Gaston Camille Charles Maspero.

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

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the lion's body; in another, they are fashioned in the semblance of
kneeling rams. Khûenaten, the revolutionary successor of Amenhotep III.,
far from discouraging this movement, did what he could to promote it.
Never, perhaps, were Egyptian sculptors more unrestricted than by him at
Tell el Amarna. Military reviews, chariot-driving, popular festivals, state
receptions, the distribution of honours and rewards by the king in person,
representations of palaces, villas, and gardens, were among the subjects
which they were permitted to treat; and these subjects differed in so many
respects from traditional routine that they could give free play to their
fancy and to their natural genius. The spirit and gusto with which they
took advantage of their opportunities would scarcely be believed by one who
had not seen their works at Tell el Amarna. Some of their bas-reliefs are
designed in almost correct perspective; and in all, the life and stir of
large crowds are rendered with irreproachable truth. The political and
religious reaction which followed this reign arrested the evolution of art,
and condemned sculptors and painters to return to the observance of
traditional rules. Their personal influence and their teaching continued,
however, to make themselves felt under Horemheb, under Seti I., and even
under Rameses II. If, during more than a century, Egyptian art remained
free, graceful, and refined, that improvement was due to the school of Tell
el Amarna. In no instance perhaps did it produce work more perfect than the
bas-reliefs of the temple of Abydos, or those of the tomb of Seti I. The
head of the conqueror (fig. 197), always studied _con amore_, is a marvel
of reserved and sensitive grace. Rameses II. charging the enemy at Abû
Simbel is as fine as the portraits of Seti I., though in another style. The
action of the arm which brandishes the lance is somewhat angular, but the
expression of strength and triumph which animates the whole person of the
warrior king, and the despairing resignation of the vanquished, compensate
for this one defect. The group of Horemheb and the god Amen (fig. 198), in
the Museum of Turin, is a little dry in treatment. The faces of both god
and king lack expression, and their bodies are heavy and ill-balanced. The
fine colossi in red granite which Horemheb placed against the uprights of
the inner door of his first pylon at Karnak, the bas-reliefs on the walls
of his speos at Silsilis, his own portrait and that of one of the ladies of
his family now in the museum of Gizeh, are, so to say, spotless and
faultless. The queen's face (fig. 199) is animated and intelligent; the
eyes are large and prominent; the mouth is wide, but well shaped. This head
is carved in hard limestone of a creamy tint which seems to soften the
somewhat satirical expression of her eyes and smile. The king (fig. 200) is
in black granite; and the sombre hue of the stone at once produces a
mournful impression upon the spectator. His youthful face is pervaded by an
air of melancholy, such as we rarely see depicted in portraits of Pharaohs
of the great period. The nose is straight and delicate, the eyes are long,
the lips are large, full, somewhat contracted at the corners, and strongly
defined at the edges. The chin is overweighted by the traditional false
beard. Every detail is treated with as much skill as if the sculptor were
dealing with a soft stone instead of with a material which resisted the
chisel. Such, indeed, is the mastery of the execution, that one forgets the
difficulties of the task in the excellence of the results.

[Illustration: Fig. 200. - Head of Horemheb.]

[Illustration: Fig. 201. - Colossal statue of Rameses II., Luxor.]

It is unfortunate that Egyptian artists never signed their works; for the
sculptor of this portrait of Horemheb deserves to be remembered. Like the
Eighteenth Dynasty, the Nineteenth Dynasty delighted in colossi. Those of
Rameses II. at Luxor measured from eighteen to twenty feet in height (fig.
201); the colossal Rameses of the Ramesseum sat sixty feet high; and that
of Tanis about seventy.[49] The colossi of Abû Simbel, without being of
quite such formidable proportions, face the river in imposing array. To say
that the decline of Egyptian art began with Rameses II. is a commonplace of
contemporary criticism; yet nothing is less true than an axiom of this
kind. Many statues and bas-reliefs executed during his reign are no doubt
inconceivably rude and ugly; but these are chiefly found in provincial
towns where the schools were indifferent, and where the artists had no
fine examples before them. At Thebes, at Memphis, at Abydos, at Tanis, in
those towns of the Delta where the court habitually resided, and even at
Abû Simbel and Beit el Wally, the sculptors of Rameses II. yield nothing in
point of excellence to those of Seti I. and Horemheb. The decadence did not
begin till after the reign of Merenptah. When civil war and foreign
invasion brought Egypt to the brink of destruction, the arts, like all
else, suffered and rapidly declined. It is sad to follow their downward
progress under the later Ramessides, whether in the wall-subjects of the
royal tombs, or in the bas-reliefs of the temple of Khonsû, or on the
columns of the hypostyle hall at Karnak. Wood carving maintained its level
during a somewhat longer period. The admirable statuettes of priests and
children at Turin date from the Twentieth Dynasty. The advent of Sheshonk
and the internecine strife of the provinces at length completed the ruin of
Thebes, and the school which had produced so many masterpieces perished

[Illustration Fig. 202. - Queen Ameniritis.]

