This piece is carved from beautiful orange cornelian, pieced at one end by a small hole for suspension from a chain or cord.
The pendant has been hewn into a triangular shape to represent a snake’s head, probably that of a cobra. The fine incisions indicating the orbital bones, eyes and the shape of the skull all add to this lifelike representation.
The cobra’s head (uraeus) was a popular motif in Egyptian art, found in monumental architecture: the uraei (in faience and stone) and palmettes which often decorate the tops of walls, dating to as early as Old Kingdom architecture (the Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara). In the miniature arts, cobra heads appear in the Middle Kingdom as an ornament to wooden objects (wooden boxes) and, much later (18th Dynasty) as a personal amulet, both for members of the royal family (they appear, for example, in the tombs of Tutmosis IV, Tutankhamun, and of their grandparents, Yuya and Tjuya) and for ordinary citizens. These amulets are most often carved from red semi-precious stones (cornelian and jasper), glass or turquoise faience; gold examples exist, but they are extremely rare. Their function was certainly symbolic and apotropaic, perhaps to protect both the living and the dead from snake bites, which were very common in ancient Egypt. The use of these snake head pendants continued after the New Kingdom, through the first millennium A.D.
This example, remarkable for the beauty of the cornelian and the refinement of its execution, was probably made for wealthy clientele.
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