Made from exotic hardwood, the figure is an example of what is known as a ka statue, intended to provide a physical resting place for the ka, or spirit, of a person. The ka was believed to endure after death, and statues such as this were typically placed inside an offering chapel, a tomb or a coffin — the latter appearing for the first time in Egypt's late Old Kingdom in the third millennium B.C.
An important Egyptian wood figure of a lady. Middle Kingdom, early 12th dynasty. 10¾ in (27.3 cm) high. Sold for $845,000 on 12 April 2016
For Bernheimer, the beauty of this sculpture is as remarkable as its condition; although nearly 4,000 years old and made of fragile material, it has survived intact, its eyes still inlaid with original white alabaster and black obsidian. The latter is particularly revealing since it is not native to Egypt, and illustrates the trade networks that existed in antiquity.
Formerly owned by collector Daniel W. Dietrich, the sculpture has been loaned for display to institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Egyptian Museum in Berlin. Dietrich himself had acquired the piece from another great collector of antiquities, Norbert Schimmel, who was renowned for sourcing objects of extraordinary quality and rarity.
In his 25 years at Christie's, Bernheimer has been able to grow the antiquities department, with exceptional pieces like this underscoring the company's position as the world market-share leader in this field.
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