Hatshepsut, the Woman Who Would be Queen

In 1479 BCE, Thutmose II, the fourth pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty, died. He did not have any sons with his principal wife, Queen Hatshepsut, so the pharaoh title was given to Thutmose III, the son of the deceased pharaoh and his minor wife. Hatshepsut was given the title of regent to the boy-king, but she had a different plan. Within a few years, she actually overtook the title of queen herself, claiming that her late husband had given her the right to rule. In fact, in her funerary complex, she tries to justify her claim by including a painting depicting Thutmose II crowning her and giving her the right to rule the empire. Queen Hatshepsut was the first female Egyptian ruler to be recorded and for two decades, she ruled over the world’s most powerful and prominent empire.

But what is her significance to art history? Well, during her rule, she was the patron of many building projects and sculptors produced countless sculpture of the queen to be displayed in those complexes. However, and quite unfortunately, Thutmose III had most sculptures of Hatshepsut destroyed during the end of his reign. Nevertheless, some sculptures still managed to survive and are preserved today. Although a lot of these sculptures are inscribed with “His Majesty” (supposedly, that’s what she demanded to be called!), she is depicted with a feminine figure with delicate features, a slender frame, and breasts.

The statue that I will be discussing had the same fate as most of the other Hatshepsut statues: they were destroyed during the reign of Hatshepsut. However, this particular sculpture had been successfully reassembled. The statue depicts Queen Hatshepsut holding a globular offering jar in each hand as she takes part in a ritual to honor the Egyptian sun god.

Once again, Queen Hatshepsut attempts to “blend in” with the male pharaohs. She wears the royal male nemes headdress (check sculptures of well-known male pharaohs and compare headdresses!) as well as the male pharaoh’s ceremonial beard.

When Thutmose III (or perhaps his agents) destroyed this particular sculpture of Queen Hatshepsut cut off the cobra that was once around her neck. But do you know what’s interesting? As much as Queen Hatshepsut is a female, she is still represented with an anatomically male figure. According to Gardener’s Art Through the Ages, the male imagery is, however, consistent with her formal assumption of the title of king.

Although, I don’t think that as regent, Hatshepsut should have stolen Thutmose III’s right to rule, I understand why she would do so and I think that it’s a remarkable display of feminism (and corruption!), even at such an early time. Hatshepsut seems to be a very powerful and authoritative woman.

I also really like the statue of Hatshepsut. How difficult it must have been to assemble each of the cracked pieces, though! I can’t imagine that grueling process, I mean, I wouldn’t even know where to start! However, I think that the cracked nature of the statue gives it an interesting, antique effect, which I really enjoy (although this may not have been the original intentions of the artist or of Queen Hatshepsut).

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