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Date: 1303-1200 B.C.
Geographic Location:
Dimensions: Overall: 15 x 11 25/32 x 7 11/32 in. (38.1 x 29.92 x 18.65 cm)
Credit Line: Dallas Museum of Art, purchased in honor of Betty B. Marcus with the Art Museum League Funds, the Melba Davis Whatley Fund, and the General Acquisitions Fund
Object Number: 1984.50

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This is a granite bust of Seti I [SEH-tee], an Egyptian pharaoh during the nineteenth dynasty. Though he was older at the time it was sculpted, Seti I appears youthful and full of energy in this bust, visually symbolizing his role as a source of divine power in Egyptian society. On his head, he wears a striped nemes (or royal headdress) which signifies his royal power.
During his life, Seti was a successful military leader and a great patron of the arts in Egypt. He waged wars against the Hittites, Phoenicians, Syrians, and Libyans, which resulted in his extending the boundaries of Egypt into other parts of North Africa and the Near East.
The pharaoh was the political and religious center of Egyptian society. Believed to be a relation of the gods, he was credited with divine powers to be used for maintaining the welfare of his people.
Seti I
Pharaoh Seti I [SEH-tee] ruled Egypt from 1306 to 1290 B.C. during a period known as the nineteenth dynasty. Seti established a firm military control over all of Egypt and led its armies to conquest in Palestine. He set the pattern for an aggressive Egyptian rule that reached its climax under the long reign of his son Ramses II.
Seti I was also a great patron of the arts in Egypt. During his reign, he restored neglected temples and shrines. Among his buildings is a temple at Abydos to honor the deity Osiris and his own magnificent tomb in the Valley of the Kings at Thebes.
Royal Portraits
In Egypt, most portraits of royal figures followed certain conventions. The nemes head cloth and false beard on this sculpture were common features of royal Egyptian portraits. Egyptian rulers were also represented as eternally strong and youthful in royal portraits. This sculpture shows Seti I as a vital, muscular man even though he was older at the time the portrait was sculpted. Because Egyptians believed that images had the power to grant eternal life to their subjects, important figures like Seti I were carved durable materials. This sculpture is made of hard black granite.
The king was at the very top of Egyptian society and was viewed as a link between the world of humans and the world of the gods. During the New Kingdom period in Egyptian history (1570-1085 B.C.), the kings of ancient Egypt came to be called pharaohs. The word “pharaoh” is a title of respect, which actually means "great house," referring to the royal palace. Pharaohs were believed to be both mortal and divine, and they were endowed with great spiritual powers.  The pharaoh was responsible for the establishment and maintenance of maat (truth, justice, and order in the universe) and often struggled with elements of chaos threatening Egypt’s stability.
Ancient Egypt Beliefs
The Egyptians were a polytheistic people who believed that their gods and goddesses controlled the forces of the human, natural, and supernatural world. In traditional Egyptian belief, the fundamental principle governing their belief system was the abstract concept of maat (represented by the goddess Maat) which is often translated as truth, justice, and cosmic order. To maintain maat, the living had to constantly worship and make sacrifices to the gods to pacify the deities and spirits of the afterlife.
Ancient Egyptians believed that if a person were properly prepared for the afterlife, his/her soul was immortal. The soul, known as ka, accompanies an individual throughout life, and then after death it leaves the body to enter into the realm of the dead. The person’s ka could not exist without his or her body. The preparation for death, which included tomb building, mummification, and funerary ceremonies, was meant to protect the body and the soul for the afterlife.
The Egyptian pantheon was composed of many gods and goddesses often arranged in family groups of three consisting of a mother, father, and child. Each god or goddess was linked to one or more places where monumental temples were built to house their images. Gods and goddesses in Egypt took many different forms. Many were portrayed in Egyptian art with both human and animal features. Horus, god of the sky, war, and protection often appears with the body of a man and the head of a falcon. Others were portrayed as divine humans. For instance, Osiris, who judges the dead in the afterlife, was portrayed as a man with a face that is either black (referring to the rich Nile soil) or green (representing new life). Many Egyptian gods were also associated with attributes, or objects with which they perform their divine duties. Isis, goddess of magic and motherhood, for instance, was often shown holding an ankh or a lotus.
In Egyptian society, the highest position was occupied by the pharaoh who was believed to be semi-divine and who was credited with mediating between humans and the gods.
