Liegendes Nilpferd

Staatliches Museum Ägyptischer Kunst München


Here is presented a small reclining hippopotamus made of faience, the decoration of which may seem surprising at first but that nonetheless shows a convincing combination of animal and plant depictions. Egyptian artists invented such modes of depiction for the group of objects of faience hippopotami of the Middle Kingdom. The animals the colours of which shimmer from light blue, over turquoise to green, have plants painted in dark colour onto their bodies. There are blossoms, buds and leaves of the lotus plant as well as papyrus clusters but also animals such as birds and butterflies. Thereby, the living space of hippopotami in the papyrus thicket is painted directly onto their bodies.

This hippopotamus reclines on its left side and has its legs stretched out to the right. The large head, looking to the right, is put before the forelegs. Over the curves of the body are placed two crossing bands decorated with lotus buds; larger buds are on the flanks. The neck is covered by a lotus flower, two long-stemmed leaves are placed outside the eyes. A second lotus flower covers the hindquarter.

The hippopotamus as a symbol of fertility is the manifestation of numerous female deities such as Thoeris, Hathor or Isis, who are connected with motherhood. The type of the sleeping animal as in the case of the Munich hippopotamus may be attributed to them. In addition, there is the aggressive variant, in which the hippopotamus is shown with a threatening wide-open mouth. The latter matches its meaning in a religious context as the embodiment of the enemy of the gods, Seth, and thus as absolute evil.


Staatliches Museum Ägyptischer Kunst München (SMAEK)