Denton Jaques Snider.

Music and the fine arts; a psychology of aesthetic online

. (page 10 of 32)
Online LibraryDenton Jaques SniderMusic and the fine arts; a psychology of aesthetic → online text (page 10 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

fuses to allow the secret hieroglyphic to be
entirely revealed.

The Sphinx stands as a kind of challenge
to civilized man to find out its mystery. It
is continually being interrogated, cross-ex-
amined we may say, to make it yield up its
secret. This very month (January, 1913)
we read of fresh explorations of its inte-
rior and new discoveries are claimed; it is
said to be ramified with hidden passages,
and like the Pyramids to be a royal tomb, a
view found alreadv in Roman Plinv and
doubtless derived from Egypt. So Nature
has been a guardian of the Sphinx, keeping
its grave covered and its secret. Still some


day its total form will certainly be disclosed,
as has been that other ancient Egyptian
mystery, the source of the Nile, yea, even
the hieroglyphics themselves. But when we
see it before us whole, its spiritual i3roblem
remains, perchance only the more impres-

An Arabian observer, the poet Abdellatif,
born in the twelfth century, speaks of the
face of the Sphinx as graceful and beauti-
ful, and gives to it a subdued smile. He
probably saw it in a more perfect condition
than it is at present, with battered features
and nose broken off, while the severed beard
has w^andered into the British Museum. The
year 1378 has been transmitted as the date
of its special disfigurement at the hands of a
fanatical Arab Sheikh, who must have been
filled with Semitic hate of the idol. Still it
gazes imperturbably down upon the coming
and going of nations, religions, races — even
its own. Seen aright it preserves its ele-
mental and eternal character even through
its mutilations, which are but temporal
strokes of Fate. What is that character?
The Sphinx looks Time and just' as well the
Time-defyer; it visages immortality and
rays the same out into our very conscious-
ness. The slight smile we may grant it,
though somewhat set and changeless, for it



is immortal too — the timeless smile of tri-
imipli over Typlion. Barely finite enough is
it to show a faint joy at the mastery of the
finite, for the shape is still a thing limited,
material, terrestrial; Time-transcending yet
in Time.

From the pnl)lislied accounts it would
seem that the material of the Sphinx is com-
posed of three structural portions : the body
hewn from the native rock, the massive head
separately chiseled out of granite, and an
artificial substructure in front for its sup-
port. Still we must remember that the body
of the Sphinx has never been disrobed of its
drapery; indeed only a small part of it to
the fore has been exposed to light. Un-
doubtedly the complete excavation of the en-
tire shape would be something of a task;
but how small compared to its original cre-
ation! Strange seems the fact that the pry-
ing inquisitive spirit of our age has not yet
dared to peep behind the veil of the Sphinx.
Perhaps it cannot, its bent turns too strongly
elsewhither. But the day will come. Then
will be seen again in full the primal genetic
statue of humanity, genetic of all other
statues and indeed of Art itself. Even now
it compels our bound-bursting spirits to
thoughts far-reaching beyond ourselves;
though in Time it rises co-eval with Time,


and becomes to the soul aught supra-tem-
poral; though in Space it widens out co-ex-
tensive with Space and becomes to the soul
aught supra-spatial. Through duration it
seems to transcend duration, through colos-
sality to transcend magnitude. And those
men, if they were men in our modern sense,
who conceived and shaped the Sphinx, un-
questionably after themselves or after their
ideal, and who built the Pyramids, must
have been men of the same pattern as what
they build, possessors of a pyramidal person-
ality, else they never could have left such
monuments of themselves, and of their world.
For we feel that at Gizeh lies a world, a hu-
man world embodied in its own right at the
start, a sort of overture to coming civiliza-
tion, a prophecy not only of Art but of His-
tory. Accordingly we may well think that
the Sphinx is the first incorporation of the
World-Spirit, the earliest revelation of the
idea which overrules man's historic devel-
opment. The vast effigies whose counte-
nance expresses a huge potentiality, looks
down the future which is also only potential,
being the unfulfilled, yet striving toward

