Tag Archives: egyptian art

The Purpose of Art in Ancient Egypt. II


The image in Ancient Egypt had a power in itself.

Why? Because in addition to evoking a reality, they made it arise. In Ancient Egypt everything that was depicted was also happening.

The Power of Scenes on Walls.

The mural scenes that we observe in the mastabas of the Old Kingdom depict very realistically scenes of daily life. However, they did not consist in the memory of an earthly world that the deceased wanted to take to the Hereafter. In the belief of Ancient Egypt those scenes were moments and situations that happened perpetually.

Making Bread. Mastaba of Ty in Saqqara. V Dynasty. Photo Mª Rosa Valdesogo. Ancient Egypt

Making Bread. Mastaba of Ty in Saqqara. V Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo.

The depictions of bread manufacture or agricultural and livestock activities provided food for the dead eternally. The iconographic environment surrounding the deceased was an ideal reality in which he would live forever and which was in his best interest.

In the same way, the ancient Egyptian reliefs that invaded the walls and columns of the temples (whether funerary or state) immortalized the rituals that took place in them. It was the way to make the rite always happen.

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The Purpose of Art in Ancient Egypt. I.


The physical space in which an ancient Egyptian plastic production is located is essential to analyse it.

Reliefs, paintings and statues of ancient Egypt we know come mainly from temples and / or tombs, that is, from sacred spaces impregnated with spirituality.

Serdab with the statue of Ti. Mastaba of Ti in Saqqara. VI Dynasty. Photo Mª Rosa Valdesogo. Ancient Egypt.

Serdab with the statue of Ti. Mastaba of Ti in Saqqara. VI Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo.

The art of Ancient Egypt was not “contemplated”.

The tombs were houses of eternity that remained closed in perpetuity (except for receiving the funerary cult) and the temples were sacred constructions to which only the royal house and the priesthood had access. Therefore, the mural scenes and sculptures of Ancient Egypt were not conceived for being contemplated.

Egyptian artists did not think of a spectator,..

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Sex in Egyptian Art: the Stele of Sebekaa.


Egyptian art can hide very important information in small pieces.

That is the case of the stele of Sebekaa in British Museum.

Stele of Sebekaa from Thebes. XI Dynasty. Ancient Egypt. British Museum

Stele of Sebekaa from Thebes. XI Dynasty. Photo: British Museum.

This piece of ancient Egyptian art dates from XI Dynasty and it was found in Thebes. In just a space of 70 cm x 60 cm (aprox.) the Egyptian artist could include a number of typical scenes which dominated the corpus of funerary Egyptian art.

Although the whole composition does not have a narrative logic, the greater part of the activities can be identified: butchery, bakery, offerings…

Stele of Sebekaa from Thebes. XI Dynasty. British Museum. Ancient Egypt. On the left a detail of the image of the dead being embraced by a smaller human figure

On the left a detail of the image of the dead being embraced by a smaller human figure.

At the left of the middle register there is an isolated scene, which was not too usual in ancient Egypain art: the dead lies on his bier and he is embraced by a smaller figure. According to the information from the British Museum’s website: The man on the bed is probably the deceased, and the figure on top of him might be one of a variety of goddesses, such as Isis, Nephthys and Nut, who embrace him. Whether there are any sexual connotations in this scene is uncertain”.

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The Dead: An Observer in the Egyptian Art.


Perspective in Egyptian art was special. For us, perspective is the representation on a flat surface of reality how it is seen by human eye. That means that observer is an important element when the artists paints or draw something.

Coffin of Khonsu. XIX Dynasty. From Deir el-Medina. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Khonsu. XIX Dynasty. From Deir el-Medina. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

In Egyptian art the artists had to represent reality, not how it was seen, but how it was.  The Egyptian artisan did not think about depth or vanishing point when drawing, because ancient Egyptian art was not made for being contemplated, but it had a religious purpose.

However in some moment Egyptian art kept in mind the observer’s concept. When the anthropoid coffin appeared in Ancient Egypt, a new surface, with a new shape had to be decorated. This new object offered to the Egyptian artist different spaces for the iconography in the same object.

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Hair in Egyptian Art for Respect and Reverence in Women.


Egyptian artisans of the New Kingdom used hair in their drawings for expressing body movements (dance, body bow…).

This technique, adopted from the way of drawing the professional mourners, was applied to the masculine figures in a respectful attitude. The front lock of hair forwards helped the Egyptian artist to represent the respectful bow in front of deities.

Later on, we find that this same practice was applied also to some femenine figures.

In the Papyrus of Anhai, which dates from XX Dynasty, the dead women was represented  also bending her body to the goods, but her whole mane of hair is shaken forwards. The gesture remembers the one of the mourners covering their faces with their hair.

Papyrus of Anahi. the dead woman with her hair forwards and bending her body as a sign of respect. XX Dynasty. Ancient Egypt . British Museum.

Papyrus of Anahi. the dead woman with her hair forwards and bending her body as a sign of respect. XX Dynasty. Photo: British Museum.

Obviously we are not facing here a mourning rite. The Egyptian artist took the tachnique from the mourning scenes and this way he could stress the gesture of respect of the dead women in front of the goods.

The point here is to see how this practice of the whole mane of hair forwards is applied in Egyptian art to a female figure. While for the dead men the front lock of hair was enough for stressing the respectful attitude. The idea that comes to our mind is that the hair forwards covering the face was in Egyptian art just a female gesture.

