Statuette of the God Bes

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Statuette of the God Bes

1st Millennium B.C.




A carved bone figure of the god Bes in his canonical form as a stocky dwarf. His face is highly expressive, with frowning eyebrows in high relief and a grimacing mouth with teeth bared and tongue extended. A thick lion’s mane frames the face, and large ears protrude on either side of the head. His hands are placed on his hips, on the incised belt or animal skin worn by the god. His legs are broad and bowed, as is typical for images of Bes. The statuette is hollowed, and may have originally been part of a fan or mirror.
Bes was worshipped as a protector of households, especially mothers and children. With his wild beard, lion’s mask, and loud instruments, Bes was believed to ward off evil spirits. He was thus seen as a protector of women during labour, alongside the goddess Taweret. Later he became the defender of all that is good, and the god of music and merriment. Unlike other Egyptian deities, images of Bes were kept within the home as apotropaic devices. He was depicted in full face portrait, rather than in profile, even when in relief. Worship of Bes spread as far north of Syrua and as far west as the Balearic Islands in Spain, and continued into the Roman and Achaemenid Empires.


Catalogue of Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Mexican Antiquities etc., Sotheby’s, London, 22 October 1934, Lot 155, Pl. IV.
Antiquities and Islamic Art, Sotheby’s, New York, 24-25 November 1987, Lot 289.
Intérieurs, Christie’s, Paris, 7-8 July 2011, Lot 349.


Previously in the Private Collection of Mr. Mansoor Abd Essayid, an ex-official of Egyptian State Railways Cairo.
Sold at: Catalogue of Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Mexican Antiquities etc., Sotheby’s, London, 22 October 1934, Lot 155, Pl. IV.
With Nasli M. Heeramaneck (1902-1971), New York, from at least 1948.
Previously in the Private Collection of John Lionberger Davis (1878-1973), St. Louis, Missouri, acquired from the above, from at least 1954.
Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri (inv. no. 228:54), gifted by the above December 1954, and deaccessioned 26 September 1986 (accompanied by a dated record card).
Sold at: Antiquities and Islamic Art, Sotheby’s, New York, 24-25 November 1987, Lot 289.
With Jean-Philippe Mariaud de Serres (1944-2007), Paris.
Sold at: Intérieurs, Christie’s, Paris, 7-8 July 2011, Lot 349.
Paris art market (accompanied by French cultural passport).
Record Card for 228:54, Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri.
With IADAA Certificate, this item has been checked against the Interpol database.

Note on the Provenance

Nasli M. Heeramaneck (1902-1971) was a renowned dealer and collector of Iranian, Central Asian, and European antiquities. Born in Bombay, he moved to Paris from at least 1927 into the 1930s. He moved to New York, where he continued to develop his collection over the course of about fifty years. Art historian Arthur Upham Pope described Heeramaneck as ‘a one-eyed dealer-connoisseur from Bombay’. After his death, Heeramaneck’s collection was sold to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1976. Works that passed through his gallery now feature in major international institutions, including the British Museum, London, the National Museum of Asian Art, Washington, D.C., Yale University Art Gallery, and the National Museum of New Delhi.

John Lionberger Davis (1878-1973) was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1878. He graduated from Princeton in 1900, and went on to study law at Harvard, and Washington University. He was founder and chairman of the Real Estate Mortgage Trust Company, and the Security National Bank Savings and Trust Company in St. Louis until his retirement in 1947. Davis also served as president of the Nassau Realty Company, and Lindell Real Estate Company, both St. Louis, and was president of the Atchinson Water Company of Kansas. During World War I, Davis served as managing director of the Office of Alien Property Custodian from 1917-1919. He was also an alumni trustee of Princeton, and a trustee of Vassar, Sarah Lawrence, and Antioch Colleges.

Davis was also involved with many St. Louis and Missouri civic organisations and governmental reform committees. He was an active Democrat and personal friend of Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Frank Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt, who Davis met in his capacity as trustee of Vassar College, once stayed at Davis’ home during a visit to St. Louis. Davis supported Roosevelt’s 1940 campaign, and is reported to have turned down a position in his cabinet. Davis was also chairman of the St. Louis Regional Planning Commission, the St. Louis chapter of the American Red Cross, and the Community Council.

An avid art collector, Davis gifted many items to the St. Louis City Art Museum (now the Saint Louis Art Museum), including 52 objects in 1956 and 70 objects in 1957, as well as $50,000 for new galleries at the museum. One of these gifts included a bronze portrait of Roosevelt by American artist Jo Davidson. Davis also gave works to the Museum of Science and Natural History, as well as to museums in New York and New Jersey, Vassar College, Princeton University, and Syracuse University. In 1959, Davis donated $100,000 for the new Davis Hall at the Museum of Science and Natural History as a memorial to his father and grandfather.

The Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri, was founded in 1897 as the St. Louis School and Museum of Fine Arts, an independent unit of Washington University. Originally located in downtown St. Louis, the museum moved to one of the few permanent structures built for the 1904 Purchase Exposition World Fair after the fair’s conclusion. The Palace of Fine Arts was designed by famed architect Cass Gilbert; the Beaux-Arts Style building was inspired by the Roman Baths of Caracalla in Italy. It is located on the crest of a hill in Forest Park, the city’s largest green space. The structure was inscribed with the motto, ‘Dedicated to Art and Free to All’.

The museum split formally from the university in 1909, in order to access funds from the art tax of St. Louis – the new civic institution was named the City Art Museum. During the 1950s, the museum added an extension to contain an auditorium for films, concerts, and lectures. The museum was renamed in 1972, becoming the Saint Louis Art Museum.

Jean Philippe Mariaud de Serres (1944-2007) inherited his passion for art collecting from his father, leading to him opening his own gallery on Palais Royale in Paris in the 1960s. He devoted much of his life to the culture and art of antiquity in the Mediterranean basin. His gallery exhibited his findings from his travels throughout the Middle East. The Gallery was relocated to Rue Bonaparte prior to 1980. De Serre’s expertise was recognised by major institutions and auction houses; he advised on the dispersal of several large archaeological collections. The items in his collection were selected based on their ability to satisfy his great intellectual curiosity and highly attuned sense of aesthetics, both of which contributed to his great fame.