Gaston Camille Charles Maspero.

Manual of Egyptian Archaeology and Guide to the Study of Antiquities in Egypt online

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prodigious statue was a finished art; an art which had attained self-
mastery, and was sure of its effects. How many centuries had it taken to
arrive at this degree of maturity and perfection? In certain pieces
belonging to various museums, such as the statues of Sepa and his wife at
the Louvre, and the bas-reliefs of the tomb of Khabiûsokarî at Gizeh,
critics have mistakenly recognised the faltering first efforts of an
unskilled people. The stiffness of attitude and gesture, the exaggerated
squareness of the shoulders, the line of green paint under the eyes, - in a
word, all those characteristics which are quoted as signs of extreme
antiquity, are found in certain monuments of the Fifth and Sixth
Dynasties. The contemporary sculptors of any given period were not all
equally skilful. If some were capable of doing good work, the greater
number were mere craftsmen; and we must be careful not to ascribe awkward
manipulation, or lack of teaching, to the timidity of archaism. The works
of the primitive dynasties yet sleep undiscovered beneath seventy feet of
sand at the foot of the Sphinx; those of the historic dynasties are daily
exhumed from the depths of the neighbouring tombs. These have not yielded
Egyptian art as a whole; but they have familiarised us with one of its
schools - the school of Memphis. The Delta, Hermopolis, Abydos, the environs
of Thebes and Asûan[42], do not appear upon the stage earlier than towards
the Sixth Dynasty; and even so, we know them through but a small number of
sepulchres long since violated and despoiled. The loss is probably not very
great. Memphis was the capital; and thither the presence of the Pharaohs
must have attracted all the talent of the vassal principalities. Judging
from the results of our excavations in the Memphite necropolis alone, it is
possible to determine the characteristics of both sculpture and painting in
the time of Seneferû and his successors with as much exactness as if we
were already in possession of all the monuments which the valley of the
Nile yet holds in reserve for future explorers.

[Illustration: Fig. 184. - Panel from tomb of Hesi.]

The lesser folk of the art-world excelled in the manipulation of brush and
chisel, and that their skill was of a high order is testified by the
thousands of tableaux they have left behind them. The relief is low; the
colour sober; the composition learned. Architecture, trees, vegetation,
irregularities of ground, are summarily indicated, and are introduced only
when necessary to the due interpretation of the scene represented. Men and
animals, on the other hand, are rendered with a wealth of detail, a truth
of character, and sometimes a force of treatment, to which the later
schools of Egyptian art rarely attained. Six wooden panels from the tomb of
Hesi in the Gizeh Museum represent perhaps the finest known specimens of
this branch of art. Mariette ascribed them to the Third Dynasty, and he may
perhaps have been right; though for my own part I incline to date them from
the Fifth Dynasty. In these panels there is nothing that can be called a
"subject." Hesi either sits or stands (fig. 184), and has four or five
columns of hieroglyphs above his head; but the firmness of line, the
subtlety of modelling, the ease of execution, are unequalled. Never has
wood been cut with a more delicate chisel or a firmer hand.

