Ancient Egyptain Art Essay, Research Paper
The Colossal Head
When we think of ancient Egyptian art, we think of deteriorating stone statues, bits and pieces of old architecture, and faded paintings of animals in dark caves and caverns. All of these ancient ruins are part of what shaped Egyptian culture back in the times of Dynasties. Their artwork not only revealed so much of their religion, rituals, and culture, but it also served as a basis for developing and advancing art.
The Colossal Head, found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was one of the many early sculptures of Egypt. It came from the late Third or early Fourth Dynasty (2600-2530 B.C.E.). It’s no more than two feet high and is made of Red Granite stone. The face of the sculpture has a fleshy, full look to it and most of the features are very blunt, giving it a very healthy, powerful appearance. The eyes are empty as are the eyes of most ancient sculptures so as not to give them any particular focus or expression, and they are styled with regular upper and lower curves, making them semicircular. The mouth is long and fine-lipped which is typical of Fourth Dynasty kings. It curves neither up nor down, showing no emotion whatsoever, creating a very vacant, placid stare. The Seated Statue of Gudea and The Female Head from Uruk are just a couple of other statues with the same empty, expressionless stare. However, the rest of the features of the sculpture and the thick neck are more like images from the Third Dynasty. The tops of the ears and the tip of the nose have been broken off either with carelessness or with time, both of which cause the damage of many ancient sculptures. The statue of Senmut with Princess Nefrua is another of the many sculptures that had been broken over time. Although it has not been proven, the sculpture has been identified as King Huni who best fits the style of this image of an early Old Kingdom Pharaoh. This particular sculpture matches the description of so many others, almost like a generic pattern. Nearly every sculpture from the Third and Fourth Dynasties has the bold facial features, the vacant eyes, and the emotionless face. They were never intended to impress, but to simply be a devotion to a higher power or ruler. While each statue is always slightly different than the next, they seem to all fall into the same category and have the same style, always very modest and usually religious.
Egypt is a land of dazzling buried treasure and quiet tomb secrets. Only the dead can experience these treasures however, for they were gifts from the living for the afterlife. The Egyptians, like so many other cultures, were polytheistic and firmly believed in life after death. To make the transition from life to death, the Egyptians would bury their dead with some of their favorite items to take with them to the afterlife. Some of these treasures were very extravagant and valuable. It seemed almost as if the afterlife was more important than actually living. They spent their existence preparing for what came next. Whole temples and enormous statues were constructed as dedication to the deceased. The Stepped Pyramid of King Zozer, measuring three hundred ninety-four feet by three hundred sixty feet, was just one of the many pyramids built in honor of a pharaoh or ruler. The term “Pharaoh” comes from the bible. When we hear this word we think of government, religion, and a way of life. The scriptures used this name to designate rulers in Egypt. It was also used to describe the “Great House”, the royal palace where all orders affecting the civil and religious life of the Egyptians were issued. Eventually, the king began being referred to as the “Great House” or Pharaoh and it soon became customary to combine this name with the king’s personal name. From then on, Egypt always had a pharaoh ruling over them. By doing this, Egypt had developed one of the first great civilizations that was literate, bureaucratic, and technologically advanced. It centered all it’s power and aspirations around a single divine pharaoh who was the master of ceremonies and who made all decisions for Egypt.
Egyptian culture was very similar to Greek culture throughout the Third and Fourth Dynasties (the Third Dynasty was also known as the Memphite Dynasty because while some areas of Egypt began to lose their importance, Memphis secured its position as the capital). They influenced and contributed to each others civilizations by means of architectural advancements, religious beliefs, and technological and scholastic advancements. The relationship between the two civilizations has been proven by the revealing of Egyptian artifacts in Greek palaces as well as Cretian objects discovered in Egyptian tombs and other structures. Not only were their cultures similar, their art was also very much the same. Stylistically, Greek and Egyptian sculptures were nearly identical; they had the blank expressions with the modest, rigid poses. However, the Egyptians were the first to break away from the usual style of sculpture. Up to that point, statues had always been in basically one position; with their arms rigid against their sides and their legs tight together. This was also a sure pose against damage, with the legs and arms as part of the large piece of rock, they could not be broken as easily as if they were separate from the body. However, Egyptians began to take a different approach to this pose. They didn’t change it completely, they simply altered it. Instead of the legs being firmly pressed together, they made one leg stand out a bit as if the sculpture was taking a step forward. It seems as though no matter what position the sculptures were in, they were always naturalistic. The artists stylized, and simplified natural forms, but they never distorted them in any unnatural way. They seemed to have a real appreciation for true, natural beauty.
Part of what allowed the artists to create the natural beauty of a sculpture was the tools they used. For a long time, artists used copper chisels which had cutting edges that were easy to hammer out. The chisels facilitated the shaping and styling of soft stone such as limestone, calcite, and sandstone. It’s quite amazing, however, that even without steel tools and special technologies, the Egyptians and the Greeks could carve and polish extremely hard substances. When creating weapons and tools, bowls and vases, and statues and sculptures, the artists first roughed out by hammering causing an impact of stone on stone. Then details were shaped and given a smooth finish by rubbing rock on rock, an abrasive. For gouging and digging, artists used a drill tipped with extremely hard stone and a mounted by a rod weighted down with bags of small stones and rotated by a handle. This method required immense amounts of dexterity and patience.
Egyptian art came an incredibly long way throughout time and revealed much of its culture through artistic expression. When we look at a statue, we can conclude so much about the culture. We can see the way they dressed, or the way they held themselves, or the way they depicted their rulers. The ancient statues of Egypt seemed to set an example of power and dictation. Most sculptures were dedications to pharaohs and rulers and religious symbols of the civilization. They were created to look powerful, stern, and severe. Some were even intimidating, like the statue of Kafre, who looks extremely focused and fierce. These examples of artwork set the stage for so many new artists and so many new advancements. Egyptian artists created a basis of art that inspired the works and creations of thousands of artists after them, and it will inspire thousands of artists yet to come.