Though there is evidence of settlers along the Nile River dating from almost 120,000 years ago, the history of ancient Egypt is generally divided into three major periods of stability: the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom, and the New Kingdom. These were separated by intermediate periods of political instability and followed by the Late Period.
The Old Kingdom, beginning in the 3rd millennium BCE is considered Egypt’s first great period of prosperity and political stability. The pharaohs of the Old Kingdom, assisted by a system of efficient administrators, commissioned a number of large-scale irrigation projects which led to surpluses in food and commerce. They also created a bureaucracy responsible for collecting taxes and administering a sophisticated justice system, and they commissioned a number of pyramids and other large-scale building projects. The Old Kingdom ended c. 2200 BCE after a series of droughts and political strife that led to the collapse of Egypt’s government.
Following nearly two centuries of political stagnation and economic instability known as the First Intermediate Period, Egypt’s Middle Kingdom marks another period of great prosperity. Beginning around 2030 BCE, the pharaohs of the eleventh dynasty, following a series of successful military campaigns to secure their power, promoted irrigation projects around the Nile that created great economic prosperity. Along with this prosperity and greater disbursement of wealth, high-ranking Egyptians outside the pharaoh’s immediate family demanded access to the afterlife. As a result, a number of Egyptian nobles and priests were mummified and entombed during the period. The Middle Kingdom ended around 1650 BCE after a series of insufficient crops weakened the power of the pharaoh.
The Second Intermediate Period, marked by a series of weak and foreign rulers, was followed by Egypt’s New Kingdom. New Kingdom pharaohs ushered in a period of prosperity by promoting diplomatic alliances with their neighbors. The New Kingdom ended after a series of military defeats and internal unrest that weakened the power of the pharaoh, who was replaced by the growing power of the priesthood.
The Third Intermediate Period was another period characterized by foreign rulers, wars, and political strife. It was followed by the Late Period when Egypt served as a vassal to several different foreign rulers.
Encouraging Dialogue
1. What makes this object look "Egyptian"? How do you know what Egyptian things look like?
2. Discuss what you already know about Ancient Egypt. How does what you know help you better understand the significance and meaning of Head and upper torso of Seti ? Share one question you would ask about this object to learn more about it and the ancient Egyptians.
3. Consider the materials used to make this sculpture. This sculpture is carved from very hard, black granite stone. Why might a king want his image carved in hard stone? What parts of it are missing or broken off?
4. Begin a conversation about the qualities of a king. What type of power does a king have? What would make him a good leader?   What does a leader look like? What aspects of this statue look like a kingly or royal person?
5. If Seti I could speak to you, what would he say? 
Making Connections
1. Compare Head and upper torso of Seti I with the Coffin of Horankh. Consider the form, subject, and purpose of each work of art.
2. Compare the image of the pharaoh in Head and upper torso of Seti I with the image of the oba, or king, in the Waist Pendant from the Edo peoples of Benin. How did the artists communicate each leader’s authority or power?
3. Egyptian pharaohs were shown in portraits as youthful and full of energy. Create a portrait of someone older than you as you imagine he or she looked as a young person.
4. Hard granite was used for Egyptian portraits because of its longevity and strength. Now, there are other materials like plastics that are said to degrade even more slowly than granite. Create a work of art using the most durable and long-lasting materials you can find. Consider your subject carefully. What do you think is worth saying to people generations from now?
5. Review Seti I’s reign and contributions as a pharaoh during the nineteenth dynasty. Then, research several powerful world leaders of the 21st century, such as President Obama, Pope Benedict XVI, Prime Minister Netanyahu, or President Calderón. Write an essay that compares the leadership and contribution of these figures. You might also collect images of these powerful leaders. What similarities and differences do you see between these figures and Seti I? Present your written and visual findings to the class.
6. Imagine traveling back in time to ancient Egypt. Research a dynastic period in Egypt and create a travel brochure for someone visiting Egypt during that period. Include a drawing of a work of art that comes from that period and consider the following topics in your brochure:
     · What might the traveler see or do?
     · Where might he or she want to go?
     · What kind of money or currency is used there?
     · What clothes are fashionable to wear?
     · What are the landscape and weather like?
Embedded Audio Player.
Listen to professor Aditi Samarth discuss the Egyptian pharaohs.


