Person with Dwarfism Wearing Lotus Bud Headdress with Vessels, 100-300
Egypt, Al Fayyūm
5 3/8 × 2 7/8 × 2 in. (13.7 × 7.3 × 5.1 cm)
This mold-made terracotta figurine represents a person with dwarfism, specifically with traits associated with achondroplasia, as well as potentially some other medical issues including partial paralysis of one arm. The male figure wears a headdress with two lotus buds, as well as a long tunic. A small, pointed vessel dangles from his contracted arm, and a square basket is looped over the wrist of his other hand. A larger vessel rests on the base behind him.
In ancient Egypt, including into the Roman period, such individuals could have held high-ranking positions, important social status, and religious roles. Two Egyptian gods, Ptah and Bes, are associated with dwarfism, and Bes in particular was popular during the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE, when this figure was produced. The representations may have served as protective figures or been associated with fertility.
This figure is one of the terracotta objects in the Menil Collection confirmed as part of Dr. Daniel Marie Fouquet’s (1850–1914) collection, appearing in publications as early as 1908. Dr. Fouquet, himself a medical doctor, was particularly interested in ancient representations of individuals with different pathological conditions. Like some other objects from the Fouquet Collection, this piece has a number written in black ink on the back of the object: “2406.” The origin of the number and its meaning are not fully understood, but similar numbers on other confirmed objects relate to the inventory of Dr. Fouquet, some of which appear in archival records.