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Museum piece #10 – D31

D31 Four baboons adoring the rising sun (Source: author’s own photograph).

D31 is a 5.7 tonne granite sculpture of four baboons, standing on their hind legs, adoring the rising sun, which resides in the Louvre Museum, Paris. It originally formed a part of the base of the back of the east obelisk at the Temple of Amun in Luxor. The obelisk still remains at Luxor, however it’s twin now stands in the Place de la Concorde in Paris.

When the obelisk and the baboons came to Paris, it was intended that they would be erected together in the Place de la Concorde. However, upon their arrival in the city, the visibility of their male genitalia caused a stir in the ‘puritanical climate’ of Louis-Philip’s reign, and they were deemed unsuitable for display in a public place. Consequently, they were given to the Louvre, which did not hesitate to display them.

Closeup of the faces of the baboons (Source: mcmorran).

The baboons honour the sun by raising their hands, singing, and dancing. This makes their inclusion on an obelisk extremely significant. The obelisk is a form of the ‘ben-ben’ stone, the ancient Egyptian symbol for the mound that emerged from the primeval chaos when the earth was created.

Ancient Egyptians associated the baboon with the sun-god, Re. This is because they screeched at sun-rise and basked in the morning sun, actions interpreted as sun worship by the Egyptians. They were often depicted on religious papyri, adoring the rising sun, and sometimes riding in the solar day-boat with Re. The baboon’s adoration of the sun had this special significance by the time of by the time of Amenhotep III and Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV), at the latest.

These baboons are adorned with alternating pectorals that are the birth or coronation name of Ramesses II. The pharaoh also used this motif on the sun altar and atop the facade
of the temple of Abu Simbel. It is also believed to have been used on the base of two obelisks erected at the temple of Karnak.

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