Embedded Audio Player.
Listen to professor Aditi Samarth discuss death in ancient Egypt.

Embedded Audio Player.
Listen to professor Aditi Samarth discuss the Nile and the natural world of ancient Egypt.


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Watch Curator Anne Bromberg discuss her travels in Egypt.


Reference Books:
Bromberg, Anne and Karl Kilinski. Gods, Men, and Heroes: Ancient Art at the Dallas Museum of Art. Dallas: The Museum, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996. 
Walker, Roslyn A. The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009. Catalog no. 61, pages 182-183.
Freed, Rita E. Ramses II: The Great Pharaoh and His Time. Denver: Denver Museum of Natural History, 1987. 
Michalowski, Kazimierz. Art of Ancient Egypt. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1969. 
Pitman, Bonnie, ed. Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection. Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art, 2012.
Spanel, Donald. Through Ancient Eyes: Egyptian Portraiture. Birmingham, Ala.: The Birmingham Museum of Art; Seattle: Distributed by the University of Washington Press, 1988. 
Woldering, Irmgard. Gods, Men & Pharaohs: The Glory of Egyptian Art. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1983.
Books for Students:
Crimi, Carolyn. Manders, John. Where’s My Mummy? Cambridge: Candlewick Press, 2008.
Hart, George. Eyewitness: Ancient Egypt. New York: DK Publishing, 2008.
Kennett, David. Pharaoh: Life and Afterlife of a God. London: Walker Childrens, 2008.
Tyldesley, Joyce. Egypt. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for young readers, 2007.
Pateman, Robert. Cultures of the world – Egypt. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1999.
Streissguth, Tom. A Ticket to Egypt. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, Inc., 1999.
Explore Egyptian monuments, beliefs, and dynasties through games and timelines.
This resource includes an article about Seti I and his reign.
Learn more about the ancient Egyptians, their daily life, their writing, and the archaeological discoveries made during the twentieth-century through multimedia resources.
Explore Egyptian civilization through a variety of connections, including interactive resources, timelines, and maps.
Prepare for the afterlife with the Museum of Science’s interactive website.
This timeline gives a brief history of ancient Egypt.
Learn more about the pharaohs that lived and reigned during the New Kingdom period with interactive features, such as “Virtual Egypt” and decoding hieroglyphics.



Many works of art seen in museums have a religious or ceremonial significance that may not be readily apparent or easily understood.  Because many of the beliefs, values, and traditions associated with these objects are complex or unfamiliar, teaching about these objects can be challenging.  In a diverse and global world, it is important to maintain a high level of cultural sensitivity in the classroom and to promote cultural literacy.  Presented here are several guidelines for teaching about the beliefs, values, and traditions related to these works of art in a sensitive and respectful manner.


  1. Consider the Museum Setting

Remember that these objects were not originally intended to be displayed in museums and many served utilitarian as well as aesthetic functions.  Some objects were never meant to be preserved and others were only supposed to be seen by a small, elite group within the source culture.  These issues make it all the more important for educators to provide relevant contextual information surrounding these objects.  Older students can consider the ethical implications of the placement of these objects in museums, from the colonial expansions that encouraged their acquisition to the educational benefits of publicly accessible art.