On the other hand the Sphinx suggests
the past of uncounted ages, with its transi-
tion of the animal into man, this shape still


embracing both sides, tlie Imman head and
the lion's body. Thus is intimated in ex-
ternal form the rise of consciousness itself,
which doubtless took place in this Nile Val-
ley, requiring millions of years for the evo-
lution. Finally the artist was evolved, the
complete man who can look back with deep-
est instinct and recreate in image his own
origin and that of his people. Both he and
they felt that past, that universal ascent of
humanity in themselves, now forever won,
and gave to the same an enduring presence
in this double-natured shape of stone. Thou-
sands and thousands of Sphinxes, large and
small, with many a variation of its parts,
are still found in the soil of Egypt, indicat-
ing its joopular hold upon that Egyptian
consciousness whose character it so sug-
gestively represented. Thus the sculptor set
forth an image of the folk-soul looking back
upon its origin. In this regard we have to
compare it with the spirit of the Nineteenth
Centurv and its Darwin who also unfolded
the ascent of man from the anmial, not in a
sculptured form but in a printed book which
similarly has proved itself a true utterance
of the age, and like the Sphinx conjoins
shapes an aeon apart.

Another notev\^orthy fact is that this vast
shape is the work of associated Egypt. The


wliole people were its artists, not so mucli
the single individual who doubtless directed.
In Greece the particular artist rises to prom-
inence, and his name is usually known, be-
ing often graven on his production where
we still may read it. The Greek artist is in-
dividualized as well as the Greek God. But
in Egypt a great multitude of hands must
have wrought on the Sphinx for years, the
tools being simple, the mechanical appli-
ances few, and the material very hard.
Slowly the work must have evolved, like
Time's own evolution of the body, which
the artists were re-evolving in an artistic
form, shaping what was truly an image of
their own consciousness. The Sphinx we
have to think as the great national act of its
age, participated in by the associated people,
who therein are getting to know themselves
as a nation. It was not some tyrant who
built the Sphinx by forced labor, as a whim
of his arbitrary power. The mighty impress
of a mighty nation is stamped upon this vis-
age; its colossal outline could only have
been conceived and executed by a social spirit
equally colossal.

Viewed in this light the Sphinx is of the
same gigantic race as the Pyramids. Both
are the deeds of the associated folk in its
primordial grand outburst into Art as the


spirit's utterance. The Pyramid is archi-
tecture, the genetic structure out of which
all the supreme edifices of the future can be
seen unfolding. The Sphinx on the other
hand is sculpture, hut also germinal for its
art. So we may repeat that the art-gallery
of the ages starts from and streams out of
these two shapes down to our own time.
There thev stand, the Great Pyramid and
the Great Sphinx, in each other's company,
so that they seem to be in an eternal conver-
sation. What are they talking- about! Per-
chance about their posterity, which now
quite circles the globe; for they are the
hoary parents of the two visible or forma-
tive Fine-Arts, which in these days of evolu-
tion, have to go back to the ancestral foun-
tain and trace their historic origin.

More completely than any other human
monument does the Sphinx rise on the di-
viding line between Past and Future, in so
far as any such line can be fixed. It con-
nects in its form with man's long previous ev-
olution out of the animal to the stage of his
human appearance ; just tlitit supreme transi-
tion lasting possibly millions of years it would
seem to embody in one single colossal shape
and bring before the consciousness of the
primal Egyptian folk and therewith per-
chance of the race. It deals with that mvs-

OlilEM'AL SCL'Ll'TURiJ—TllE ;:<PHIXX. 43

tery of mysteries, man's iiidivieluatioii on
our planet, or for that matter in tlie universe ;
we may deem it Egypt's huge hieroglyphic
or sacred document hard to decipher by any
outside mentality. All other Sculpture
takes for granted the evolved human body,
but this hints its genesis, forming how our
form got to be.

The Sphinx has left its mighty impress
upon Literature. It lias been fruitful of
legends, of adages, and of interpretations.
Every age has to spell it over afresh. Very
suggestive is it A\lien reflected in the imag-
ination of great poets from Greek Sophocles
to German Goethe. Strangely, however, the
historians and interpreters of Scul])ture
have never rightly appreciated this greatest
monument of their Art.

But it is time to give a brief outline of
Sculpture as it unfolded in the land of the
Nile after the time of the Sphinx. We shall
find this development to run quite parallel
with Architecture; both these .Vrts likewise
I'eflect historic changes in accord with the
national spirit.

