Block Statue of Nedjem
Date: New Kingdom, Dynasty XIX, reign of Ramesses II (c. 1279-1213 B.C.E.)
Provenance: Memphis, Egypt
Nedjem (pronounced ned-jim) means "sweet one." He sits on a small cushion, his body
covered with a robe. His knees are bent so that they are almost level with his chin,
his feet flat on the ground, and his arms crossed over and resting on his knees. The
outline of his figure suggests a block, hence the term "block statue." He has a small
beard, full wig, and sandals. Between his legs is a small figure that represents the
god Ptah-Tatenen. He is a form of the Memphite god Ptah, who was believed to be not
only the creator god but also the land from which all was created. On top of his wig,
Ptah-Tatenen wears a crown composed of two feathers, ram's horns, and a sun disk.
He is wrapped like a mummy and holds a scepter. The hieroglyphic inscription on Nedjem's
back pillar tells us that he was the "King's Scribe, Great Steward, King's Messenger
to every foreign land, and Overseer of the Granaries of the Western Border."
The statue was probably placed in the Temple of Ptah in ancient Memphis to represent Nedjem for eternity. There is much evidence that lets us know that Nedjem is from Memphis. First, and most important, an Egyptologist found records of an excavation in ancient Memphis which took place about 1840. The discovery of this statue of Nedjem is recorded in this report. Second, a "squeeze" or cast of the inscription on the back of the statue dated to the 1850s is now in the Griffith Institute, Oxford University (UK). Finally, the quartzite of Nedjem's statue is a stone found mainly in the Memphis area.
During the American Civil War, a Yankee sea captain trading in the Mediterranean docked at Alexandria, Egypt, with a half-empty ship. He bought the statue of Nedjem, along with some others, to serve as ballast (a heavy material placed low in a vessel to improve its stability). As the ship neared the American coast, it was captured by Confederate forces and escorted to New Orleans, where its cargo, including Nedjem, was taken to the Customs House. After the war, the statue was taken to Boston, where it stayed in a garden for years. Eventually, it entered the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. In 1975, it was sold to Memphis State University, together with 42 other Egyptian antiquities. Today, these artifacts form the core of the permanent collection of the Institute of Egyptian Art and Archaeology.
Inv. no.: 1981.1.20