Exploring the Mystery of Broken Noses on Ancient Egyptian Statues

Ever wondered why so many ancient Egyptian statues have broken noses?

This common question arises from the frequent observation that these artifacts — especially those in the Brooklyn Museum — often lack nasal features due to religious beliefs, intentional vandalism, and practical vulnerability.

Learn more about this practice right here!

Ancient Egyptian statues often have broken noses, a trend more common than in statues from other eras or regions.
Damage to these statues was historically significant, often intended to neutralize the spiritual power they were believed to hold.
Various factors over centuries, from tomb raiders to religious reformers, targeted these statues to diminish their ritualistic importance.

What Happened to the Noses of Egyptian Statues?

One of the things people often notice about ancient Egyptian stone statues, especially those seen at the Brooklyn Museum and around the world, is that many are missing their noses.

This happens much more with these statues than with those from other places and times, like ancient China.

Some of this damage might be because the noses stick out and can easily get worn down or broken by accident. But the way these noses are often missing makes it seem like someone might have done it on purpose.

Historical and Archaeological Insights into the Damage of Statues

The missing noses are not merely the result of modern-day looting, as ongoing archaeological discoveries of in situ statues confirm that this damage was inflicted centuries ago.

Ancient Egyptians believed that souls or spirits could inhabit statues, a concept supported by inscriptions found in the Dendera Temple complex.

For instance, one inscription reads: “Osiris . . . comes as a spirit . . . He sees his mysterious form depicted in its place, his figure engraved on the wall; he enters into his mysterious form, alights on his image.” Such beliefs underscored the statues’ roles as living conduits for interaction with deities.

Statues weren’t only vessels for gods but also for deceased individuals, treated as living beings within tombs and temples, complete with offerings.

Damaging these statues was considered a grave concern, possibly even a crime, during pharaonic times. A decree from the First Intermediate Period explicitly curses those who would harm such statues, highlighting the severe implications of this act.

The Role of Ancient Looters and Christian Zealots in Statue Mutilation

Ancient looters targeted the statues within tombs, often attacking the most critical features, like the eyes and noses, to prevent spiritual retaliation.

This tactic was thought to sever the connection with the living by stopping the statues from “breathing.”

Over time, with the advent of Christianity in the 4th and 5th centuries, the focus shifted towards eradicating the old gods’ influence.

Figures like Saint Shenoute and Saint Augustine advocated for the destruction of these “idols” to prove the supremacy of Christian belief, often resulting in targeted destruction.

Comparative Analysis of Damaged Statues: Djehuti vs. Amunhotep

A comparison of two statues in the Brooklyn Museum, both acquired in the 1820s, illustrates selective targeting based on physical features.

The statue of Djehuti lacks its entire head, possibly due to its smoother, hairless back, which makes it easier to decapitate.

Conversely, the statue of Amunhotep retains its noseless face. However, it still features a thick, heavy hairstyle that extends to his shoulders, presenting a more challenging task for those wishing to “kill” the statue by removing its head.

This exploration highlights the complex interplay of religious beliefs, political motives, and practical considerations in treating ancient Egyptian statues, providing a deeper understanding of why so many exhibit missing noses.

Grace Angelique

An accomplished Art News Journalist with a decade of experience, Grace has passionately covered global art events, exhibitions, and emerging trends. With a keen eye for aesthetics and a pulse on the art world's undercurrents, Grace has crafted compelling narratives that bridge art and its societal impacts. Her work has graced major publications, offering readers a fresh perspective on contemporary art and its evolving landscape.

Read Full Biography
Back to previous

You May Also Like

Art & Culture

Megalopolis Release Date: All You Need to Know About Coppola’s Sci-Fi Epic

Francis Ford Coppola’s long-awaited sci-fi epic, Megalopolis, premiered at Cannes 2024 and received mixed reviews. The film, starring Adam Driver…

Art & Culture

Mick Herron: From Struggling Writer to Literary Superstar

Mick Herron, the acclaimed author of the Slow Horses series, has seen his fortunes change dramatically. With over three million…

Art & Culture

World’s Most Famous Street Graffiti Murals: Stunning Graffiti Works and Their Stories

Graffiti murals are a vibrant expression of art and culture and can also be used to transform urban landscapes into…

  • mail
  • facebook
  • twitter

related articles

Art & Culture

Louvre Artifacts: Italy’s Bid to Reclaim Seven Louvre Artifacts

Art & Culture

2024’s Most Awaited Pop Albums

Art & Culture

Exciting 2024 Museum Openings & Expansions Worldwide

Articles About Art & Culture

BBC Documentary Reveals Disturbing Secrets of the Burning Sun Scandal in the K-pop Industry

May 24, 2024

Comprehensive Guide to Fantasy Fiction: Origins, Subgenres, and Must-Read Fantasy Books

May 23, 2024

Alien: Romulus Release Date, Cast, Plot, and Everything You Need to Know

May 22, 2024

Little Island’s Arts Festival: A Summer of Premieres and Innovation in New York

May 22, 2024

Slipknot New Drummer: Eloy Casagrande’s Transition from Sepultura

May 20, 2024