Egyptian Sculpture in general. There is
a great deal of it, but the account must now
be made brief. Still we have had good rea-
son to delay long over the Sphinx as the
most significant and creative work of Sculp-


ture ever liewn out bv tlie hands of man, and
still today probably the world's greatest
piece of statuary, not only in size but in cre-
ative import. But the artistic activity of
Egypt lasted thousands of years after the
time of the Great Sphinx and overflowed the
land with its production. Egyptian Sculp-
ture was as copious as the Greek; the val-
ley of the Nile became a sculpturesque world,
as well as architectonic; the main business
of the people, who were furnished so boun-
tifully and so easily with food by their pa-
ternal River was Art, especially the Art of
the builder and sculptor. The image and the
dwelling-place of the God who made and
kept them a people were what they had to
see — and to see by perpetually creating and
re-creating them. Every stroke upon the
statue must have been a prayer, these mighty
works could not have been accomplished
without devotion, whose power and sincerity
we may feel still, if we can sympathetically
struggle back into their spirit. Such was
the Egyptian's way: he put his act of wor-
ship into stone seeking to make it immortal
as himself. And that is what we are to see
still in these millennial monuments.

But we are also to note the limitation of
this Egyptian Art. It fell fixed into a tra-
ditional type, which was religious and so


not subject to change. The artist lost his
freedom in adhering to the great ancestor.
The result was that Egypt's spirit became
petrified like its granite. The community,
the whole nation, not merely the individual
body was transformed into a mummy. The
physical organism transmitted from the past
was held of supreme worth and had to be
preserved by embalment as the prime con-
dition of the soul's salvation. What could
have been the cause of this sudden crystal-
lized condition after that first grand origin-
ality? It would seem that Egypt was stupe-
fied at her own colossal monuments, the
Sphinx and the Pyramids, and could do
hardly more than repeat them forever in
time. At any rate the impression today re-
mains that the national spirit itself under-
went a process of mumification after its
mighty creative outburst at the beginning;
it was overwhelmed by its own greatness,
and almost stopped evolution, though not

Egyptian Sculpture very strikingly re-
veals itself in its own paralysis. The form
is not the free living, self-acting body, but
stiff, cramped, fixed to the outside, weighted
down by gravity. The organism is self-
hampered, and cannot rise to be self-
determined. The hands and feet are not


alive but helpless, straigiit and moveless as
if in a vice; no nerves and veins, little of
bones and muscles. The back is often joined
to an upright slab or joillar, and thns is not
yet separated from matter. But even when
the body is quite free on the outside, tliere
is an inner heaviness of parts, which makes
it still appear unfree. The Egyptian soul
is as yet enslaved to its corporeal portion;
so says the embalmed mummy as well as the
statue. Plere too we may consider the
Sphinx, laden with its animal half, as the
Egyptian prototype beyond which it could
not evolve in its thousands of years. Char-
acteristic is the fact of which experts tell:
the Egyptian sculptor executed the animal
shape far better than the human. Technical
skill in sufficient degree he possessed to
make a free human form, but not the con-

In Egypt's Art the body of man never
fully evolved to independence. It is deter-
mined by its past, by its former stages, not
through itself to its completed self -move-
ment. Thus it was truly representative of
the Egyptian mind. That the real man, for
instance the artist, could move about freely,
is certain, yet his sculptured man had no
such freedom, even in appearance, and in-
deed no such bodv. But the human form as


artistic is to represent the institutional soul,
not simply the individual one; hence in
Egypt Sculpture shows the body unfree as
imaging the unfree world of spirit, which is
fastened to the transmitted unchanging or-
der, unal)le to make it over, and thereby to
develop it creatively. AVhat a sameness of
look and of repetition in statues! Egypt
pictures the identity of pure Time, like form
following like, as one minute repeats the
other endlessly; see the long line of Sphinxes
at Carnac, one after the other, repeating the
past in its greatest shape.

Still Egypt shows some evolution in Art
and Plistory even through its prolonged
monotony of adherence to the past. There
were upheavals in the Nile Valley, political
and religious; there were changes coming
from within and especially from without.
Very indistinct they seem now in cteites and
in events. Egypt rose and fell in civiliza-
tion, like her Nile; she had her epochs of
bloom and decline, periods of outer conquest
and inner subjugation ; her long dim history
can be discerned as moving in great cycles,
subtly consonant with her own spirit. In a
general way we can outline three large
sweeps or resurgences, Avhich have their echo
in Art.

