A sphinx bearing the cartouche of Ramses II guards a cemetery plot, the background swirling mysteriously around him.
Is it the divine power of the sphinx? A portal between life and death? Or eternity itself?
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While Christian symbolism is most prevalent in U.S. cemeteries, the Egyptian Revival that began in the first half of the 1800s made its mark as well.
This sphinx is one of a pair that flanks the marker for Wymberley Jones DeRenne (1853-1916). At least six other DeRenne family members share this memorial plot in Savannah’s Bonaventure Cemetery.
The cemetery wrote of the sphinxes, “These two guard a mausoleum of some great significance and holding the remains of very wise people.” Wymberly Jones DeRenne, they added, was “A real truth seeker and man of knowledge.”
Interestingly, the sphinxes were only added to the plot in 2013, proving that Egyptian Revivalism is still alive and well in funerary art.
The cartouche (royal seal) on the sphinx’s chest appears to be that of Ramses II (ca. 1303–1213 B.C.), considered by many to be ancient Egypt’s greatest ruler.
Sphinxes originated in ancient Egypt, then spread to other places around the 15th to 16th centuries B.C.
Greek, Mycenaean, Assyrian, Persian, and Phoenician cultures were among those that adopted the sphinx.
(The features, meaning, and usage of sphinxes differed among these cultures, however.)
Egyptian sphinxes feature a lion’s body, representing Sekhmet, a goddess with the body of a lioness.
Closely associated with royalty and the sun’s sacred power, Sekhmet is both creative and destructive.
She often carries an ankh, symbolic of life and life after death.
Foremost, however, she protects Ma’at (order, justice, and truth), first stop for dead souls to be judged.
No surprise, then, that sphinxes guarded temples, tombs, royal palaces, and funerary monuments. Sphinxes placed at a pharoah’s tomb bore that pharoah’s face.
Despite their use by pharaohs, however, commoners were also free to buy and use sphinxes, which could bear non-royal faces.
Of course, commoners owned far less grand sphinxes, such as small figurines and painted objects.
Although sphinxes with human heads are best known today, some incorporated animal heads instead.
These include falcons, cats, sheep, and rams, likely referencing associated deities. The ram’s head, for instance, represents the god Amun.
* Great Sphinx of Giza
* Avenue of Sphinxes
* Hatshepsut’s sphinxes