Bes, the Egyptian Dwarf God and Protector of Children: Know Before You Bid

James Ardis
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A Bone-Carved Vessel of the Egyptian God Comes to Auction, Presented by Artemis Gallery

Egyptian Bone Cosmetic Vessel Depicting Bes. Photo by Artemis Gallery.
Egyptian Bone Cosmetic Vessel Depicting Bes. Photo by Artemis Gallery.

Worship of the dwarf god Bes began in the Old Kingdom of Egypt (c. 2686–2181 BC) and continued even into the Roman Empire. Representations of his physical appearance may surprise or disturb modern viewers. “[L]arge ears, long-haired and bearded, with prominent genitals, and bow-legged,” writes scholar Joshua Mark. “Usually he is shown holding a rattle,” Mark continues, “but sometimes a snake”. 

However, despite his unusual appearance, Bes’ reputation as a protector meant that his image adorned many public spaces. Because he particularly protected women and children, he was often depicted on household items like furniture and containers for cosmetics. His powers as a demonic warrior allowed him to serve as a protector. Those powers also ingratiated the god to generations of Egyptian warriors who would drink from goblets bearing Bes’ image for good luck on the battlefield.

Available in the ongoing Exceptional Antiques Asian, Ethnographic event, presented by Artemis Gallery, is a cosmetic vessel carved in the image of Bes. The piece was produced sometime between 664 and 30 BCE, during either the Late Period or the final dynasty of ancient Egypt, the Ptolemaic dynasty. Carved from cow or ox bone, Bes grins at the viewer, their belly drooping to the bottom of the vessel. Artemis Gallery notes that a similar piece is among the permanent collection at The Cleveland Museum of Art.

“[T]he vast range of objects upon which Bes was depicted and the large number of his images and amulets demonstrate his great popularity as a household deity,” writes Egyptologist Richard Wilkinson in The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt (2003). Because no temple was specifically dedicated to Bes, Egyptians paid tribute to him in their homes with pieces such as the one Artemis Gallery now offers. The starting bid on this lot is USD 1,800, and the estimate is between $3,500 and $5,000.

Egyptian polychrome gesso coffin lid. Photo by Artemis Gallery.
Egyptian polychrome gesso coffin lid. Photo by Artemis Gallery.

The timed Artemis Gallery auction concludes on June 4th, at 9 AM CDT. Collectors interested in Egyptian ethnographic pieces can also consider a coffin lid from the Late Dynastic Period. Panels along the leg of the lid show the goddesses of mourning, Isis and Nephthys. Meanwhile, bidders looking for more contemporary works can consider William Draper’s framed portrait of John F. Kennedy. For more information on individual lots and to register to bid, visit LiveAuctioneers.

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