[Illustration: Fig. 203. - The goddess Thûeris. Saïte work.]

The Renaissance did not dawn till near the end of the Ethiopian Dynasty,
some three hundred years later. The over-praised statue of Queen
Ameniritis[50] (fig. 202) already manifests some noteworthy qualities. The
limbs, somewhat long and fragile, are delicately treated; but the head is
heavy, being over-weighted by the wig peculiar to goddesses. Psammetichus
I., when his victories had established him upon the throne, busied himself
in the restoration of the temples. Under his auspices, the valley of the
Nile became one vast studio of painting and sculpture. The art of engraving
hieroglyphs attained a high degree of excellence, fine statues and bas-
reliefs were everywhere multiplied, and a new school arose. A marvellous
command of material, a profound knowledge of detail, and a certain elegance
tempered by severity, are the leading characteristics of this new school.
The Memphites preferred limestone; the Thebans selected red or grey
granite; but the Saïtes especially attacked basalt, breccia, and
serpentine, and with these fine-grained and almost homogeneous substances,
they achieved extraordinary results. They seem to have sought difficulties
for the mere pleasure of triumphing over them; and we have proof of the way
in which artists of real merit bestowed years and years on the chasing of
sarcophagus lids and the carving of statues in blocks of the hardest
material. The Thûeris, and the four monuments from the tomb of
Psammetichus[51] in the Gizeh Museum, are the most remarkable objects
hitherto discovered in this class of work. Thûeris[52] (fig. 203) was the
especial protectress of maternity, and presided over childbirth. Her
portrait was discovered by some native sebakh diggers[53] in the midst of
the mounds of the ancient city of Thebes. She was found standing upright in
a little chapel of white limestone which had been dedicated to her by one
Pibesa, a priest, in the name of Queen Nitocris, daughter of Psammetichus
I. This charming hippopotamus, whose figure is perhaps more plump than
graceful, is a fine example of difficulties overcome; but I do not know
that she has any other merit. The group belonging to Psammetichus has at
all events some artistic value. It consists of four pieces of green basalt;
namely, a table of offerings, a statue of Osiris, a statue of Nephthys, and
a Hathor-cow supporting a statuette of the deceased (fig. 204). All four
are somewhat flaccid, somewhat artificial; but the faces of the divinities
and the deceased are not wanting in sweetness; the action of the cow is
good; and the little figure under her protection falls naturally into its
place. Certain other pieces, less known than these, are however far
superior. The Saïte style is easy of recognition. It lacks the breadth and
learning of the first Memphite school; it also lacks the grand, and
sometimes rude, manner of the great Theban school. The proportions of the
human body are reduced and elongated, and the limbs lose in vigour what
they gain in elegance. A noteworthy change in the choice of attitudes will
also be remarked. Orientals find repose in postures which would be
inexpressibly fatiguing to ourselves. For hours together they will kneel;
or sit tailor-wise, with the legs crossed and laid down flat to the ground;
or squat, sitting upon their heels, with no other support than is afforded
by that part of the sole of the foot which rests upon the ground; or they
will sit upon the floor with their legs close together, and their arms
crossed upon their knees. These four attitudes were customary among the
people from the time of the ancient empire.

[Illustration: Fig. 204. - Hathor-cow in green basalt. Saïte work.]

This we know from the bas-reliefs. But the Memphite sculptors, deeming the
two last ungraceful, excluded them from the domain of art, and rarely, if
ever, reproduced them. The "Cross-legged Scribe" of the Louvre and the
"Kneeling Scribe" of Gizeh show with what success they could employ the two
first. The third was neglected (doubtless for the same reason) by the
Theban sculptors. The fourth began to be currently adopted about the time
of the Eighteenth Dynasty.

[Illustration: Fig. 205. - Squatting statue of Pedishashi. Saïte work.]