I. The- first and greatest outburst of


Egyptian spirit is seen in tlie Pyramids and
the Sphinx, whose origin is usually assigned
to the Fourth Dynasty, Avhich dates about
4,000 B. C, according to most authorities,
though some place it 1,000 years sooner.
Now this earliest spiritual bloom was alto-
gether Egypt's mightiest, her one supreme
original deed, done at the beginning of her
history, yea of all history. And the strange
fact is that this primal deed of a people was
not political, but artistic; or we may say,
that the highest political function was just
the artistic. The Nation at this early period
must have been strong and probably a con-
queror and ruler of other nations ; but it ex-
isted not to found and perpetuate an empire
so much as to produce enduring Art in the
image of its gigantic spirit. For the man of
those days must have been as monumental
in chara'cter as his monuments, colossal as
the Sphinx, pyramidal as the Pyramids.
The first great deed of Greece has a decided
political strain which we feel still in ]\Iara-
thon and the Persian War; Greek Art rose
especially at Athens as an outgrowth of the
new-born national spirit, but not with this
Egyptian magnitude and exclusiveness.

Significant is the fact that Art in this
earliest period had greater freedom than
ever again in Egypt. The statues of Ra-


hotep and Nefert (Fourth Dynasty) now in
the Museum at Gizeh, are good examples of
this first untrammeled Art; they follow na-
ture, they have more life and expression
than any later sculpture found in the tombs.
It would seem that the very colossality of
this First Period cast such a spell upon the
people that they clung to its forms in Art,
religion, customs, government; thus Egypt
seemed to be poured into one primordial
mould which -it could never fully break, even
if it evolved a little within its fixed limits.
Perhaps we today may realize somewhat of
the same effect; when we view these stu-
pendous works we feel wonder-crushed at
the sight, with individuality quite obliter-
ated for the time at their overmastering-
presence. Be this as it may, Egypt's first
period was so oppressively great that she
never afterwards could free herself from her
own greatness.

II. The second epoch-making resurgence
of Egyptian history is assigned to the
Twelfth Dynasty. What about the eight
dynasties lying between these crests of
greatness, and embracing at least 1200
years? Sunk out of sight and lost, except
some lists of kings and a few monuments
relatively small and unimportant. Egypt
after her prodigious labor reflected in her


Art at Gizeli, goes to sleep for twelve cen-
turies and more in order to recuperate. So
we may help ourselves out with an easy con-
jecture. Possibly with the further resurrec-
tion now going on in the Nile Valley, we
shall get some news of this submerged pe-

But with a surprising suddenness, or what
seems sudden at this distance from the
event, a new king, yea new line of kings
leap up from the dormant ages and perform
notable deeds which are recorded. Among
these are extensive conquests in Asia and
Africa, showing the outbreak and overflow
of the national spirit. At home this Dy-
nasty was noted for its works in regulating
and utilizing the Nile, the divine giver of
Egypt's food; its Kings constructed dykes,
dug canals, excavated reservoirs, most fa-
mous of which was Lake Moeris. The Laby-
rinth (the wonder described by Herodotus)
was built at this time, though it had not the
character of eternity, like the monuments
of the Fourth Dynasty, since its site can
hardly be recognized. Thus Architecture
droops, and the like must be said of Sculp-
ture; it was the utilitarian age of Egypt.

But that which received a vast develop-
ment was the subterranean tomb. The
Sphinx and the Pyramids were doubtless con-

()Rli:XT.\L ^CrLPTUh'IJ — THK SPHfXX. 51

nected with sepulture, lait tliey were erecte(]
above ground. This burrowing underneath
the surface must have had its parallel in the
consciousness of the time. The doctrine of
the future state, always intensely present in
Egypt, assumed a new phase; it now dis-
tinctly announces future judgment and pen-
alty for deeds done in the body. Also a dim
idea of Purgatory seems to show itself with
its stress on expiation. The so-called re-
spondents, sculptured images of the deceased
person located in his tomb, are supposed to
have had a vicarious power. Doubtless the
Labyrinth with its endless intricacies above
ground and below as well as through its
magnitude is the most suggestive artistic
symbol of this period, which made the Nile
itself a vast Labvrinth of canals, lakes, dams
in service of the people whose welfare now
has special emphasis.