The variety of attitude and gesture which we so much admire in the Egyptian
bas-relief is lacking to the statues. A mourner weeping, a woman bruising
corn for bread, a baker rolling dough, are subjects as rare in the round as
they are common in bas-relief. In sculpture, the figure is generally
represented either standing with the feet side by side and quite still, or
with one leg advanced in the act of walking; or seated upon a chair or a
cube; or kneeling; or, still more frequently, sitting on the ground cross-
legged, as the fellahin are wont to sit to this day. This intentional
monotony of style would be inexplicable if we were ignorant of the purpose
for which such statues were intended. They represent the dead man for whom
the tomb was made, his family, his servants, his slaves, and his kinsfolk.
The master is always shown sitting or standing, and he could not
consistently be seen in any other attitude. The tomb is, in fact, the house
in which he rests after the labours of life, as once he used to rest in his
earthly home; and the scenes depicted upon the walls represent the work
which he was officially credited with performing. Here he superintends the
preliminary operations necessary to raise the food by which he is to be
nourished in the form of funerary offerings; namely, seed-sowing,
harvesting, stock-breeding, fishing, hunting, and the like. In short, "he
superintends all the labour which is done for the eternal dwelling." When
thus engaged, he is always standing upright, his head uplifted, his hands
pendent, or holding the staff and baton of command. Elsewhere, the diverse
offerings are brought to him one by one, and then he sits in a chair of
state. These are his two attitudes, whether as a bas-relief subject or a
statue. Standing, he receives the homage of his vassals; sitting, he
partakes of the family repast. The people of his household comport
themselves before him as becomes their business and station. His wife
either stands beside him, sits on the same chair or on a second chair by
his side, or squats beside his feet as during his lifetime. His son, if a
child at the time when the statue was ordered, is represented in the garb
of infancy; or with the bearing and equipment proper to his position, if a
man. The slaves bruise the corn, the cellarers tar the wine jars, the hired
mourners weep and tear their hair. His little social world followed the
Egyptian to his tomb, the duties of his attendants being prescribed for
them after death, just as they had been prescribed for them during life.
And the kind of influence which the religious conception of the soul
exercised over the art of the sculptor did not end here. From the moment
that the statue is regarded as the support of the Double, it becomes a
condition of primary importance that the statue shall reproduce, at least
in the abstract, the proportions and distinctive peculiarities of the
corporeal body; and this in order that the Double shall more easily adapt
himself to his new body of stone or wood.[43] The head is therefore always
a faithful portrait; but the body, on the contrary, is, as it were, a
medium kind of body, representing the original at his highest development,
and consequently able to exert the fulness of his physical powers when
admitted to the society of the gods. Hence men are always sculptured in the
prime of life, and women with the delicate proportions of early womanhood.
This conventional idea was never departed from, unless in cases of very
marked deformity. The statue of a dwarf reproduced all the ugly
peculiarities of the dwarf's own body; and it was important that it should
so reproduce them. If a statue of the ordinary type had been placed in the
tomb of the dead man, his "Ka," accustomed during life to the deformity of
his limbs, would not be able to adapt itself to an upright and shapely
figure, and would therefore be deprived of the conditions necessary to his
future well-being. The artist was free to vary the details and arrange the
accessories according to his fancy; but without missing the point of his
work, he could not change the attitude, or depart from the general style of
the conventional portrait statue. This persistent monotony of pose and
subject produces a depressing effect upon the spectator, - an effect which
is augmented by the obtrusive character given to the supports. These
statues are mostly backed by a kind of rectangular pediment, which is
either squared off just at the base of the skull, or carried up in a point
and lost in the head-dress, or rounded at the top and showing above the
head of the figure. The arms are seldom separated from the body, but are
generally in one piece with the sides and hips. The whole length of the leg
which is placed in advance of the other is very often connected with the
pediment by a band of stone. It has been conjectured that this course was
imposed upon the sculptor by reason of the imperfection of his tools, and
the consequent danger of fracturing the statue when cutting away the
superfluous material - an explanation which may be correct as regards the
earliest schools, but which does not hold good for the time of the Fourth
Dynasty. We could point to more than one piece of sculpture of that period,
even in granite, in which all the limbs are free, having been cut away by
means of either the chisel or the drill. If pediment supports were
persisted in to the end, their use must have been due, not to helplessness,
but to routine, or to an exaggerated respect for ancient method.

[Illustration: Fig. 185. - The Cross-legged Scribe at the Louvre, Old

Most museums are poor in statues of the Memphite school; France and Egypt
possess, however, some twenty specimens which suffice to ensure it an
honourable place in the history of art. At the Louvre we have the "Cross-
legged Scribe,"[44] and the statues of Skemka and Pahûrnefer; at Gizeh
there are the "Sheikh el Beled"[45] and his wife, Khafra[46], Ranefer, the
Prince and General Rahotep, and his wife, Nefert, a "Kneeling Scribe," and
a "Cross-legged Scribe." The original of the "Cross-legged Scribe" of the
Louvre was not a handsome man (fig. 185), but the vigour and fidelity of
his portrait amply compensate for the absence of ideal beauty. His legs are
crossed and laid flat to the ground in one of those attitudes common among
Orientals, yet all but impossible to Europeans. The bust is upright, and
well balanced upon the hips. The head is uplifted. The right hand holds the
reed pen, which pauses in its place on the open papyrus scroll. Thus, for
six thousand years he has waited for his master to go on with the long-
interrupted dictation. The face is square-cut, and the strongly-marked
features indicate a man in the prime of life. The mouth, wide and thin-
lipped, rises slightly towards the corners, which are lost in the
projecting muscles by which it is framed in. The cheeks are bony and lank;
the ears are thick and heavy, and stand out well from the head; the thick,
coarse hair is cut close above the brow. The eyes, which are large and well
open, owe their lifelike vivacity to an ingenious contrivance of the
ancient artist. The orbit has been cut out from the stone, the hollow being
filled with an eye composed of enamel, white and black. The edges of the
eyelids are of bronze, and a small silver nail inserted behind the iris
receives and reflects the light in such wise as to imitate the light of
life. The contours of the flesh are somewhat full and wanting in firmness,
as would be the case in middle life, if the man's occupation debarred him
from active exercise. The forms of the arm and back are in good relief; the
hands are hard and bony, with fingers of somewhat unusual length; and the
knees are sculptured with a minute attention to anatomical details. The
whole body is, as it were, informed by the expression of the face, and is
dominated by the attentive suspense which breathes in every feature. The
muscles of the arm, of the bust, and of the shoulder are caught in half
repose, and are ready to return at once to work. This careful observance of
the professional attitude, or the characteristic gesture, is equally marked
in the Gizeh Cross-legged Scribe, and in all the Ancient Empire statues
which I have had an opportunity of studying.