It may be that this position was not in fashion among the moneyed classes,
which alone could afford to order statues; or it may be that the artists
themselves objected to an attitude which caused their sitters to look like
square parcels with a human head on the top. The sculptors of the Saïte
period did not inherit that repugnance. They have at all events combined
the action of the limbs in such wise as may least offend the eye, and the
position almost ceases to be ungraceful. The heads also are modelled to
such perfection that they make up for many shortcomings. That of Pedishashi
(fig. 205) has an expression of youth and intelligent gentleness such as we
seldom meet with from an Egyptian hand. Other heads, on the contrary, are
remarkable for their almost brutal frankness of treatment. In the small
head of a scribe (fig. 206), lately purchased for the Louvre, and in
another belonging to Prince Ibrahim at Cairo, the wrinkled brow, the
crow's-feet at the corners of the eyes, the hard lines about the mouth,
and the knobs upon the skull, are brought out with scrupulous fidelity. The
Saïte school was, in fact, divided into two parties. One sought inspiration
in the past, and, by a return to the methods of the old Memphite school,
endeavoured to put fresh life into the effeminate style of the day. This it
accomplished, and so successfully, that its works are sometimes mistaken
for the best productions of the Fourth and Fifth Dynasties. The other,
without too openly departing from established tradition, preferred to study
from the life, and thus drew nearer to nature than in any previous age.
This school would, perhaps, have prevailed, had Egyptian art not been
directed into a new channel by the Macedonian conquest, and by centuries of
intercourse with the Greeks.

[Illustration: Fig. 206. - Head of a scribe. Saïte work.]

[Illustration: Fig. 207. - Colossus of Alexander II.]

The new departure was of slow development. Sculptors began by clothing the
successors of Alexander in Egyptian garb and transforming them into
Pharaohs, just as they had in olden time transformed the Hyksos and the
Persians. Works dating from the reigns of the first Ptolemies scarcely
differ from those of the best Saïte period, and it is only here and there
that we detect traces of Greek influence. Thus, the colossus of Alexander
II., at Gizeh (fig. 207), wears a flowing head-dress, from beneath which
his crisp curls have found their way. Soon, however, the sight of Greek
masterpieces led the Egyptians of Alexandria, of Memphis, and of the cities
of the Delta to modify their artistic methods. Then arose a mixed school,
which combined certain elements of the national art with certain other
elements borrowed from Hellenic art. The Alexandrian Isis of the Gizeh
Museum is clad as the Isis of Pharaonic times; but she has lost the old
slender shape and straitened bearing. A mutilated effigy of a Prince of
Siût, also at Gizeh, would almost pass for an indifferent Greek statue.

[Illustration: Fig. 208. - Statue of Hor, Graeco-Egyptian.]

[Illustration: Fig. 209. - Group from Naga.]

