Figure of a hippopotamus, Egypt, Middle Kingdom, c.1961-1878 BC, faience, 20 x 7.5 x 11.2 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Source
This little guy, nicknamed ‘William’ by the Met Museum, has been decorated with depictions of river foliage. The art of the Ancient Egyptians often celebrated the natural world and its flora and fauna inhabitants. Faience is a glazed ceramic material made from ground quartz.
The bright blue color of this hippo seemingly contrasts with the naturalistic modeling of its face and ears. By using blue glaze and covering the hippo’s body with images of plant and animal life, the artist represented the animal in its habitat and evoked both the Nile River and the primeval waters of the god Nu, suggesting themes of life and rebirth. The Egyptians’ wish for life after death may account for the inclusion of hippo statuettes in tombs of officials during the Middle Kingdom.
The placement of hippo figures in tombs, sometimes in direct contact with the mummy, required that the animal’s dangerous aspects be negated so that the deceased would not be physically harmed. To ritually restrict this hippo’s movement in the afterlife, its legs-now restored-were broken off.
This unsettling gif was created from an unsettling illustration from Animal Fun [frog] published by McLoughlin Bros., Inc., circa 1920s. Browse through this book and many others on the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection’s digital collection