The Cross-legged Scribe of Gizeh (fig. 186) was discovered by M. de Morgan
at Sakkarah in the beginning of 1893. This statue exhibits a no less
surprising vigour and certainty of intention and execution on the part of
the sculptor than does its fellow of the Louvre, while representing a
younger man of full, firm, and supple figure.

[Illustration: Fig. 186. - The Cross-legged Scribe of Gizeh, from Sakkarah.]

Khafra is a king (fig. 187). He sits squarely upon his chair of state, his
hands upon his knees, his chest thrown forward, his head erect, his gaze
confident. Had the emblems of his rank been destroyed, and the inscription
effaced which tells his name, his bearing alone would have revealed the
Pharaoh. Every trait is characteristic of the man who from childhood
upwards has known himself to be invested with sovereign authority. Ranefer
belonged to one of the great feudal families of his time. He stands
upright, his arms down, his left leg forward, in the attitude of a prince
inspecting a march-past of his vassals. The countenance is haughty, the
attitude bold; but Ranefer does not impress us with the almost superhuman
calm and decision of Khafra.

[Illustration: Fig. 187. - King Khafra, Fourth Dynasty.]

[Illustration: Fig. 188. - Sheikh el Beled, Old Empire.]

[Illustration: Fig. 189. - Rahotep, Ancient Empire.]

General Rahotep[47] (fig. 189), despite his title and his high military
rank, looks as if he were of inferior birth. Stalwart and square-cut, he
has somewhat of the rustic in his physiognomy. Nefert, on the contrary
(fig. 190), was a princess of the blood royal; and her whole person is, as
it were, informed with a certain air of resolution and command, which the
sculptor has expressed very happily. She wears a close-fitting garment,
opening to a point in front. The shoulders, bosom, and bodily contours are
modelled under the drapery with a grace and reserve which it is impossible
to praise too highly. Her face, round and plump, is framed in masses of
fine black hair, confined by a richly-ornamented bandeau. This wedded pair
are in limestone, painted; the husband being coloured of a reddish brown
hue, and the wife of a tawny buff.

[Illustration: Fig. 190. - Nefert, wife of Rahotep, Ancient Empire.]

[Illustration: Fig. 191. - Head of the Sheikh el Beled.]

[Illustration: Fig. 192. - Wife of the Sheikh el Beled, Old Empire.]

[Illustration: Fig. 193. - The Kneeling Scribe, Old Empire.]

[Illustration: Fig. 194. - A Bread-maker, Old Empire.]

