Noses Off
March 14, 2019 9:43 AM   Subscribe

You may have noticed that Egyptian statuary often has missing noses. And you've probably always thought that it was the ravages of time, vandalism, or accident-prone archaeologists bumping protruding stone snouts. But how do you explain de-nosed flat reliefs? A curator has a plausible theory.
posted by bbrown (29 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
 
More missing noses
posted by Ideefixe at 9:55 AM on March 14 [3 favorites]


On a related note, the French troops using the Sphinx for target practice is just anti-Napoleon propaganda.
posted by bbrown at 10:02 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


“A nasothek (from the Latin nasus "nose" and Greek θήκη "container") is a collection of sculpted noses.”
posted by oulipian at 10:15 AM on March 14 [5 favorites]


So why remove all the Confederate memorials when we can just break off their noses?
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:31 AM on March 14 [12 favorites]


If you want to see a roomful of male torsos with out penises, try The Asiatic Museum, in Berlin. Those babies are gone gone gone! Never forget Nefertiti is in Berlin, surely in the Egyptiches Museum by now, rather than the Dahlem. Seeing Nefertiti when I was fourteen, alone on a Protestant Youth field trip to Berlin, changed my life, along with a couple of Van Goghs in Wiesbaden. But Nefertiti was/is so powerful in her beauty and empyrean stillness, like looking at, "more distant and more solemn than a fading star," in shades of earth and blue, a sun perpetually setting.
posted by Oyéah at 10:38 AM on March 14 [13 favorites]


Can we also consider this the origin of the "got your nose" trick?
posted by Strange Interlude at 10:38 AM on March 14 [14 favorites]


+10 for the post title
posted by wittgenstein at 10:45 AM on March 14 [8 favorites]


Are Roman art statues less likely to have lost their noses than Egyptian equipment statues? (I should think a cult statue is sort of equipment, but did the Romans have the specific belief about the breath of a statue?)
posted by clew at 11:03 AM on March 14


“A nasothek (from the Latin nasus "nose" and Greek θήκη "container") is a collection of sculpted noses.”

The first time I came across one of these in a museum I was DELIGHTED.
posted by urbanlenny at 11:07 AM on March 14 [5 favorites]


I even took a photo. There are also some nice ears on there.
posted by urbanlenny at 11:09 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


If I had to guess as a fan of Roman history, I'd say that there are some substantial differences between the two civilization that made nasal defacement (hah!) less likely: 1) Roman statuary wasn't imbued with animism—their sacrifices to the temple statues were figurative, like the gods were watching—so vandalism was observed by deities and revenge would come from them as well, 2) defacement of Roman officials' statues would probably be met with public fury and possibly even official vengeance, and 3) the Romans didn't "take it with them" so there wasn't a contemporaneous tomb robbing culture.
posted by bbrown at 11:12 AM on March 14 [5 favorites]


That seems like another decent control group for the hypothesis that noses snap off because they stick out.
posted by clew at 11:19 AM on March 14 [4 favorites]


On a related note, the French troops using the Sphinx for target practice is just anti-Napoleon propaganda.

Are pro- and anti-Napoleon still political/ideological stances that have followings? (I recall Napoleon being regarded very highly by conservative Catholics at some point in the 20th century, with boys-own books of his dashing adventures being produced, though don't know if this was primarily a sectarian Catholic thing, a conservative/anti-liberal thing, connected to fascism or similar, or any/all of the above.)
posted by acb at 11:32 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


So why remove all the Confederate memorials when we can just break off their noses?

Wouldn't work. The noses aren't the parts of the memorials imbued with power by the people who erected them.

Break off the guns.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 11:38 AM on March 14 [25 favorites]


“A nasothek (from the Latin nasus "nose" and Greek θήκη "container") is a collection of sculpted noses.”

The Carlsberg Gallery of Restoration Noses.

My day has gotten about 500% better just knowing that this is a thing.
posted by dinty_moore at 12:00 PM on March 14 [6 favorites]


The Carlsberg Gallery of Restoration Noses.

My day has gotten about 500% better just knowing that this is a thing.


I think that's what my photo is - it's from the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek.
posted by urbanlenny at 12:23 PM on March 14


The article doesn't mention this, but I recall hearing that it had to do with the Muslim prohibition of depictions of people.
posted by alexei at 12:38 PM on March 14


The article doesn't mention this, but I recall hearing that it had to do with the Muslim prohibition of depictions of people.

The article does mention it. It argues that in early Muslim Egypt, the statues were disregarded as ritual objects and simply used as building materials.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:43 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


That statue has no nose!
How does it smell?
It Sphinx!
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:59 PM on March 14 [25 favorites]


I'm genuinely surprised that this wasn't common knowledge. It's something that I'd heard at least ("when the new king took over and wanted to diss the old king, first thing they did was make the statues/monuments look bad"). Sometimes it was chipping off the name whenever it was written. In Egypt that meant also busting the noses. In ancient Greece there were also occasional outbreaks of soldiers from one city-state sneaking into a rival city-state's turf and breaking the dicks off all the statues to freak everyone out a couple days before they launched their main attack.

But yeah, I'd definitely heard it was a deliberate-defacement kind of thing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:32 PM on March 14 [4 favorites]


Not sure this passes the smell test.
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:25 PM on March 14 [4 favorites]


Interesting, all the signage at the National Museum in Cairo states, many times, that the nose removal was done by Muslims during the Arab Invasion.
posted by Cosine at 3:39 PM on March 14




There was an interesting find made a few years ago in Israel, dating back to the ancient Kingdom of Judah. Back then city gates had huge official and religious significance. When the Bible mentions that someone "sits at the gates" it means they're an important person, involved in public affairs; and public affairs included the official cult. In this case, the gates of Lachish (a formerly important city destroyed about 2,500 years ago) were a massive complex that included a shrine which was probably dedicated to Baal.

So, it's thought that this particular find relates to the religious reforms brought about by King Hezekiah. There were no images there, presumably they had been removed and/or destroyed, but there were altars that had been desecrated by breaking off the turret-like "horns" on their corners. That wasn't enough, though: the room was still a shrine. They couldn't demolish the room, because it was part of this massive stone complex, so, they built a symbolic latrine. Apparently the latrine was never used but that wasn't the point: the shrine was now a shithouse, and they could lock it up and ignore it. Unfortunately, King Sennacherib of Assyria conquered and destroyed Lachish no more than a decade or so later, so this was a bit superfluous. Sennacherib's victory must have been important because it was commemorated in the Lachish Relief, currently in the British Museum, which is more than 60 square metres (about 600 square feet) in size.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:32 PM on March 14 [6 favorites]


I blame Obelix
posted by chavenet at 4:04 AM on March 15 [2 favorites]


> "Are pro- and anti-Napoleon still political/ideological stances that have followings?"

Sounds like we have a Bonapartist in the thread, guys! Form up at the barricades and alert the Chamber of Deputies!
posted by kyrademon at 3:13 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


That was a super cool article. I loved it.
posted by lokta at 5:07 AM on March 16


Hmm. This is a super interesting article. But did the ancient Egyptians really not have a word for art at all? That seems... Well, I guess it's just difficult to grasp. Does anyone know more?
posted by the liquid oxygen at 2:56 PM on March 16


I'm pretty sceptical when people claim things like "Language X has no word for Y" or its complement: "Language X has over 100 words for Y". These claims usually seem to be about the way we make categories. For instance, Biblical Hebrew uses the same word (דג, "dag") for both whales, which are mammals, and other swimming things like tuna, which are not. Does that mean that speakers of Biblical Hebrew didn't have a word for fish?
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:32 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]


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