Sphinxes At University Embankment

On the embankment before the main façade of the Academy of Arts there stands a classically austere pier built to the design of Konstantin Ton in 1832-1834. The pier is embellished with two Egyptian sphinxes on high pedestals, with granite benches bearing images of gryphons and stylized bronze girandoles, each of which stands on four lions’ paws.

The gryphons, like the girandoles, were cast in 1834. They adorned the granite pier for several decades, but disappeared at the beginning of the 20th century under inexplicable circumstances. An old lithograph depicting the pier in the mid-19th century allowed Russian restorers to recreate the gryphons and girandoles. Since 1959 they have stood guard over the granite steps.

The sphinxes are carved of pink granite obtained from the famous Aswan quarries. The hieroglyphic inscriptions on them glorify the Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep III, who lived in 1455-1419 B.C. and whose palace they embellished. One of the inscriptions reads: “Son of Rah, Amenhotep, ruler of Thebes, the builder of monuments rising to the sky like four pillars holding up the vault of the heavens.” The sphinxes were bought by Russia from Egypt in 1831.

The sculpture is evidently a portrait of Amenhotep, though it is difficult to tell for certain since all the pharaohs of a single dynasty looked very much alike. This is not surprising, given that, according to tradition, they married their own sisters. The depiction of the pharaoh in the form of a sphinx was called upon to instill in people the idea that the ruler of Egypt combined in himself the wisdom of man and the strength and agility of a lion.

Besides the Great Sphinx, avenues of Sphinxes have been discovered at Sakkara, forming an approach to the Serapeum of Memphis and elsewhere. Sphinxes of the time of the Shepherd dynasty have been found at Tanis, and another of the same age is in the Louvre; while a granite Sphinx, found behind the vocal Memnon, and inscribed with the name of Amenophis III., is at St Petersburg.

Chamber’s Encyclopedia, 1891

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