An important restoration of the colossal statue of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye has been made possible by the discovery of long-missing fragments, writes Zahi Hawass
In 1859, the Frenchman Auguste Mariette found a huge double statue of Amenhotep III and his favourite queen, Tiye. Mariette was the first director of antiquities in Egypt and “discovered” famous monuments like the Serapeum at Saqqara and the Valley Temple of Chephren at Giza.
The statue was found at Medinet Habu, the great temple of Ramses III in western Thebes, near the Roman Court. But the statue originally stood at the great southern gate of the funerary temple of Amenhotep III at Kom Al-Hitan, to the east of Medinet Habu.
When the statue was discovered, many sections of the figures of the king and queen were missing and had to be restored by filling in the gaps. The restoration work was carried out at the turn of the last century, by an Italian artist and restorer. He clearly showed the difference between the original parts of the statue and the restored portions.
The statue is now housed in the Cairo Museum, at the end of the main hall on the ground floor. The king is shown seated, with his hands placed flat on his knees. Queen Tiye sits beside him, with one arm placed around the king’s waist. Between them is a small statue of one of their daughters, perhaps the one who married her brother Akhenaton and was the mother of Tutankhamun.
The most interesting characteristic of this statue is that the figure of the queen is the same size as that of the king. This is considered unusual because a queen was always shown as being significantly shorter than a king.
This sculpture shows the power of Queen Tiye, the beloved of Amenhotep III. He built a palace and had an artificial lake constructed at Malkata so he could sail in the royal barge with his favourite queen.
Egyptologists Hourig Sourouzian and Rainer Stadelmann are now working at the Kom Al-Hitan Temple. They have found other huge standing statues of the king and queen, as well as of Sekhmet, the goddess of war and healing.
This has led some scholars to speculate that Amenhotep III suffered ill health at the end of his reign, and that the statues of Sekhmet were intended to help him become well again. Thanks to the expedition’s good work, the temple can now be reconstructed, except for the northern section, where a modern restaurant and house are located.
The second part of this story began when the US Agency for International Development (USAID) funded a project supported by Fayza Aboul-Naga, the minister of international co-operation. The project began in 2009 and was intended to lower the level of the water table around the temples on the west bank at Luxor.
The team worked under my direction and was headed by Abdel-Ghaffar Wagdy and others. In the course of our work at Medinet Habu, we came away with many surprises, including the recovery of more than 16 pieces that appeared to be statue fragments. We then became detectives, searching for the statue that the missing pieces had come from.
Because the statue must have been a huge one, we decided that we should look at two kings —Amenhotep III and Ramses II. Their reigns were known to feature colossal statues. We faced a problem, however, because the pieces that we discovered were not inscribed, and they could not be easily dated.
But we had a clue: because some of the statues of Amenhotep III had been found at Medinet Habu, we began to wonder if these blocks belonged to the famous double-seated statue of the king and queen.
This statue was missing many parts when it was first recovered. Through careful examination and study, we were able to confirm that the newly found pieces included Queen Tiye’s left arm and leg, and part of the king’s names. Other fragments matched gaps in the statue. When our newly discovered pieces are incorporated into the statue, it will be about 70 per cent complete.