The Dovecote, Cotswold, England by Bruce Cheever
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19A: An Egyptian Votive Stela Fragment for the Apis
Egypt, New Kingdom, 18th-20th dynasty (ca. 1550-1070 B.C.) or after. A beautiful and very interesting ancient Egyptian limestone slab, a fragment from what probably was a stela, dedicated to the bull god Apis. The horned head of this god is prominently present on the stone, surrounded by the remains of four columns of hieroglyphic text. This text no doubt originally contained the name of the person who dedicated the stela. Only a few signs of what could have been his title remain in the column on the right, which possibly read "Treasury" (per hedj); the dedicator may have had a position there. The second column begins with "Osiris". In front of the bull's head is his name, Apis, and behind his head we find the word "the living". Several hieroglyphs show traces of blue and red brown paint.
The arrangement of the hieroglyphs in columns under a horizontal line suggests that the fragment once was part of a stela. Hundreds of such stelae have been erected in the Serapeum, the underground catacombs in Sakkara in which every Apis bull was buried after its death. Many of these stelae are now in the Louvre museum, Paris.
The Apis bull was considered sacred from at least as early as the predynastic period. The animal was linked to the Memphite god Ptah and was believed to be the ba (which translates rather incorrectly as "soul") of Ptah. Simultaneously Apis was also linked to the god Osiris, perhaps through the connection of Osiris with Ptah, as seen in the union Ptah-Sokar-Osiris. Both Osiris and Apis were frequently mentioned in connection with their fertility, and Osiris could also be called "the great bull of the west". Apis also had solar features, as indicated by the sun disk often seen between his horns from the New Kingdom onwards, and by his relationship with the god Atum.
A ritual called the "Apis walk", aiming to give fertility to the fields, was known from earliest times. Another Apis walk can be seen on the foot end of many Late Period sarcophagi; this served to carry the deceased to the tomb.
The Apis bull lived in the so-called Apieion in Memphis, which was located near the temple of Ptah. Only one Apis bull at a time was worshipped in Egypt. After the bull died, it was mummified and buried in the Serapeum in Saqqara. Part of the mummification ritual for the Apis bulls has been preserved in a Demotic papyrus. The choice of a new Apis bull was determined by certain physical characteristics, the most important of which was a white triangle on the forehead. Also certain black markings on the body played a role; one of these, according to Herodotus, had to be in the shape of an eagle.
Provenance: Dutch private collection RM, previously with Artemis Gallery; prior to that Arte Primitivo Gallery, New York, Dr. Robert Bianchi (Egyptologist and former curator of the Brooklyn Museum, New York), ex Secret Eye Gallery (a prominent art dealer in New York in the 1970s).
Width ca. 24 cm, height ca. 13.5 cm, depth 3.5 cm maximum; height including mount ca.18 cm.
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