This finely carved sculpture of the god Thoth depicts the deity in his guise as a dog-faced (Cynocephalus) baboon. This is his usual pose, seated, featuring his heavy mane and his prominent phallus. From the Pre-Dynastic period, baboons were revered for their uncanny premonitions regarding day break and the arrival of the sun, which daily event was met by baboons in nature celebrating with screeching and paw-waving. Known as nocturnal and intelligent creatures, their natural association with the movements of the sun logically led to the assumption that the baboon could also predict the movements and stages of the moon. With this lunar connection, the baboon soon came to represent this and other aspects of the god Thoth.
Thoth was esteemed for his wisdom and he was celebrated as the inventor of speech and writing, as well as the administrator of measurements. Thoth’s main role in death was to weigh the heart of the deceased in the judgement of the dead. It was often in his guise as a baboon that the deity performed this role.
Representations of the baboon of Thoth, in the form of small sculptures, such as this, and amulets, become more popular in the Ramesside period, appearing amongst tomb goods in order to encourage the god to approach judgement of the deceased with favour. Amulets of the god may also have been worn in life, especially by scribes yearning for guidance from their patron god.
This particularly accomplished portrayal of the baboon of Thoth is meticulously detailed and highly expressive. It was clearly categorically venerated as imbued with the illustrious qualities apportioned to this honoured and important god in the ancient Egyptian pantheon.
For more on the role of Thoth, E.A. Wallis Budge, The Gods of the Egyptians (London, 1904), Vol. 1, and C.J. Bleeker, Hathor and Thoth: Two Key Figures of the Ancient Egyptian Religion (Leiden, 1973).
Private Collection, Massachusetts, acquired from Faustus Gallery, London, in the early 1980s.
Sold Sotheby’s, New York, 7 December 2005, lot 20.
Private Collection, New York, inv. no. 5642.