Thursday, February 10, 2011

Face of the Sphinx - Photoshop Reconstruction

Update 1:  Here is an improved reconstruction completed January 2012 (updated May 2012 for additional refinements).  Update 2:  Beard added May 17, 2012.  Update 3:  Face of Khafra Used for Reconstruction, June 14, 2015; Update 4:  Nose somewhat enlarged to more closely match that of Khafra, per suggestion of a reader, Sandy McFarlane, January 8, 2016.  Update 4:  Changed beard to resemble those (weaved) most often seen on sphinx-like statues and brightened eyes a bit.

I attempted a simpler reconstruction some months back. I wasn't satisfied with it.  I want to know:  if I were transported to Egypt, 4500 years into the past, and gazed upon the newly carved face of the Sphinx, what would that face look like?

I worked on this reconstruction for a week, but have been refining it for months, trying different things.  It is a front view of the face of the Great Sphinx of Egypt, reconstructed with Photoshop, and based on a study of statues of Pharoahs and smaller sphinxs in museums around the world.  The heavy lines around the eyes represent the eye makeup used by Egyptian royalty of the time.

I have struggled with the chin.  The Sphinx's chin seems to be short and abrupt, but I think it has been chipped away by those who have defaced it over the centuries.  A side view of the Sphinx seems to bear this out.  Therefore, I have added a fuller and rounder chin, in the belief that this was more the way it looked when new.  The big question is:  should I add a beard?  There are many controversies about the Sphinx, and one of them is whether or not it had a beard.

From what I have read, the Great Sphinx was sculpted out of a natural sandstone formation, about 4,500 years ago.  The face of the Sphinx is thought to be that of Khafra, the Pharoah who built it, or that of his father, Khufu.  No one knows for sure.  I used a statue of Khafra as a reference for my depiction, but did not add a beard.  Archaeologists say the Sphinx did have a beard, but that it was added sometime later and was not part of the original sculpture.  A large fragment of the beard has been found and is in a museum.

Over the centuries, the Sphinx was subject to intense vandalism, probably from Muslim fanatics who hate artistic depictions of human beings (in the belief that it constitutes "idolotary"), as well as from rifle shots from passing armies, namely the Turks, the French and the English.  The old rumor that the nose was shot off by Napoleon's cannons is false.  The present condition of the Sphinx is largely unchanged since it was unburied from centuries of sand storms, and drawings of the Sphinx show that the nose was gone at least 150 years before Napoleon ever saw it.

Is my reconstruction totally realistic?  No, but I think it gives some idea of what the Sphinx may have looked like in its first century of existence.  Working on it was a great way to relax after work and I learned some more Photoshop techniques while doing it.

In 1898, John Lawson Stoddard described the Sphinx quite nicely:
It is the antiquity of the Sphinx which thrills us as we look upon it, for in itself it has no charms. The desert's waves have risen to its breast, as if to wrap the monster in a winding-sheet of gold. The face and head have been mutilated by Moslem fanatics. The mouth, the beauty of whose lips was once admired, is now expressionless. Yet grand in its loneliness, – veiled in the mystery of unnamed ages, – the relic of Egyptian antiquity stands solemn and silent in the presence of the awful desert – symbol of eternity. Here it disputes with Time the empire of the past; forever gazing on and on into a future which will still be distant when we, like all who have preceded us and looked upon its face, have lived our little lives and disappeared. John L. Stoddard's Lectures (1898) 2, 111.
I added a side-by-side comparison of the original and my latest reconstruction at the top of the page.

I did an earlier Photoshop reconstruction of a side view of the Sphinx here.


Always On Watch said...

I love your rendering of the Sphinx, Stogie!

the Sphinx was subject to intense vandalism, probably from Muslim fanatics...

Damned Moslems. They just love destroying art and artifacts.

Stogie said...

Thanks, AOW, much appreciated. Once in a while I get obsessed with some subject of Photoshopping and this is one of those times. I love the Sphinx and admire the great (though ancient) civilization that built it. I am not so enamored of the Muslim civilization that displaced it by force.

Dr. Preston said...

I'm new to Photoshop and this is amazing, thanks for sharing it. I found the "before" pic in an image search for the sphinx-- is it OK to use the image on a blog for a high school English course? If not, would you pls email me at Thanks!

Stogie said...

Dr. Preston, I don't own the before image and I do not know who does, but my understanding of copyright law (I am not an attorney) is that use of such an image for educational purposes is allowable -- it comes under one of the "fair use" rules that allows you to use it.

As for my Photoshop, feel free to use it without any limitations whatsoever.

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