Ex Jerome M. Eisenberg Collection (1930-2022), New York, acquired in November 1984; sold to a private Virginia collector on 19 August 2014; thence Sands of Time Ancient Art, Washington, DC.
A spectacular and very large amulet, made of glazed Egyptian faience with a rich blue colour. It is one of the best amulets of the god we have ever handled. The amulet comes from the private collection of the famous antiquities dealer Jerome M. Eisenberg, who always kept the best pieces in his own private collection, rather than putting them in his gallery. The god is portrayed as a nude dwarf on an integrated base. His large feather crown is highlighted with dark blue markings. Bes is shown standing with his hands on either side of his protruding belly, his tail between his legs. A suspension loop above.
The god who is usually called Bes was in fact the personification of a whole group of very similar gods, whose characteristics are too much muddled for us to be able to differentiate them and who, therefore, are all commonly referred to as Bes. Bes is a god with a remarkable appearance; his face, surrounded by a lion’s mane and with his tongue often sticking out of his mouth, is quite gruesome, and so is his body which is that of a dwarf, with short crooked legs and usually a tail; normally he is wearing an animal skin and a headdress with feathers. Often he is holding one or more knives or snakes. His main task is to give protection, especially in circumstances where dangers are lurking, such as during childbirth; so-called magical knives, used in the Middle Kingdom during rituals surrounding childbirth, depict Bes and other protective creatures; similarly, in later periods, Bes is present in the so-called birth house (mammisi) in temples. But dangers were not only lurking during difficult moments, they were also feared in daily life. During the night people were sleeping, unaware of what was happening around them; to protect them, representations of Bes (or similar gods, like Taweret) were put on furniture like beds and headrests. Depictions of the god were also worn as amulets as a general protection against evil. The face of Bes also appears on magical stelae, usually above the image of the child Horus. Although there may be a connection with his function as a protective god, the accompanying texts on the stelae inform us that Bes is here regarded as the old sun god, who is rejuvenated in the (solar) child. The god was also associated with several musical instruments. In the Third Intermediate Period, he was often depicted playing a stringed instrument, either a lyre or a long-necked lute, but already since the New Kingdom he is shown playing the (double) flute, or a drum or tambourine (Andrews (1994), p. 40 and fig. 37c; Romano (1989), p. 70-71; 109-110, and for the catalogue numbers see index on p. 117). There are several opinions concerning the origins of Bes, and the meaning of his name (see Malaise (1990), p. 691-692). His name may be related to verbs meaning “to initiate”, “to emerge” or “to protect”. But is has also been suggested that the word indicates a prematurely born child or foetus (which was enveloped in a lion’s skin), making the god Bes the personification of such a prematurely born child, which also helps to explain why he is engaged in protecting mother and child (see Meeks (1992); Bulté (1991), p. 102, 108-109; Te Velde (1995), p. 330).
Bibliography: Carol Andrews, Amulets of Ancient Egypt (London, British Museum Press, 1994); Jeanne Bulté, Talismans égyptiens d’heureuse maternité. “Faïence” bleu-vert à pois foncés (Paris, Centre national de la recherche scientifique, 1991); Michel Malaise, “Bes et les croyances solaires”, in Sarah Israelit-Groll (ed.), Studies in Egyptology Presented to Miriam Lichtheim (Jerusalem, Magnes Press, Hebrew University, 1990) II, p. 690-729; D. Meeks, “Le nom du dieu Bes et ses implications mythologiques”, Intellectual Heritage of Egypt. Studies Presented to László Kákosy by Friends and Colleagues on the Occasion of his 60th Birthday (Studia Aegyptiaca XIV) (Budapest, 1992) p. 423-436; James F. Romano, The Bes-Image in Pharaonic Egypt (New York, 1989). Herman te Velde, “Bes”, in Karel van der Toorn a.o. (eds.), Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (DDD) (Leiden, New York and Köln, E.J. Brill, 1995), p. 330-331.