essay on Menkaure


The sculpture group of King Menkaure and His Queen is positioned in one of the basic types of Egyptian sculpture – the Standing/Striding pose. The figure of Menkaure is rigidly frontal, although his head is slightly turned to the right. His left foot is slightly advanced, however, the upper body does not respond to this uneven distribution of weight – there is no tilt in the shoulders, nor a shift in the hips. All movement of the figure is suppressed: his muscular arms hang down his athletic body, they are not flexed at the elbow, and do not break through the front contour of his thighs.

The body remains wedded to the block of stone from which it was carved. The artist does not remove the “dead stone” between the arms and torso and most importantly his advanced leg is not carved round, which contributes to the solid and majestic appearance of the statue. The Queen assumes the same rigidly frontal posture, however, her left leg is less advanced than his, which alludes that she is a subordinate figure to her king – in this stance, she is just echoing the pharaoh’s decisive actions.

She embraces the pharaoh with her right arm placing her hand around his waist; her left arm is bent at the elbow and covering her stomach rests on the king’s left arm. There is a space of about a couple of centimeters between the statues that widens towards the base, which makes Menkaure appear standing independently from his female counterpart. In this frontal, striding forward posture the pharaoh looks confident and in control.

The Queen, however, cannot be thought of as an independent statue. First of all, the statue of the king overlaps that of the queen: her right shoulder becomes fused with and overlapped by his left shoulder. Second of all, she has both of her arms around him and not the other way around. Although her appearance conveys the message of majesty and serenity, to me she also appears to be a subordinate figure to that King Menkaure. Perhaps, this is due to the fact that she stands a step behind him, is being overlapped by his figure, and is the one embracing the pharaoh. The statue group is left unfinished.

The most finished parts are the heads, torsos, and the king’s feet. The queen’s feet were carved out and left unpolished. The side view of the group offers a great contrast between the rough texture of the stone and its polished one. The back slab goes up to the shoulders of the figures without revealing their backs. It carries a supportive structure for the statues and is not touched up by the artist.

This could be indicative of two things: either the group was simply unfinished or was meant to be placed in the niche or stand against a corridor wall. At first sight, the facial features of the figures seem to be idealized, but upon closer examination, one realizes that they are highly individualized. The face of the pharaoh takes on a squarish shape, his eyes are not deeply set in within their sockets, the nose is short and turned up, the lips are full, the cheeks are protruding, and his ears are rather prominent.

The queen’s face is round and fleshy. The almond-shaped eyes, snub-nose, small mouth with full lips, and elongated neck – seem to be rather more realistic features than idealized. Menkaure is wearing a royal headpiece – nemes. It consists of linen head cloth that covers most of his forehead, tucked in behind the ears with pleated folds falling over his shoulders. The queen is wearing a ceremonial wig common among females.

The wig is parted in the middle, tucked in behind the ears, and falls down her shoulders. Menkaure is wearing a short royal kilt, and the queen – a thin garment that reveals more of her body than it actually conceals, clearly distinguishing the protruding breasts and pubic triangle. The calm and confidence reflecting the royal dignity of this group statue is achieved through the compactness and solidity of the composition.

The silhouettes are closed – they have very few projecting parts. This solid appearance is enhanced by the use of hard stone – slate with its natural dark color. The names – symbol of leadership also emphasizes the royal and divine status of the pharaoh. Everything about the statues: the scale (life-size), their solid appearance, and the hard stone from which they were executed conveys a feeling of royal dignity.