by Lorna Phillips
Many changes occurred in the Old and Middle Kingdoms in Egypt, especially in relation to the attitude of the people towards the king. The trends in royal statuary during this time reflect these fluctuations in society, both physically and in their purpose. One of the main physical changes in royal statues was the development of portraiture. The sculptors had to try and accomplish a sense of naturalism yet still show the magnificence of the king.
Throughout Egyptian history, the statuary of royals has had a firm funerary grounding. This is definitely true for the Old Kingdom, as it was still strongly believed that the statue could hold divine power and was a place for the king’s ka (spirit) whilst he was in the afterlife. As they were sacred items, most were hidden away, often in a serdab, and were the focus for the cults of the dead kings as a link between the living and the dead. Although they could not see the statue, it gave them something solid upon which to focus their worship. According to Cyril Aldred, the statues were purely practical, not aiming to be emotional for the viewer, as the viewer was not for whom the statue was made. The statuary of this time was focussed only on the deceased and their needs.
Even though the statues continued to be associated with the king after his death, during the Middle Kingdom they also began to represent the king while he was still alive. The kings of the Middle Kingdom had not emerged from the unrest of the First Intermediate Period with full support. Statues were therefore placed in temples around Egypt as monuments, aiming to remind the people of the king’s dominance. Through this worship, the bonds between the king and the local communities strengthened.