The hippopotamus must have been quite common in Egypt during the earlier periods, but man’s hunting pursuits and ever-increasing encroachment on the hippopotamus’s wetland environment gradually reduced the number of these magnificent beasts. The last wild hippopotami were seen in Egypt in the first half of the 19th century. The ancient Egyptians were well aware of the phenomenal strength of the hippopotamus that artists captured by emphasizing the huge unsegmented body. The awe inspired by an animal that could devastate a farmer’s fields overnight was tempered by the Egyptians’ belief in the animal’s revitalizing power. As a creature from the fertile mud, the hippopotamus embodied divine powers guaranteeing rebirth. One might recognize this benevolent aspect of the beast in the friendly faces of many hippopotamus figures.
Provenance: former private collection, Germany, acquired between 1954 and 1959 in Egypt and hence by descent, acquired from the above in 1993.
Literature: F. Houlihan: The animal world of the pharaohs, London 1997. F.D. Friedman: Gifts of the Nile, ancient Egyptian faience, Thames and Hudson, London, 1998, p. 148, n°144 et p. 238; Parallel: Munich ÄS 6040.