Ancient Egyptian gods may be the real inspiration behind the Oscar statuette and its name, says theory

The historical origin of the statuette’s design has been disputed by many people, with some claiming it is based on the Egyptian god, Ptah.

Since 1929, shiny Oscar gold statuettes have adorned the mantelshelves of some of the greatest filmmakers, artists, and actors. The Academy Awards or the Oscars are awarded for artistic and technical merit in the film industry. They are presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) in the United States, recognizing excellence in the world of cinema.

Image source: In this handout photo provided by A.M.P.A.S., Oscar statuettes are seen backstage during the 95th Annual Academy Awards on March 12, 2023, in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Al Seib/A.M.P.A.S. via Getty Images)
Image source: In this handout photo provided by A.M.P.A.S., Oscar statuettes are seen backstage during the 95th Annual Academy Awards on March 12, 2023, in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Al Seib/A.M.P.A.S. via Getty Images)

According to the Academy Awards Archives, the award statuette is made of 24-karat gold-plated bronze on a black metal base. It is 13.5 inches tall and weighs approximately 3.856 kilograms. The figurine depicts a knight holding, right hand over the left, a crusader’s sword that pierces a reel of film comprised of five spokes. These spokes represent the original branches of the Academy: producers, actors, directors, writers, and technicians.

Although the knight depicted in the Oscar statuette features an Art Deco style, there have been many theories about the historical origin of its design and the name “Oscar” itself. Some think it was first sketched on a Biltmore Hotel tablecloth, while others think that it was modeled on the body of the Mexican director and actor Emilio Fernandez. Bette Davis considered that it was based on the name of her first husband, Harmon Oscar Nelson. It even reminded Margaret Herrick, executive director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, of her mother’s first cousin, Oscar Pierce. 

Image Source: A view of the telecast screen and Oscars statuette at the 96th Oscars Nominations. (Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/WireImage)
Image Source: A view of the telecast screen and Oscars statuette at the 96th Oscars Nominations. (Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/WireImage)

However, according to Los Angeles magazine, the statuette’s design is primarily attributed to an artist named George Maitland Stanley. Stanley was a 26-year-old artist in Los Angeles when the M.G.M. art director Cedric Gibbons approached him to transform a rough sketch into the iconic golden statue.

Image Source: Statue of Ptah is on display during the
Image Source: Statue of Ptah is on display during the “Tutankhamun And The Golden Age Of The Pharaohs” (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

At the same time, many people believe that the trophy’s design is based on the figure of the Egyptian god Ptah. Artist Karon Davis  told The Hollywood Reporter, “I wonder if he was influenced by Egypt because it is very similar to the god Ptah.” Ptah was the ancient Egyptian god of creation and art. He was the chief deity of the triad of Memphis deities that included his wife, Sekhmet, and their son, Nefertum. It is said that Ptah created the cosmos, first creating himself out of the void and then creating the physical universe. But what does this have to do with the name ‘Oscar’?

God Ptah’s depiction was merged with depictions of two other ancient gods—Osiris, a god of resurrection, and Sokar, a god of the afterlife. It resulted in a “funerary god” known as Ptah-Sokar-Osiris, symbolizing life, death, and rebirth. The word Oscar is thought to be a blend of the names Osiris and Sokar. However, Gibbon himself has never spoken or commented about the origin of his creation.

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