Head and upper torso of Seti I

1303–1290 BCE
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General Description

This superb sculpture is a rare portrait of one of the great kings of Egyptian history. Seti I was the first important pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty. Following the upheavals caused by Akhenaten's religious revolution in the late 18th Dynasty, Seti established a firm military control over all of Egypt and led its armies to conquest in Palestine. He set the pattern for an aggressive Egyptian rule that reached its climax under the long reign of his son Ramses II.

Relief portraits of Seti I occur at Abydos, Karnak, and in his tomb in the necropolis at Thebes, but this is one of the few three-dimensional portraits of him. It adheres to the classical Egyptian conventions of royal art, showing the king as a vital, muscular man dressed in the ruler's _nemes _headcloth and false beard. Supporting the back of the sculpture is the king's cartouche with his regal names. The boldly plastic modeling of the figure indicates the king's divine majesty and his role as a bringer of prosperity to his people. The columnar neck, lifted chin, and gripping gaze of the eyes give the portrait a remarkable sense of living force, thereby equating Seti with Osiris, the undying Lord of the Afterworld. Since Egyptian rulers belonged to the realm of the gods, they were represented as eternally strong and youthful.

Seti I's rule initiated a revival of Egyptian splendor. Art under Seti emphasized a grandiose monumentality without sacrificing the courtly elegance so notable under the kings of the 18th Dynasty. This portrait bust expresses this union of dynamic power and suave line.

Adapted from

  • Roslyn A. Walker, The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art, (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), cat. 61, 182-183.

  • Anne R. Bromberg and Karl Kilinski II, Gods, Men, and Heroes: Ancient Art at the Dallas Museum of Art. (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996), 20-23.

  • Anne Bromberg, "Head and upper torso of Seti I," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Charles Venable (New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press, 1997), 20.

  • Bonnie Pitman, ed., Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012), 131.

  • Anne R. Bromberg, DMA unpublished material, January 2003.

Fun Facts

  • In 1992 the title of this portrait was changed from "Bust of Seti I" to "Head and Upper Torso of Seti I." Based on curatorial analysis, it is clear this is not a self-contained "bust" but part of a larger statue that is thought to belong to a private collection in Italy. Based on comparisons to similar examples of Seti I, it is likely this statue was kneeling, leaning forward with an offering.

Web Resources

  • The University of Memphis
    See scenes from the military campaigns of Seti I carved in relief at the Great Temple of Amun at Karnak.

  • Sir John Soane's Museum London
    Read about the sarcophagus of Seti I.

  • Metropolitan Museum of Art
    Compare to another kneeling statue of Seti I.

  • Vimeo
    Watch a 3D rendering of the tomb of Seti I derived from data recorded with a FARO Lidar scanner in November 2016.

  • Vimeo
    See a 3D model of the Sarcophagus of Seti I produced by the Factum Foundation, recorded using photogrammetry in 2016 at Sir John Soane's Museum.