A votary of Isis

Long, like other artists of his generation who painted classical subjects for exhibition at the Royal Academy, was fascinated by Ancient Egyptian rituals and costumes, and during the 1870s and 1880s, he painted a series of paintings of female figures in Egyptian costume, including Sacred to Pasht of 1886 and Alethe, Attendant of the Sacred Ibis of 1888 (both Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, Bournemouth) and Propriating the Deity of 1889. (present whereabouts unknown). Vows to various Egyptian gods are making supplication in each of these images. Unlike Long’s earlier Egyptian subjects from the 1870s, such as An Egyptian Feast of 1877 (Cartwright Hall Art Gallery, Bradford), The Gods and their Makers of 1878 (Towneley Hall Art Gallery and Museum, Burnley), and Anno Domini, The Flight into Egpyt of 1883 (Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, Bournemouth), which present a more grandiose form of history painting with complex multi-figural groups.

A Votary of Isis represents one of the ancient Egyptian Goddess of Love’s priestesses, dressed in a diaphanous robe and adorned with a golden headdress, beaded necklace, and blue faience scarabs. A wall with hieroglyphs and female figurines is behind her, with a beautiful border of lotus flowers below. The painting was most likely created as a study for the central figure’s head in one of Long’s most stunning Egyptian theme paintings, Love’s Labour Lost (1885). (FIG. 1 Dahesh Museum of Art, New York).

In Egyptian mythology, Isis was Osiris’ wife and sister, as well as Horus’ mother. As the supreme mother and wife, she was revered as the perfect expression of womanhood. Unlike other gods, Isis’ cult was not centralised, and her temples could be found all around the Nile delta, as well as in Greece and throughout the Roman Empire. Priests and priestesses were known to worship in the temples of Isis, and they were said to have powers of interpretation and healing, as well as the ability to control the weather by plaiting and weaving their hair (Egyptians believed knots to have special powers).

Object Details

A votary of Isis

Edwin Long



oil on canvas

66 x 51 cm., 26 x 20 in.