The most forcible work of this hybrid class which has come down to us is
the portrait-statue of one Hor (fig. 208), discovered in 1881 at the foot
of Kom ed Damas, the site of the tomb of Alexander. The head is good,
though in a somewhat dry style. The long, pinched nose, the close-set eyes,
the small mouth with drawn-in corners, the square chin, - every feature, in
short, contributes to give a hard and obstinate character to the face. The
hair is closely cropped, yet not so closely as to prevent it from dividing
naturally into thick, short curls. The body, clothed in the chlamys, is
awkwardly shapen, and too narrow for the head. One arm hangs pendent; the
other is brought round to the front; the feet are lost. All these monuments
are the results of few excavations; and I do not doubt that the soil of
Alexandria would yield many such, if it could be methodically explored. The
school which produced them continued to draw nearer and nearer to the
schools of Greece, and the stiff manner, which it never wholly lost, was
scarcely regarded as a defect at an epoch when certain sculptors in the
service of Rome especially affected the archaic style. I should not be
surprised if those statues of priests and priestesses wearing divine
insignia, with which Hadrian adorned the Egyptian rooms of his villa at
Tibur, might not be attributed to the artists of this hybrid school. In
those parts which were remote from the Delta, native art, being left to its
own resources, languished, and slowly perished. Nor was this because Greek
models, or even Greek artists, were lacking. In the Thebaid, in the Fayûm,
at Syene, I have both discovered and purchased statuettes and statues of
Hellenic style, and of correct and careful execution. One of these, from
Coptos, is apparently a miniature replica of a Venus analogous to the Venus
of Milo. But the provincial sculptors were too dull, or too ignorant, to
take such advantage of these models as was taken by their Alexandrian
brethren. When they sought to render the Greek suppleness of figure and
fulness of limb, they only succeeded in missing the rigid but learned
precision of their former masters. In place of the fine, delicate, low
relief of the old school, they adopted a relief which, though very
prominent, was soft, round, and feebly modelled. The eyes of their
personages have a foolish leer; the nostrils slant upwards; the corners of
the mouth, the chin, and indeed all the features, are drawn up as if
converging towards a central point, which is stationed in the middle of the
ear. Two schools, each independent of the other, have bequeathed their
works to us. The least known flourished in Ethiopia, at the court of the
half-civilised kings who resided at Meroë. A group brought from Naga in
1882, and now in the Gizeh collection, shows the work of this school during
the first century of our era (fig. 209). A god and a queen, standing side
by side, are roughly cut in a block of grey granite. The work is coarse and
heavy, but not without energy. Isolated and lost in the midst of savage
tribes, the school which produced it sank rapidly into barbarism, and
expired towards the end of the age of the Antonines. The Egyptian school,
sheltered by the power of Rome, survived a little longer. As sagacious as
the Ptolemies, the Caesars knew that by flattering the religious prejudices
of their Egyptian subjects they consolidated their own rule in the valley
of the Nile. At an enormous cost, they restored and rebuilt the temples of
the national gods, working after the old plans and in the old spirit of
Pharaonic times. The great earthquake of B.C. 22 had destroyed Thebes,
which now became a mere place of pilgrimage, whither devotees repaired to
listen to the voice of Memnon at the rising of Aurora. But at Denderah and
Ombos, Tiberius and Claudius finished the decoration of the great temples.
Caligula worked at Coptos, and the Antonines enriched Esneh and Philae. The
gangs of workmen employed in their names were still competent to cut
thousands of bas-reliefs according to the rules of the olden time. Their
work was feeble, ungraceful, absurd, inspired solely by routine; yet it was
founded on antique tradition - tradition enfeebled and degenerate, but still
alive. The troubles which convulsed the third century of our era, the
incursions of barbarians, the progress and triumph of Christianity, caused
the suspension of the latest works and the dispersion of the last
craftsmen. With them died all that yet survived of the national art.[54]

[42] The classic Syene, from all time the southernmost portion of Egypt
proper. The Sixth Dynasty is called the Elephantine, from the island
immediately facing Syene which was the traditional seat of the
Dynasty, and on which the temples stood. The tombs of Elephantine were
discovered by General Sir F. Grenfell, K.C.B., in 1885, in the
neighbouring cliffs of the Libyan Desert: see foot-note p. 149. -

[43] For an explanation of the nature of the Double, see Chapter III., pp.
111-112, 121 _et seq._

[44] Known as the "Scribe accroupi," literally the "Squatting Scribe"; but
in English, squatting, as applied to Egyptian art, is taken to mean
the attitude of sitting with the knees nearly touching the chin.
- A.B.E.

[45] "The Sheikh of the Village." This statue was best known in England as
the "Wooden Man of Bûlak." - A.B.E.

[46] The Greek Chephren.

[47] I venture to think that the heads of Rahotep and Nefert, engraved from
a brilliant photograph in _A Thousand Miles up the Nile_, give a
truer and more spirited idea of the originals than the present
illustrations, - A.B.E.

[48] That is, the Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth Dynasties.
- A.B.E.

[49] According to the measurements given by Mr. Petrie, who discovered the
remains of the Tanite colossus, it must have stood ninety feet high
without, and one hundred and twenty feet high with, its pedestal. See
_Tanis_, Part I., by W.M.F. Petrie, published by the Egypt
Exploration Fund, 1885. - A.B.E.

[50] Ameniritis, daughter of an Ethiopian king named Kashta, was the sister
and successor of her brother Shabaka, and wife of Piankhi II., Twenty-
fifth Dynasty. The statue is in alabaster. - A.B.E.

[51] A Memphite scribe of the Thirtieth Dynasty. - A.B.E.

[52] In Egyptian _Ta-ûrt_, or "the Great;" also called _Apet_.
This goddess is always represented as a hippopotamus walking. She
carries in each hand the emblem of protection, called "_Sa_." The
statuette of the illustration is in green serpentine. - A.B.E.

[53] _Sebakh_, signifying "salt," or "saltpetre," is the general
term for that saline dust which accumulates wherever there are mounds
of brick or limestone ruins. This dust is much valued as a manure, or
"top-dressing," and is so constantly dug out and carried away by the
natives, that the mounds of ancient towns and villages are rapidly
undergoing destruction in all parts of Egypt. - A.B.E.

