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This small wood sculpture of a nude female probably comes from an ancient Egyptian burial site where the figure represented either a dancer or a concubine in the entourage of the deceased. The identity of her status comes from her flat silver collar necklace and wrist cuffs as well as the girdle of beads and silver cowry shells at her waist. Her hair, originally dressed in three braided plaits, is carved separately and the pieces are attached to the head: preserved are a pigtail at the back of her head and a plait on one side; a corresponding braided plait from the other side of her head is missing although the peg attachment remains. Traces of color can be seen on the eyeballs, hair, and on the beads of the girdle. The repaired ankles probably had silver ankle cuffs.
The Blisses’ acquisition of this piece in 1937, at the time they were planning the gift of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection to Harvard University, caused consternation with their friend and artistic advisor, Royall Tyler. Tyler wanted the Blisses to concentrate on Byzantine acquisitions, and in particular to obtain an important ivory of the Virgin and Child [BZ.1939.8]. Tyler wrote them: “I grieve that you should be lured by the old Egypt. thing.… Only I’ll go into decline if you don’t get that ivory.” The Blisses, however, wanted a well-rounded collection of “A-1” artworks, as they put it, to give to Harvard, and Robert Bliss tellingly wrote Tyler: “In truth, as you know full well, both Mildred and I are entirely of your opinion that we should keep to our Byzantine field and its allied arts, but, also agreeing with you, there are occasions when one falls from grace!” The Blisses purchased the Egyptian statuette along with the Degas study of Giulia Bellelli [HC.P.1937.12] from the dealer Dikran Kelekian who sold the pieces on generous terms as he wanted them to be part of the Bliss Collection and as a testament to his own legacy as a dealer.
J.H. Breasted, Jr., Egyptian Servant Statues, (New York, 1948) 95, pls. 89b-c.
Breasted, James H. Jr. Egyptian Servant Statues. New York: Pantheon Books, Inc., 1948, 95, pls. 89b-c.
"Daily Life in Ancient Egypt," The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, MD, 9/18-10/23/1960.
"The Collector's Microbe: Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss and the Dumbarton Oaks Collections," Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC, Apr. 9 - Nov. 9, 2008.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, long-term loan, 10/26/2009-ongoing.
Purchased from Dikran G. Kelekian, New York, NY, and Paris, by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss, 4/9/1937.
Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, DC, 1937-1940.
House Collection, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC, 11/1/1940-present.