Turning to the "Sheikh el Beled" (figs. 188, 191), we descend several
degrees in the social scale. Raemka was a "superintendent of works," which
probably means that he was an overseer of corvée labour at the time of
building the great pyramids. He belonged to the middle class; and his whole
person expresses vulgar contentment and self-satisfaction. We seem to see
him in the act of watching his workmen, his staff of acacia wood in his
hand. The feet of the statue had perished, but have been restored. The body
is stout and heavy, and the neck thick. The head (fig. 191), despite its
vulgarity, does not lack energy. The eyes are inserted, like those of the
"Cross-legged Scribe." By a curious coincidence, the statue, which was
found at Sakkarah, happened to be strikingly like the local Sheikh el
Beled, or head-man, of the village. Always quick to seize upon the amusing
side of an incident, the Arab diggers at once called it the "Sheikh el
Beled," and it has retained the name ever since. The statue of his wife,
interred beside his own, is unfortunately mutilated. It is a mere trunk,
without legs or arms (fig. 192); yet enough remains to show that the figure
represented a good type of the Egyptian middle-class matron, commonplace in
appearance and somewhat acid of temper. The "Kneeling Scribe" of the Gizeh
collection (fig. 193) belongs to the lowest middle-class rank, such as it
is at the present day. Had he not been dead more than six thousand years, I
could protest that I had not long ago met him face to face, in one of the
little towns of Upper Egypt. He has just brought a roll of papyrus, or a
tablet covered with writing, for his master's approval. Kneeling in the
prescribed attitude of an inferior, his hands crossed, his shoulders
rounded, his head slightly bent forward, he waits till the great man shall
have read it through. Of what is he thinking? A scribe might feel some not
unreasonable apprehensions, when summoned thus into the presence of his
superior. The stick played a prominent part in official life, and an error
of addition, a fault in orthography, or an order misunderstood, would be
enough to bring down a shower of blows. The sculptor has, with inimitable
skill, seized that expression of resigned uncertainty and passive
gentleness which is the result of a whole life of servitude. There is a
smile upon his lips, but it is the smile of etiquette, in which there is no
gladness. The nose and cheeks are puckered up in harmony with the forced
grimace upon the mouth. His large eyes (again in enamel) have the fixed
look of one who waits vacantly, without making any effort to concentrate
his sight or his thoughts upon a definite object. The face lacks both
intelligence and vivacity; but his work, after all, called for no special
nimbleness of wit. Khafra is in diorite; Raemka and his wife are carved in
wood; the other statues named are of limestone; yet, whatever the material
employed, the play of the chisel is alike free, subtle, and delicate. The
head of the scribe and the bas-relief portrait of Pharaoh Menkaûhor, in the
Louvre, the dwarf Nemhotep (fig. 195), and the slaves who prepare food-
offerings at Gizeh, are in no wise inferior to the "Cross-legged Scribe" or
the "Sheikh el Beled." The baker kneading his dough (fig. 194) is
thoroughly in his work. His half-stooping attitude, and the way in which he
leans upon the kneading-trough, are admirably natural. The dwarf has a
big, elongated head, balanced by two enormous ears (fig. 195). He has a
foolish face, an ill-shapen mouth, and narrow slits of eyes, inclining
upwards to the temples. The bust is well developed, but the trunk is out of
proportion with the rest of his person. The artist has done his best to
disguise the lower limbs under a fine white tunic; but one feels that it is
too long for the little man's arms and legs.

[Illustration: Fig. 195. - The dwarf Nemhotep, Old Empire.]

[Illustration: Fig. 196. - One of the Tanis Sphinxes.]

The thighs could have existed only in a rudimentary form, and Nemhotep,
standing as best he can upon his misshapen feet, seems to be off his
balance, and ready to fall forward upon his face. It would be difficult to
find another work of art in which the characteristics of dwarfdom are more
cleverly reproduced.

