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A History of Art in Ancient Egypt Volume II Part 33

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[Illustration: FIG. 312.--Golden Hawk. Actual size. Drawn by Saint-Elme Gautier.]

[Illustration: FIG. 313.--Golden Hawk. Actual size. Drawn by Saint-Elme Gautier.]

Living forms are interpreted in a less conventional fashion in the little monuments which are known as _aegides_, on account of their shape. This may be seen by reference to one recently acquired by the Louvre (Fig. 314). The name of an Osorkhon of the twenty-second dynasty and that of Queen Ta-ti-bast are on the back. At the top appears the lion-head of the goddess Sekhet, modelled with great skill and freedom, and supported on each side by the head of a hawk; below these comes a plate of gold, entirely covered with fine engraving. A seated figure with expanded wings forms a centre for numerous bands of ornament in which the open flower of the lotus is combined with its buds and circular leaves.

Necklaces are also very rich and various in design. Fig. 315 is the restoration of one which exists in a dislocated state in one of the cases of the Louvre. It is formed of glass beads in four rows, below which hangs a row of pendants, probably charms. The _tet_, the god _Bes_, the _oudja_ or symbolic eye, &c., are to be distinguished among them.

[Illustration: FIG. 314.--aegis. Louvre. Actual size. Drawn by Saint-Elme Gautier.]

The beautiful group of Osiris, Isis, and Horus deserves to rank as a work of sculpture (Fig. 316). These little figures are of gold. Osiris is crouching between the other two deities on a pedestal of lapis-lazuli, which bears the name of Osorkhon II. The inscription upon the base consists of a religious benediction upon the same Pharaoh. These little figures are finely executed, and the base upon which the group stands is incrusted with coloured glass.

We have already reproduced specimens of finger rings (Figs. 241 and 243), and the additional examples on page 387 will help to show how varied were their form. Many of these little articles have moveable or rotating stones upon which figures or inscriptions are engraved. Some have this merely upon a flattened or thickened part of the ring, which, again, is sometimes double (Fig. 318). Ear-rings of many different forms have been found; they are ornamented with little figures in relief (Figs. 319 and 320).

Some writers have spoken of the _cloisonne enamels_ of Egypt. This expression is inaccurate, as Mariette has observed.[391] There are certainly _cloisons_ in many of the jewels above described--such as the pectoral and the two hawks--_cloisons_ made up of thin ribs of silver or gold, but these compartments are not combined by firing with the material used to fill them. Where the Chinese place enamel the Egyptians inserted fragments of coloured glass or of such stones as the amethyst, cornelion, lapis-lazuli, turquoise, jasper, &c. The work was not passed through an oven after the insertion of these colouring substances; it was therefore rather a mosaic than an enamel in the proper sense of the term. By an analagous process bronze was damascened with gold and silver, threads of these two metals being inserted in prepared grooves and hammered into place. Mariette has called attention to several bronzes at Boulak thus inlaid with gold,[392] and in the Louvre there is a graceful little sphinx marked with the cartouche of Smendes, which is damascened with silver.

[391] MARIETTE, _Notice du Musee de Boulak_, No. 388. _Galerie de l'egypte Ancienne au Trocadero_, pp. 114, 115.

[392] MARIETTE, _Notice du Musee_, Nos. 107, 108, 131.

The Egyptians were also workers in ivory, which was obtained in large quantities from Ethiopia. Sometimes they were content with carving it (Fig. 322), sometimes they engraved upon it with the _point_ and then filled in the design with black, giving it a forcible relief (Fig.

323). The ivory plaque from Sakkarah reproduced in Fig. 321, deserves to be studied for its technical method, although it dates from the Greek period. The blacks shown in our woodcut are produced in the original by filling up with mastic the hollows made with the _point_.

Famous sculptors were especially fond of working in ivory. Iritesen speaks as follows upon a stele translated by M. Maspero:--"Ah! there is no one who excels at this work except myself and the eldest of my legitimate sons. God decided that he should excel, and I have seen the perfection of his handiwork as an artist, as the chief of those who work in precious stones, in gold, silver, ivory and ebony."[393]

[393] _Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology_, v.

part ii. 1877.

[Illustration: FIG. 315.--Necklace. Louvre. Drawn by Saint-Elme Gautier.]

[Illustration: FIG. 316.--Osiris, Isis, and Horus.]

No traces of amber have been discovered in Egypt, and Egyptologists tell us that no word for it is to be found in the language.

[Illustration: FIGS. 317, 318.--Rings. Louvre.]

