The history of scribal statues extends throughout almost two millennia of ancient Egypt’s history. Starting with a king’s son in the Old Kingdom, officials, priests, and viziers of the later periods portrayed themselves unrolling a papyrus on their lap, while seated with their legs crossed. The immutability of this form brought scholars to view its reproduction as a testimony to art’s conservatism and to an antiquarian taste.
This paper will focus on the reproduction of the so-called scribal statues examining the texts inscribed on the statues’ surface. Many of the inscriptions in the Old Kingdom name the statue’s patron or include his funerary formulae, which could be found on other forms of statuary of all periods of Egyptian art. With the Middle Kingdom, a new text was introduced, which is restricted in its distribution to the stone surface emulating a papyrus. This text places the textual activity within a certain domain: judicial, administrative, and in rare cases even pious. This change in content is also evident in the grammar of the inscription, which opens with an infinitive, referring to the very action the statue presents. As this new form proliferates in the New Kingdom, another shift occurs in the form of the statue, when more and more statues represent their patrons writing rather than reading.
With both changes, reproduction appears as a creative process that negotiates, reinterprets, and disseminates new ideas through a much-copied form. Our appreciation of the reinterpretation depends, however, on literacy as well as visual comprehension, but its ancient viewers might have had varying proficiencies in both. These changes thus invite us to consider the relationship between statue and inscription and their distinct modalities.