My Ancient Confidant — Wesirwer


Head of Wesirwer (Courtesy to the Brooklyn Museum)
Head of Wesirwer (Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum)

I like reading the labels in museums, especially when what is written is not facts or data alone. The statue of the head of Wesirwer, in the Egyptian Reborn gallery at the Brooklyn Museum, has an intriguing one. “This statue speaks to me the most….” said a kid when he was only 6 years old.

The statue of Wesirwer is special to me too. Whenever I am in the gallery, I would always spend a few moments with him and afterward feel calm and peaceful. It also casts its spell on others. Rush visitors could not move their eyes away when they accidentally glance at the egg-shaped skull of Wesirwer.

I can understand why children feel connected to someone more than two and half millenniums ago. Wesirwer looks ageless: His face is as smooth and fresh as a budding teenager. Because of hair-shaving, his skull looks fairly large, like that of a typical schoolboy. He gazes downwards, thus looking directly into the eyes of the children. Without explicit gender characteristics and religious gestures, Wesirwer looks just like a neighbor buddy.

Adults may disagree. Some argue that Wesirwer’s face is over-simplified. But at the same time, there are details of naturalistic depiction. Almost like a gold-finger touch, they imbue the statue with personalities: just enough to distinguish the person, but not enough to resolve the mystery. It requires one to look, imagine, speculate, and even attempt to communicate.


What strikes me the most about this statue is the intangible peculiarity that only when one is there can he fully appreciate. But I will still try to describe: His eyes do not glare straight, only rest subtly. His mouth tucks slightly. His thin lips are pursed naturally as if smiling at the moment you are looking. This is the kind of smile not from a joke or a whimsical caprice, but from a sense of satisfaction, deep and pious. It reminds me of the indescribable feeling of fulfillment and gratification after listening to “St Matthew Passion” (in particular Erbarme dich) on Bach’s birthday less than one year ago. The bliss and joy from the metaphysical world elevate one’s soul while leaving no discernible traces on one’s countenance. Wesirwer was there, even without the blessing of Bach’s transcendental music.

I wonder whether the kid who gave such insightful remarks would still think so if Wesirwer’s statue were complete. His body, which is now in Egyptian Museum in Cairo, shows a typical priest dressed in Persian style with a wrap-around knotted on his chest. He is carrying a group statuette of Theban trinity: Amum, Mut, and Khonsu. It is true that the back pillar shows his identity and the group statuette is wonderfully carved; however I find the exclusion of the torso is an advantage here: without those dreadful clothes and heavy statuette, he looks amicable and intelligent, someone I would confide to. (Maybe because he has a pair of almond-shaped eyes?)

It was Herman De Meulenaere, a Belgium Egyptologist who matched the body with the head from two parts of the world, amazingly from just a photo. He concluded that the head belonged to someone named “Osiris Is Great” from the small bird under the chair of Osiris which is carved in the residue of the back pillar. It reads “wer” in ancient Egyptian and means “great”., thus he concluded possibly that’s the name of the person. Then about six years later in 1961, he read a publication from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo that mentioned a back pillar of the torso bears the name of Wesirwer. The body was found in Cachette in 1905, an antique sculpture repository for storing unwanted statues from the temples.

The rest was legendary. In 1962, the Egyptian Museum lent the body to Brooklyn Museum and for the first time in over two thousand years, Wesirwer’s body was united with his head.

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