[Illustration: FIGS. 319, 320.--Ear-rings. Louvre.]

A complete idea of Egyptian jewelry and work in the precious metals cannot be given without colour; without its assistance the brilliance, softened into completest harmony by the action of time, which distinguishes the objects of which we have now been speaking, can only be guessed at. Our best advice to those who wish to thoroughly appreciate their beauty, is to examine them in the museums where they are exposed. But even in the black and white of our draughtsman the excellent taste which animated the Egyptian jeweller may be fairly estimated. Other races, the Greeks, for instance, gave more lightness and a more refined grace to their trinkets, but our familiarity with their productions does not prevent us from recognizing the nobility and amplitude of these designs. Their originality, too, is strongly brought out by their affinity to the style and decoration of the great national buildings; we might almost be tempted to think that their designs and colour compositions were supplied by architects.

[Illustration: FIG. 321.--Ivory Plaque. Boulak.]

The same characteristics are to be recognized on the vases figured in the royal tombs at Thebes.[394] They are coloured yellow and blue, and both their form and tint forbid us to suppose that they were of any material but metal, of gilt bronze or gold, or of silver.

Incrustations in enamel or coloured _pietra dura_ relieve the monotony of the metal surface. Some of these pieces seem to have been very large. Their decoration and design is rich and complex. Flowers and half-opened buds, lions' heads, masks of Bes and of negroes, birds, sphinxes, etc., are introduced. We may presume that such objects were made for presentation to the gods and preservation in treasure-houses; few of them could have been put to any practical use. The great men of Egypt followed the example of Pharaoh in enriching the temples. The stele of Neb-oua, chief prophet of Osiris in the reign of Thothmes III., runs thus: "I have consecrated numerous gifts in the temple of my father Osiris; in silver, in gold, in lapis-lazuli, in copper, and in all kinds of precious stones."[395]

[394] See two plates of PRISSE entitled: "_Art Industriel. Vases en Or emaille_; _Rhytons et autres Vases_."

[395] MARIETTE, _Notice du Musee_, No. 93.

[Illustration: FIG. 322.--Ivory Castanet. Louvre.]

[Illustration: FIG. 323.--Fragment of an Ivory Castanet. Louvre.]

-- 4. _Woodwork._

The Egyptians made great use of wood. Under the Ancient Empire it furnished the material for all their lighter constructions, to which, by the help of colour, great variety and cheerfulness was imparted.

Even in those early ages the cabinet-maker or joiner endeavoured to make his work artistic. Various articles of furniture had their feet carved into the shape of lions' paws, or the hoofs of oxen.[396] To judge from certain stone objects preserved in the mastabas, wood, which was comparatively easy to work, must have afforded the material for those skilfully-made and complex pieces of furniture whose forms are preserved for us by paintings from the Theban epoch.[397]

[396] LEPSIUS, _Denkmaeler_, part ii. plates 36 and 90.

[397] Among such objects is a table for libations, which was found in a tomb at Sakkarah. It is supported by two lions, whose pendent tails are twisted round a vase. MARIETTE, _Notice du Musee_, No. 93.

In these pictures the labours of the carpenter (Fig. 324), and those of the cabinet-maker (Fig. 325) are often represented. The specimens of furniture in our modern museums are mostly of a commonplace character, but they are interesting from the light they throw upon the methods of the Egyptian joiners (Fig. 326). The richness and elaboration of Egyptian furniture under the great Theban dynasties can only be estimated from the paintings. We have already seen that their musical instruments were elaborately decorated; the harp of the famous minstrel figured on page 345 is entirely covered with incrustations, and its foot is ornamented with a bust of graceful design. In this luxurious age the arts of the cabinet-maker must have been carried to a great height. The interior of an ancient Egyptian house must have been very different from the bareness which greets a visitor to the modern East. Chairs with or without arms, tables of varied form, folding seats, foot-stools, brackets supporting vases of flowers, cabinets in which objects of value were locked up, filled the rooms. The upper classes of Egypt lived a life that was refined and elegant as well as civilized. A great lord of the time of a Thothmes or a Rameses was not content, like a Turkish bey or pacha, with a divan, a few carpets, and a mattress which, after being locked up in a cupboard during the day, is spread upon the floor for his accommodation at night. He had his bedstead, often inlaid with metal or ivory, and, like a modern European, he had other articles of furniture besides.

[Illustration: FIG. 324.--Workman splitting a piece of wood. Gournah.

From Champollion.]

[Illustration: FIG. 325.--Joiner making a bed. From Champollion.]