The sculpture of the first Theban empire is in close connection with that
of Memphis. Methods, materials, design, composition, all are borrowed from
the elder school; the only new departure being in the proportions assigned
to the human figure. From the time of the Eleventh Dynasty, the legs become
longer and slighter, the hips smaller, the body and the neck more slender.
Works of this period are not to be compared with the best productions of
the earlier centuries. The wall-paintings of Siût, of Bersheh, of Beni
Hasan, and of Asûan, are not equal to those in the mastabas of Sakkarah and
Gizeh; nor are the most carefully-executed contemporary statues worthy to
take a place beside the "Sheikh el Beled" or the "Cross-legged Scribe."
Portrait statues of private persons, especially those found at Thebes, are,
so far as I have seen, decidedly bad, the execution being rude and the
expression vulgar. The royal statues of this period, which are nearly all
in black or grey granite, have been for the most part usurped by kings of
later date. Ûsertesen III., whose head and feet are in the Louvre, was
appropriated by Amenhotep III., as the sphinx of the Louvre and the colossi
of Gizeh were appropriated by Rameses II. Many museums possess specimens of
supposed Ramesside Pharaohs which, upon more careful inspection, we are
compelled to ascribe to the Thirteenth or Fourteenth Dynasty. Those of
undisputed identity, such as the Sebekhotep III. of the Louvre, the
Mermashiû of Tanis, the Sebekemsaf of Gizeh, and the colossi of the Isle of
Argo, though very skilfully executed, are wanting in originality and
vigour. One would say, indeed, that the sculptors had purposely endeavoured
to turn them all out after the one smiling and commonplace pattern. Great
is the contrast when we turn from these giant dolls to the black granite
sphinxes discovered by Mariette at Tanis in 1861, and by him ascribed to
the Hyksos period. Here energy, at all events, is not lacking. Wiry and
compact, the lion body is shorter than in sphinxes of the usual type. The
head, instead of wearing the customary "klaft," or head-gear of folded
linen, is clothed with an ample mane, which also surrounds the face. The
eyes are small; the nose is aquiline and depressed at the tip; the
cheekbones are prominent; the lower lip slightly protrudes. The general
effect of the face is, in short, so unlike the types we are accustomed to
find in Egypt, that it has been accepted in proof of an Asiatic origin
(fig. 196). These sphinxes are unquestionably anterior to the Eighteenth
Dynasty, because one of the kings of Avaris, named Apepi, has cut his name
upon the shoulder of each. Arguing from this fact, it was, however, too
hastily concluded that they are works of the time of that prince. On a
closer examination, we see that they had already been dedicated to some
Pharaoh of a yet earlier period, and that Apepi had merely usurped them;
and M. Golenischeff has shown that they were made for Amenemhat III., of
the Twelfth Dynasty, and with his features. Those so-called Hyksos
monuments may be the products of a local school, the origin of which may
have been independent, and its traditions quite different from the
traditions of the Memphite workshops. But except at Abydos, El Kab, Asûan,
and some two or three other places, the provincial art of ancient Egypt is
so little known to us that I dare not lay too much stress upon this
hypothesis. Whatever the origin of the Tanite School, it continued to exist
long after the expulsion of the Hyksos invaders, since one of its best
examples, a group representing the Nile of the North and the Nile of the
South, bearing trays laden with flowers and fish, was consecrated by
Pisebkhanû of the Twenty-first Dynasty.

[Illustration: Fig. 197. - Bas-relief head of Seti I.]

[Illustration: Fig. 198. - The god Amen, and Horemheb.]

[Illustration: Fig. 199. - Head of a Queen, Eighteenth Dynasty.]

The first three dynasties of the New Empire[48] have bequeathed us more
monuments than all the others put together. Painted bas-reliefs, statues of
kings and private persons, colossi, sphinxes, may be counted by hundreds
between the mouths of the Nile and the fourth cataract. The old sacerdotal
cities, Memphis, Thebes, Abydos, are naturally the richest; but so great
was the impetus given to art, that even remote provincial towns, such as
Abû Simbel, Redesîyeh, and Mesheikh, have their _chefs-d'oeuvre_, like the
great cities. The official portraits of Amenhotep I. at Turin, of Thothmes
I. and Thothmes III. at the British Museum, at Karnak, at Turin, and at
Gizeh, are conceived in the style of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Dynasties,
and are deficient in originality; but the bas-reliefs in temples and tombs
show a marked advance upon those of the earlier ages. The modelling is
finer; the figures are more numerous and better grouped; the relief is
higher; the effects of perspective are more carefully worked out. The wall-
subjects of Deir el Baharî, the tableaux in the tombs of Hûi, of Rekhmara,
of Anna, of Khamha, and of twenty more at Thebes, are surprisingly rich,
brilliant, and varied. Awakening to a sense of the picturesque, artists
introduced into their compositions all those details of architecture, of
uneven ground, of foreign plants, and the like, which formerly they
neglected, or barely indicated. The taste for the colossal, which had
fallen somewhat into abeyance since the time of the Great Sphinx, came once
again to the surface, and was developed anew. Amenhotep III. was not
content with statues of twenty-five or thirty feet in height, such as were
in favour among his ancestors. Those which he erected in advance of his
memorial chapel on the left bank of the Nile in Western Thebes, one of
which is the Vocal Memnon of the classic writers, sit fifty feet high. Each
was carved from a single block of sandstone, and they are as elaborately
finished as though they were of ordinary size. The avenues of sphinxes
which this Pharaoh marshalled before the temples of Luxor and Karnak do not
come to an end at fifty or a hundred yards from the gateway, but are
prolonged for great distances. In one avenue, they have the human head upon

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Online LibraryGaston Camille Charles MasperoManual of Egyptian Archaeology and Guide to the Study of Antiquities in Egypt → online text (page 13 of 21)