Book of the Dead of Henuttawy. XXI Dynasty. Ancient Egypt. British Museum

Book of the Dead of Henuttawy. XXI Dynasty. Photo: British Museum

The Book of the Dead of Henuttawy dates also from XXI Dynasty and shows Henuttawy adoring the rising sun . In this case the body gesture is not just respect, but reverence. She is completely on earth, kneeling and facing the ground, while many locks of hair are falling in front of her head. Here the Egyptian artist utilised this femenine resource of the disheveled hair falling forwards for stressing the reverential attitude of the woman.

Summin up, Egyptian artists used the hair for representing the mourning gestures of women in funerals. This technique was later also adopted in Egyptian art from the New kingdom to express some quotidian body movements (playing music, dancing, bending) and some attitudes related to them (respect and reverence).

 

 

Hair in Egyptian Art for Expressing Respect.


Hair became in Ancient Egypt a resource for expressing things.

The bending hair was used in Ancient Egypt art for drawing body movements.

As some movements were related in ancient egyptian belief to some attitudes, hair was also used for expressing those attitudes. We are referring concretly to “respect”.

The gesture of bending the body forwards was utilised by artists of Ancient Egypt for expressing the respect in front of kings and deities. And the hair forwards became a resource of stressing this gesture of veneration.

Papyrus of Ani. The couple in front of the final judgment. XIX Dynasty. British Museum. Ancient Egypt

Papyrus of Ani. The couple in front of the final judgment. XIX Dynasty. Photo: British Museum.

One good example is the Papyrus of Ani (XIX Dynasty) in the Brisith Museum. In it  we can see the couple bended when coming in front of the final judgment. Ani’s wife appears with her hair slightly forwards, this way the Egyptyian artists emphasized her body movement.

Papyrus of Ani. Ani greeting the Ennead. XIX Dynasty. British Museum. Ancient Egypt

Papyrus of Ani. Ani greeting the Ennead. XIX Dynasty. Photo: British Museum.

This was exagerated in the same papyrus when, after passing the judgment, Ani gets into paradise and greets the gods. In this case Ani is represented with a front lock of hair forwards; the artist stressed the meaning of bending the body as a signof respect.

The papyrus of Ramose (XIX Dynasty) in the Fitzwilliam Museum of Cambridge is too damage, but we can guess the same scene as in the former one. Ramose’s body is greeting the gods, while his body is bended and a front black lock of hair can be discerned.

Book of the Dead (Papyrus of Ramose). Ramose seems to show his front lock of hair. Fitzwilliam Museum. Cambridge. Ancient Egypt.

Book of the Dead (Papyrus of Ramose). Ramose seems to show his front lock of hair. XIX Dynasty. Photo: Fitzwilliam Museum. Cambridge.

Although these examples all date from XIX Dyansty, next week we will see that it was not trendy just at that time,

Hair: a Resource in Ancient Egypt Art for Expressing Movement.


XVIII Dynasty tombs located in Luxor are especially rich in small details, some of them escaping easily from our sight, which give much information about Ancient Egypt.

This is the case of an image in the scene of the banquet in the tomb of Rekhmire (I have to express my gratitude to Dagmar Krejci, who called my attention on it).

Banquet in Rekhmire's tomb.Ancient Egypt. Egyptian Art

Banquet in Rekhmire’s tomb in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo

The whole scene shows many women during the Egyptian banquet being assisted by young girls. These servants are pouring drinks, offering floral necklaces and playing music. The Egyptian artist expressed the youth of those girls by means of their hairstyle, made by lateral fine plaits and a thicker back lock.

musician girls in Rekhmire's tomb. Ancient Egypt

Musician girl playing the long neck lute. Tomb of Rekhmire in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo courtesy: Dagmar Krejci.

We want to focus on one girl playing a long neck lute, whose hair covers her face. About this girl Dagmar Krejci and Peter Zamarovsky, from Czech Republic, already wrote something, paying especial attention to the lute she is playing.

What about her hair? Watching carefully, we realize that her hairstyle is the same one as her fellows’, with the lateral plaits and the back lock. However her face is covered by the plaits, while the black stroke in her front seems to be her back lock, which is now onwards. Why?

The answer could be in her gesture. This girls is slightly bended forwards for playing the lute. Maybe the Egyptian artist tried to find a way of expressing this position drawing her hair forwards.

However, some other girls in this same scene appear also bended, in many cases with a real nod, and their hairstyle has no changes. Then, which is the difference with our lute player?

We need to consider two things: 1) the long neck of the lute based on the ground and 2) the fact that she is playing while standing. Maybe for playing with this posture she needed to move and this movement was expressed by the Egyptian artist with the change in her hairstyle. So, she was not just playing, but also moving.

Rishi coffin. Right side with the funerary procession. On the left a common mourner shaking hair forwards. XVII-XVIII Dynasty. Thebes. Funerary ceremony in Ancient Egypt.

Rishi coffin. Right side with the funerary procession. On the left a common mourner shaking hair forwards. XVII-XVIII Dynasty. Thebes. Photo: www.metmuseum.org

The movement expressed by means of the hair forwards is not new for us. We have seen all over this blog that it was a resource in Egyptian art for depicting the movement of the Egyptian mourners. On the other hand, in Rekhmire’s tomb there are many new artistic solutions for expressing different things: the girl turning her back, the lateral perspective of the shoulders, the body spinning around, the dynamism of some workers…

Man spinning his body around. Tomb of Rekhmire. Ancient Egypt. Egyptian Art

Man spinning his body around. Tomb of Rekhmire in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo

Girl turning her back. Tomb of Rekhmire. Ancient Egypt. Egyptian Art

Girl turning her back. Tomb of Rekhmire in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo

The XVIII Dynasty was a moment of news in Egyptian art and the young lute player in the tomb of Rekhmire could be a sign of it. The Egyptian artist manipulating her hairstyle, tried to express as real as he could what the young girl was exactly doing: moving herself while playing the lute.