[54] For an example of Graeco-Egyptian portrait painting, _tempo_
Hadrian, see p. 291.



I have treated briefly of the Noble Arts; it remains to say something of
the Industrial Arts. All classes of society in Egypt were, from an early
period, imbued with the love of luxury, and with a taste for the beautiful.
Living or dead, the Egyptian desired to have jewels and costly amulets upon
his person, and to be surrounded by choice furniture and elegant utensils.
The objects of his daily use must be distinguished, if not by richness of
material, at least by grace of form; and in order to satisfy his
requirements, the clay, the stone, the metals, the woods, and other
products of distant lands were laid under contribution.


[Illustration: Fig. 210. - The _Ta_, or girdle-buckle of Isis.]

[Illustration: Fig. 211. - Frog amulet.]

[Illustration: Fig. 212. - The _Ûat_, or lotus-column amulet.]

[Illustration: Fig. 213. - An _Ûta_, or sacred eye.]

[Illustration: Fig. 214. - A scarabaeus.]

It is impossible to pass through a gallery of Egyptian antiquities without
being surprised by the prodigious number of small objects in _pietra dura_
which have survived till the present time. As yet we have found neither the
diamond, the ruby, nor the sapphire; but with these exceptions, the domain
of the lapidary was almost as extensive as at the present day. That domain
included the amethyst, the emerald, the garnet, the aquamarine, the
chrysoprase, the innumerable varieties of agate and jasper, lapis lazuli,
felspar, obsidian; also various rocks, such as granite, serpentine, and
porphyry; certain fossils, as yellow amber and some kinds of turquoise;
organic remains, as coral, mother-of-pearl, and pearls; metallic ores and
carbonates, such as hematite and malachite, and the calaite, or Oriental
turquoise. These substances were for the most part cut in the shape of
round, square, oval, spindle-shaped, pear-shaped, or lozenge-shaped beads.
Strung and arranged row above row, these beads were made into necklaces,
and are picked up by myriads in the sands of the great cemeteries at
Memphis, Erment, Ekhmîm, and Abydos. The perfection with which many are
cut, the deftness with which they are pierced, and the beauty of the
polish, do honour to the craftsmen who made them. But their skill did not
end here. With the point, saw, drill, and grindstone, they fashioned these
materials into an infinity of shapes - hearts, human fingers, serpents,
animals, images of divinities. All these were amulets; and they were
probably less valued for the charm of the workmanship than for the
supernatural virtues which they were supposed to possess. The girdle-buckle
in carnelian (fig. 210) symbolised the blood of Isis, and washed away the
sins of the wearer. The frog (fig. 211) was emblematic of renewed birth.
The little lotus-flower column in green felspar (fig. 212) typified the
divine gift of eternal youth. The "Ûat," or sacred eye (fig. 213), tied to
the wrist or the arm by a slender string, protected against the evil eye,
against words spoken in envy or anger, and against the bites of serpents.
Commerce dispersed these objects throughout all parts of the ancient world,
and many of them, especially those which represented the sacred beetle,
were imitated abroad by the Phoenicians and Syrians, and by the craftsmen
of Greece, Asia Minor, Etruria, and Sardinia. This insect was called
_kheper_ in Egyptian, and its name was supposed to be derived from the root
_khepra_, "to become." By an obvious play upon words, the beetle was made
the emblem of terrestrial life, and of the successive "becomings" or
developments of man in the life to come. The scarabaeus amulet (fig. 214)
is therefore a symbol of duration, present or future; and to wear one was
to provide against annihilation. A thousand mystic meanings were evolved
from this first idea, each in some subtle sense connected with one or other
of the daily acts or usages of life, so that scarabaei were multiplied _ad
infinitum_. They are found in all materials and sizes; some having hawks'
heads, some with rams' heads, some with heads of men or bulls. Some are
wrought or inscribed on the underside; others are left flat and plain
underneath; and others again but vaguely recall the form of the insect, and
are called scarabaeoids. These amulets are pierced longwise, the hole being
large enough to admit the passage of a fine wire of bronze or silver, or of
a thread, for suspension. The larger sort were regarded as images of the

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Online LibraryGaston Camille Charles MasperoManual of Egyptian Archaeology and Guide to the Study of Antiquities in Egypt → online text (page 14 of 21)