Khnum, Egyptian creator god

The relief fragment showing the god KhnumThe relief fragment showing the god Khnum

The National Museum of Antiquities purchased a small relief carving of the god Khnum for its Egyptian collection. Around the fourth century BC, this piece of granite was part of a small chapel inside a temple. In ancient Egypt, Khnum was worshipped as the god of creation. The relief shows him about to start work on his creation, a rare choice of subject.  It is exceptional, in any case, for a relief of Khnum to be on display in a museum. An image of this kind is generally an integral part of the wall of an Egyptian temple.

  • Date: 4th century BC
  • Material: granodiorite
  • Height: 32 centimetres
  • From: the Tell el- Dab‛a area (Nile Delta)

In the fall of 2016, the relief will be moved to a prominent place in the refurbished Egyptian department.

The creation of the world

The god Khnum, identifiable by his ram’s head, was worshipped as the creator of the universe. He is sitting at a potter’s wheel, turning it with his foot. On the wheel is a lump of clay, which he is about to shape with his hands. Will it become a human being, an animal, or the entire world?  The 4th century BC artist leaves the question open.

Chapel for divine protection

This granite block, 32 centimetres high, was part of a chapel for a sculpture of a god. Chapels of this kind were hewn out of a solid block of stone and placed in the most sacred part of the temple. Much like a safe, the chapel served to protect the sculpture from damage. The hollowed-out interior was accessible through wooden double doors in the front. The external chapel walls were decorated with rows of gods, who helped to protect the sculpture.

One of the gods in the row

To the left of Khnum in this relief fragment is a goddess with the head of a cow.  Behind him, a hand holding a staff is visible. This shows that Khnum was part of a row of guardian deities. He is portrayed in the same way in the Luxor Temple, which was built during the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses II. This fragment is from a relief carved some nine hundred years later, at a time of widespread admiration for Egypt's majestic past.

The purchase of this relief was made possible in part by support from the Dutch Mondriaan Fund and the Dutch BankGiro Lottery.