  1. Provide Context and Narrative

When discussing works that carry a religious or ceremonial significance, it is important to consider the original context in which the object would have been used.  Where appropriate, emphasize that many of the ceremonies and religions studied are living traditions that are still practiced today.  Additionally, providing a narrative through contextual storytelling engages students in learning about a culture or religion different from their own in a nonthreatening way. 


Equally important to context is geography.  Emphasize the diversity of the continents and encourage students to remember that Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas are made up of many countries and cultures.  A great starting point is to locate where students live on a world map and then locate the country or region from which the artwork comes. 


  1. Use Inclusive Language

Use language that is inclusive, and avoid indicating your own cultural or religious biases.  By remaining neutral, all backgrounds can be respected and no one treated like an outsider.  Avoid setting up a dichotomy of “us” and “them” when discussing these cultures and arbitrary categories such as “western” and “non-western.”  Instead, be specific, and categorize the objects by country or religion.  Specificity steers students away from the trap of oversimplifying diverse continents such as Asia or Africa into homogenous regions that serve as the “other” of the “western” world.


  1. Carefully Select Vocabulary

When discussing works of art with cultural and religious significance, avoid terms that carry a derogatory tone or that have typically been used to disparagingly describe works of art from other cultures.  Avoiding loaded terms will discourage a value hierarchy between cultures and encourage both unbiased accuracy and sensitivity.  Examples include: idol, myth, tribe, artifact, fetish, primitive, non-western, etc.  This list is in no way exhaustive or without exception, and it is important to select words carefully when referring to various cultures or religions. 

Insensitive vocabulary is sometimes compounded by the fact that there may not be English equivalents for the names of religions, belief systems, or peoples from other cultures (i.e. many of the belief systems practiced by various peoples throughout Africa).


  1. Avoid Decontextualizing Activities

Remember that religious and ceremonial objects have a very specific purpose and their own cultural context.  Avoid the inclination to design open-ended, “make your own” exercises where the objects are directly appropriated and removed from their context.  (i.e. make your own Hindu god or African spirit)  Keep in mind how certain activities could be viewed as disrespectful or even blasphemous by peoples from the culture being studied. 


  1. Find Common Connections

Humans throughout time and all over the world share a fundamental unity of experiences that reflect common concerns, instincts, and desires.  We all seek to understand the world and our place within it.  Universal themes and commonalities may be found among diverse peoples.  Invite students to search for meaningful connections between the culture studied and his/her own.  While honoring a common human experience, also encourage students to embrace particular nuances and maintain the integrity of differences of each culture or religion.  Understanding both similarities and differences between cultures allows students to be more compassionate, culturally sensitive, and literate. 


  1. Consider the Study of Cultures

In the last century, scholarship regarding Asian and African cultures and their associated religions and practices has expanded immensely.  Information that was once scarce or obscure is now more accessible than ever and can provide greater understandings about the art and culture of these peoples. European and American art making and record keeping mostly emphasize the individual artist or artistic movement.  This may differ from standards in African and Asian cultures.  Consider the role art plays in various cultures, why makers may or may not be identified, how record keeping varies, and why some cultures emphasize certain aspects of objects and their history over others. 




Breuilly, Elizabeth, and Joanne O’Brien, Martin Palmer, Martin E. Marty. Religions of the World: The Illustrated Guide to Origins, Beliefs, Traditions, and Festivals. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2005.


Eck, Diana L. On Common Ground: World Religions in America. Columbia University Press, 2006. 


Mbiti, John. African Religion and Philosophy (African Writers), 2nd sub edition. Hinemann, 1992.


Nash, Robert. Teaching Adolescents Religious Literacy in a Post-9/11 World.  Information Age Publishing, 2009.


Prothero, Stephen.  God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter.  Harper One, 2010.


Prothero, Stephen.  Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know-- and Doesn’t.  San Francisco: Harper, 2007.


Ray, Benjamin. African Religions: Symbol, Ritual, and Community, 2nd edition. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:Prentice-Hall, Inc., 2000.


Said, Edward.  Orientalism. Vintage Books, 1979.


“A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools”