Sculpture of Seneb and His Family
The limestone sculpture of Seneb and his family is part of the collection of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. It depicts Seneb and his wife sitting next to each other with their children in the lower register. Seneb is depicted sitting cross-legged on a block of stone with his arms folded in a position characteristic of a scribe. His wife Senites sits alongside him, wearing a long robe with long sleeves and a wig covering her natural hair, which can be glimpsed on her forehead. She encircles him with her arms in a gesture of affection and support. She is shown with a slight smile on her face to signify her contentment and happiness.
Two of the couple's children, one boy and one girl, stand below Seneb where the legs of an ordinary person would be. They are depicted nude with their index fingers placed in their mouths and a lock of hair falling on one side of their heads, indicating that they were below the age of puberty, when Egyptian children were given an "adult" haircut. Seneb and his son are shown with darker skin colouring than his wife and daughter. This was a standard artistic convention used to indicate gender and status, reflecting the fact that high-ranking females would remain indoors and retain a light skin colour while males would gain a darker skin from the hot Egyptian sun. The names of three children are recorded, though the third child was not depicted on the sculpture - presumably for reasons of symmetry. They were named after Seneb's royal masters; his son was called Radjedef-Ankh ("May Radjedef live"), his eldest daughter was Awib-Khufu ("Happy is Khufu") and his younger daughter was Smeret-Radjedef ("Companion of Radjedef"). They are depicted with normal proportions, suggesting that they did not inherit their father's condition.
The sculpture's roughly cubical arrangement cleverly ensures that the overall composition retains a harmonious equilibrium. It is lightened by the artist dispensing with a back slab and incorporating negative space into the piece. By putting the children in the place of Seneb's legs, the artist adds to the sense of symmetry. He creates the same impression that would have been made by an ordinary seated figure, preserving an appearance of normality without disguising Seneb's unusual physique. The family's names and titles are given in inscriptions placed on either side of the children and on the horizontal face of the base.
Seneb's dwarfism is depicted realistically in the sculpture. It portrays him with a large head but small arms and legs. This possibly indicates that he had achondroplasia, a common form of dwarfism that most severely affects the fastest-growing parts of the body – particularly the femur and humerus, which become short and squat – and stunts the forearms and lower legs. It also affects the head, producing a relatively large skull with a bulging forehead and often a depressed nasal bridge. An alternative diagnosis is dysmelia – a condition that produces short arms and legs. Seneb's wife Senites is portrayed far less realistically; her depiction is of a piece with other contemporary portraits of high-ranking Egyptian women.
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