Still Sculpture need not leave this age
with wholly empty hands. Petrie (Hist.
Egypt I. 158) tells of a finely wrought statue
of black granite found at Tanis which has
no upright slab for its back, but stands jrce,
like a Greek statue. As far as known, such
a work is unique in Egypt, which never be-
fore or afterward liberated the body from
its conjunction with outer support. This
statue is of the second King, twelfth dynasty


(about 2750 B. C). Tims it foreshadows
the Sculpture of Greece, individualizing com-
pletely the human form. Herein it is the
counterpart of the proto-Doric Column of
Beni-IIassan, which also must be deemed
an Egyptian prophecy of a chief member of
the coming Greek Architecture, and which
also is assigned to this same Twelfth Dy-
nasty. But such a column and such a statue
were but momentary flashes of the future,
and were never realized in Egypt, being in
advance of her consciousness.

III. The third mighty resurgence re-
corded in Egyptian History is assigned to
the Eighteenth Djmasty, more than a thou-
sand years after the second one, which also
did not last. There was a fresh decline and
subsidence after the Twelfth Dynasty.
Egypt decayed internally and then was
seized and subjugated by a foreign race, the
Semites doubtless, whose Kings are known
as the Hyksos, who ruled Egypt more than
five hundred years. But there came a new
outburst of the Egyptian volcano from its
long quiescence which overwhelmed the op-
pressors and drove them from the land. But
that was not the end : the roused nation burst
the barriers of the Nile Valley and overran
a large part of Western Asia. Two great
conquerors arose, Thotmes III of the Eigh-


teentli Dynasty, and Raineses II, of tlie Nine-
teenth Dynasty. Each of these Dynasties
had its own character, and intervening be-
tween them hiy a great religious upheaval,
which threatened for a while to uproot the
old Egyptian religion; but there came again
a great national recovery and renewal, this
time seemingly inspired by religion. Still
the present was Egypt's last cycle of reno-
vation from decadence. Possibly the rea-
son lay just in such refusal to transform
her religion.

Now this mighty upburst and overflow of
Egyptian spirit during the Third Period had
its parallel in Art as the expression of the
national life. The almost superhuman mon-
uments still to be seen in the Thebaid belong
chiefly to these two Dynasties which are es-
sentially one in spirit, notwithstanding the
above-mentioned difference, and are to be
looked at together in their products. In
Architecture the temples of Karnac and
Luxor still illustrate the grandeur of this Pe-

Even mightier are the works of Sculpture
which manifest a striving after colossality of
expression comparable only to the Sjohinx
and the Pyramids. Indeed just this indicates
the character of the Period : it is a return to
the First Period with the attempt to equal it


if not outdo it in magnitude. The twin
colossi of Amenopliis (Eighteenth Dynasty)
are still in place, seated figures over sixty
feet high, one of which was the famous sing-
ing Memnon which would send forth musical
sounds on being struck by the rays of the
morning sun. Some writers sav that there
were originally eighteen of these huge stat-
ues in a row. Even more impressive are the
four colossi of Rameses II (Nineteenth Dy-
nasty) at Ipsamboul, each seventy feet high,
seated before the entrance of a rock-temple.
These are the largest sculptures of the Period
which produced many others only a little less
in size.

As before said this Art recalls that of the
First Period, yet with a difference. The
Sphinx transmits its colossality to man, and
his human body. On the other hand the ani-
mal part of the Sphinx loses its huge size, but
turns into many smaller repetitions and is
made up of two animals, as we see in the long
row of criosphinxes at Luxor. In fact the
statue of the King has become the Sphinx at
Ipsamboul with its Egyptian look of stolid
timelessness. Reckoning back from our own
day we are to think that the Great Sphinx
of Gizeh is about twice as old as the colossi
of Thebes and Ipsamboul. How Egypt has
tlio power of shedding Time whose years beat

oh'iL'XTAL ^vlu'tlhe—thl: sriiixx.


upon it like falling rain-drops, and then van-
ish, leaving it quite the same !

Egypt, the head waters of Art and civili-
zation sent forth its streams in various direc-
tions toward the future. Through Moses and
the Hebrews flowed one current which turned
away from Sculpture and its idols. In the
valley of the Euphrates the Sphinx evolved

Online LibraryDenton Jaques SniderMusic and the fine arts; a psychology of aesthetic → online text (page 10 of 32)