Possibly English. Eighteenth Century.


Width: 19 1/2" (49.5 cm); Depth: 9" (22.8 cm); Height: 12" (30.4 cm).

Of statuary marble. Carved in the form of a sphinx with a lion’s body and the head and torso of a neoclassical veiled female. Restorations to tail.

The discovery and appropriation of ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman motifs permeated European architecture and decorative arts throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The sphinx in particular was introduced in the grotesques of Jean Berain and widely disseminated in the work of Bernard de Montfauçon, who was probably the first to publish such ancient objects and monuments in his L’antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures of 1722 (figure 1). At the end of the eighteenth century, Napoleon’s military successes in Egypt further fueled excitement for the style, whose motifs exude a sense of mystery and exoticism. Baron Vivant Denon, who traveled northern Egypt during these campaigns, recorded all he saw in notes and sketches. The resulting two-volume work, Voyage dans la basse et l’haute Égypte, published in 1802, “can be said to be the first attempt to provide comprehensive and accurate descriptions of Ancient Egyptian architecture.” Seven years later, the Institut d’Égypte released its encyclopedic tome, Description d’Égypte, published in twenty-three volumes between 1809 and 1829, bolstering the enthusiasm for Egyptiennerie across Europe.

Egyptian sphinxes were typically portrayed as men, while Greek and Roman sphinxes were female, and winged. In Europe there existed a hybridization and “exotic twist on a classical theme [that] occurred as early as about 1700,” with the human portion of the sphinx eventually adopting more individualized features. In the later eighteenth century “some sphinxes were given the faces of the beauties of the day”1 or that of the lady of the household. Models for such portrait sphinxes include Madame de Pompadour, Madame du Barry (figure 2), and the actress Peg Woffington.

Full research report available on request.

Full research report available on request.