Ptolemy II Philadelphos ruled Egypt alongside his farther Ptolemy I Soter, the founder of the Ptolemaic Dynasty, from 285 BC, and was sole ruler from 283 to 246 BC. Under his auspices, Alexandria became a centre of cultural and material wealth, and he was known in particular for the lavish splendour of his court. To celebrate his accession, he staged an elaborate pageant, which included music, images of Egyptian and Greek gods, and twenty-four chariots drawn by exotic beasts and birds unknown to Egypt, including elephants, lions, camels, and giraffes. He enriched the city of Alexandria with a lavish building program in an effort to make the new city a cultural rival to Athens, which included the completion of the famed library, the greatest of the Hellenistic world, to which he invited some of the most renowned Greek poets of the age, including Callimachus and Theocritus. He was first married to Arsinoe I, daughter of Lysimachus of Thrace, who bore him three children, but she was later accused of treason and banished to Coptos. Her accuser was Ptolemy's sister Arsinoe II, whom Ptolemy later married, the practice of marrying siblings already an established tradition among the Egyptian pharaohs. Egypt flourished and expanded during Ptolemy II’s thirty-eight year reign, and, in 246 BC, he left this prosperous kingdom to his son, Ptolemy III Euergetes.
The present portrait of the monarch demonstrates how the Greek Ptolemies commissioned Egyptian-style works of art, showing sensitivity to the time-honoured artistic traditions and political expectations of their Egyptian subjects. It conforms to the typical style of Ptolemaic portrait sculptures, features of which include a confident smile, clearly defined almond-shaped eyes, and an aura of divine detachment and self-satisfaction. Interestingly, this piece falls into the category of Egyptian sculpture known collectively as ‘Sculptors’ Models’, a technical aspect of Egyptian craftsmanship that began in the third dynasty of the Old Kingdom (circa 2686-2613 BC) and continued through to the end of the Ptolemaic period (circa 30 BC). These sculptures or reliefs have been interpreted as test pieces or instructive examples, used to assist sculptors in teaching more junior artisans how to carve the correct proportions for royal portraiture in the canonical Egyptian grid. Whilst their primary function was instructive, it is thought that such pieces may have later been dedicated as votives. These sculptors’ models demonstrate the enduring power of the royal image, and their existence into the Ptolemaic era helps to explain the similarities in portrait sculpture between images of the last indigenous pharaohs and the new Hellenic rulers. This ensured the continuation of a recognizable tradition in royal sculpture, helping to cement the link between past and present and to emphasize the commitment of the Ptolemies to the role of Egyptian king.
Two limestone sculptors’ models dating to the Ptolemaic Period are displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (inv. nos 30.8.79 and 07.228.6, circa 400-200 BC, the latter with a faceted face, indicating that the sculptor was trying to demonstrate the different stages of carving a face). Some other examples from the Ptolemaic Period can be seen at the Fitzwilliam Museum of Art, Cambridge (eg. E.78.1954, E.GA.4543.1943, and E.GA.6361.1943). A model of Ptolemy II belongs to the collection of The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (inv. ДВ-3932).
E. Young, ‘Sculptors’ Models or Votives? In Defense of a Scholarly Tradition’, Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin (Spring, 1964).
M. Davis and C.M. Kraay, The Hellenistic Kingdoms, Portrait Coins and History (London, 1973), pp. 151-158.
N.S. Tomoum, The Sculptors’ Models of the Late and Ptolemaic Periods: a Study of the Type and Function of a Group of Ancient Egyptian Artefacts (Cairo, 2005).
P.A. Clayton, Chronicles of the Pharaohs: the reign-by-reign record of the rulers and dynasties of ancient Egypt (London, 2006).
S.-A. Ashton, ‘Egyptian Sculptors’ Models of the Late and Ptolemaic Periods’ in A.M. Dodson, J.J. Johnston and W. Monkhouse (eds), A Good Scribe and an Exceedingly Wise Man: Studies in Honour of W.J. Tait (London, 2014), pp. 7-23.
Edward Drummond Libbey (1854-1925), Toledo, gifted to The Toledo Museum of Art, 1906 (Accession no. 1906.224).
Toledo Museum of Art, 1906-2016.
Published: The Toledo Museum of Art, Catalogue of a Collection of Egyptian Antiquities, Brought Together and Presented to The Toledo Museum of Art by Mr. Edward Drummond Libbey (Toledo, 1906), p. 36, no. 224.