Several pictures are extant in which Egyptian receptions--Egyptian _salons_--are represented. The company is not crouched upon the earth, in the modern Oriental fashion. Both men and women are seated upon chairs, some of which have cushioned seats and backs.[398]

[398] See the illustration which EBERS calls _A Reception in Ancient Egypt_. (_aegypten_, vol. ii. p. 276.)

[Illustration: FIG. 326.--Coffer for sepulchral statuettes. Louvre.]

The elegance of these seats may be guessed from the two examples on the next page, one from the tomb of Rameses III. (Fig. 327), the other from that of Chamhati (Fig. 328). They are both royal chairs, or thrones. The smaller chair figures among a number of things presented by Chamhati to his master, Pharaoh, and we need feel no surprise that among the supports of both these pieces of furniture, those crouching prisoners which became about this time such a common motive in Egyptian ornament, are to be found. In the one example, they are incorporated with the carved members which support the seat, in the other they are inserted between the legs, which are shaped respectively like the fore and hind quarters of a lion. Each arm terminates in a lion's head. A crowned, winged, and hawk-headed uraeus, some lotus-flowers, and a sphinx with a vanquished enemy beneath his paws, are carved upon either side of the chair. The scheme of decoration as a whole is a happy combination of aesthetic beauty with allusions to the power and success of the king.

[Illustration: FIG. 327.--Chair. From the _Description_.]

[Illustration: FIG. 328.--Chair. From Prisse.]

These elaborate pieces of furniture are only known to us by the paintings, but when we turn to articles of a less ambitious description, such as toys and what are called _bimbeloterie_ in French, and, rather helplessly, "fancy articles" in English, we have many fine specimens to turn to. Of these the most conspicuous are those perfume spoons whose handles so often embody charming motives.

The more simple examples are ornamented merely with the buds or open flowers of the lotus (Fig. 329). Others, however, have beautifully carved figures. In Fig. 330 we see a young woman picking a lotus bud.

Several stalks crowned with open flowers support the bowl, which is shaped like that of a modern spoon, except that its narrow end is turned towards the handle. The attitude and expression of this little figure are very good. The right foot, which is thrust forward, only touches the ground by the toes. The water in which she is about to step may hide sharp flints or unkindly roots, and, with commendable prudence, she begins by testing the bottom. Her legs are bare, because she has raised her garment well above the knee before descending into the marsh. Her carefully plaited hair and her crimped petticoat show that her social condition is good.

Another spoon shows us a musician between stems of papyrus. She stands upright upon one of those boats which were used in the papyrus-brakes (Fig. 331). Her instrument is a long-handled guitar. The musician herself seems to have been one of those dancers and singers whose condition was pretty much the same in ancient as in modern Egypt. Her only garment is a short petticoat knotted about her waist. The bowl of this spoon is rectangular.

[Illustration: FIG. 329.--Perfume Spoon. Boulak. Drawn by Bourgoin.]

Another common motive is that of a girl swimming. She is represented at the moment when her stroke is complete; her upper and lower limbs are stretched out to their full extent so as to offer the least possible resistance to the water (Fig. 257). There is a perfume-box in the Louvre which is supported on a figure contrasting strongly with the last described. The box is shaped like a heavy sack, and is supported upon the right shoulder of a slave, who bends beneath its weight. By the thick lips, flat nose, heavy jaw, low forehead, and closely-shaven, sugar-loaf head, we may recognize this as yet another of those caricatures of prisoners which we have already encountered in such numbers.[399] A perfume-box at Boulak should also be mentioned.

It is in the shape of a goose turning its head backwards. Its wings open and give access to the hollow of the box.

[399] This figure is reproduced in Rayet's _Monuments de l'Art Antique_ and described by M. MASPERO. (_Cuillers de Toilette en Bois._)

This desire to ornament even the most apparently insignificant objects of domestic use was universal. The sticks which are shown in the bas-reliefs in the hands of almost every Egyptian of good social position, were generally provided with a more or less richly ornamented head. The simplest terminate in a handle which appears to be modelled after the leaf of the lotus, as it rises above the level of the water, and, before opening to the full expansion, forms an obtuse angle with the stalk which supports it (Fig. 332). Other sticks of a similar shape have an eye painted upon them (Fig. 333). Sometimes the handle is shaped like a lotus-flower surmounted by an oval knob (Fig. 334). Wooden pins have been found with the head of a jackal or some other animal carved upon them (Fig. 335).

[Illustration: FIGS. 330, 331.--Perfume Spoons. Louvre. Drawn by Saint-Elme Gautier.]

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