BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology
This month’s Ugly Object is a familiar character – assuming you know your Romano-Egyptian child deities. That’s right folks, Harpocrates is back. Only this time, he’s taken the form of a baby bust.
The bust was found in one of the ancient houses of Karanis in 1926, and I have to say, it’s really captured my fancy. I love many things about this Harpocrates. First and foremost is that it’s a bust. You see a lot of marble portraits in this format, but it’s cool to see this miniaturized and translated into terracotta (very meta). I also love the shaved head with the intricate side lock (a Harpocrates signifier, but also – dare I say it? – very edgy!). And finally, I love the face. To me it’s a curious cross between a sweet baby face and a wise old sage, not unlike the strange depictions of the baby Jesus we sometimes see in medieval panel paintings.
You can see this version of Harpocrates in The Art and Science of Healing starting February 10. I’m sorry to report that the colorful Harpocrates featured in October will not be going on display after all. But there will be many other fascinating artifacts on view, including medical manuscripts, amulets to ward off sciatica and stomachache, and more. Definitely come check it out!