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* Ibid, plate 78. It is in this division into nineteen parts that M. Blanc finds
his proof that the medius of the extended hand was the canonical unit.
{Grammairey &c. p. 46.)

* At Kamak, in the granite apartments. See Charles Blanc, Voyage de la
Haute- Agypte^ p. 232. Two figures upon the ceiling of a tomb at Assouan are
similarly divided. ^ Lepsius, Denkmceler^ part iii. p. 282.

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3i8 A History of Art in Ancient Egypt.

To surmount the difficulty the theory of successive canons was
started ; some declared for two,^ some for three.*^ This theory
requires explanation also. Do its advocates mean that in all the
figures of a single epoch there is a scale of proportion so constant
that we must seek for its cause in an external peremptory regu-
lation ? If, however, we doubt the evidence of our eyes and
study the plates in Lepsius or the monuments in our museums,
measure in hand, we shall see at once that no such theory will
hold water. Under the Ancient Empire proportions varied appre-
ciably between one figure and another. As a rule they were
short rather than tall ; but while on the one hand we encounter
certain forms of very squat proportions, amounting almost to
deformity (Fig. 1 20, Vol. I.), we also find some whose forms are very
lengthy (Fig. 10 1, Vol. L). The artists of Thebes adopted a more
slender type, but with them too we find nothing like a rigorous
uniformity. Again, the elongation of the lower part of the body
is much more strongly marked in the funerary statuettes (Fig. 50,
Vol. I.) and in the paintings (Plate XI I.) than in statues of the natural
size (Figs. 211,216) and in the colossi. If there had been a canon
in the proper sense of the term its authority would have applied
as much to those statuettes and bas-reliefs as to the full-sized
figures. But, as a fact, the freedom of the artist is obvious ; his
conception is modified only by the material in which he worked.
He could not make a great statue in stone too slender below, as it
would want base and solidity ; but as soon as he was easy on that
score he allowed himself to be carried away by the temptation to
exaggerate what seemed to him an especially graceful feature.

We see, then, that art in Egypt went through pretty much the
same changes and developments as in other countries in which
it enjoyed a long and busy life. Taste changed with the centuries.
It began by insisting on muscular vigour, as displayed in great
breadth of shoulder and thickset proportions generally. In later
years elegance became the chief object, and slenderness of pro-
portion was sometimes pushed even to weakness. In each of
these periods all plastic figures naturally approached the type
which happened to be in fashion, and in that sense alone is it

1 Ebers, ^gypten^ vol. il p. 54. Prisse, Histoire de PArt ^gyptien, text,
pp. 124-128.

2 Lepsius, Ueber einige Kuntsformen^ p. 9. Birch, in Wilkinson's Manners and
Customsy vol. ii. Lepsius, Denkmaler^ part ii. pi. 9, p. 270, note 3.

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The Principal Conventions in Egyptian Sculpture. 319

just to assert that Egyptian art had two different and successive

The question as to whether the Egyptians ever adopted a unit
of measurement in their rendering of the human figure or not, is
different. Wilkinson and Lepsius thought they had discovered
such a unit in the length of the foot, Prisse and Ch. Blanc in that
of the medius. There is nothing in the texts to support either
theory, and an examination of the monuments themselves shows
that sometimes one, sometimes the other of the two units, is most
in accordance with their measurements. Between the Ancient
Empire and the New proportions differed so greatly that it is
impossible to refer them to one unit. Among the works of a
single period we find some that may be divided exactly by one of
the two ; others which have a fraction too much or too little. It
has not yet been proved, therefore, that the Egyptians ever adopted
such a rigorous system as that attributed to them. Like all races
that have greatly practised design, they established certain rela-
tions between one part of their figures and another, relations
which gradually became more constant as the national art lost its
freedom and vitality ; and they arrived at last at the mechanical
reproduction of a single figure without troubling themselves to
calculate how many lengths of the head, the nose, the foot, or
the medius, it might contain. Their eyes were their compasses,
and they worked — at least under the New Empire and during the
Graeco- Roman period — from models which represented the expe-
rience of the past. It is therefore unnecessary to search for an
explanation of the uniformity which characterises their works in
the following of a rigid mathematical system ; we must be content
to see in it the natural result of an artistic education into which, as
the centuries succeeded one another, the imitation of previous
types, and the application of traditional recipes entered more
and more.

As for the designs traced within lines which cross each other at
regular intervals, they can be nothing but drawings squared for
transferring purposes. Squaring is the usual process employed
by artists when they wish to repeat a figure in different dimensions
from those of the original. Having divided the latter by hori-
zontal and perpendicular lines cutting each other at regular
intervals, they go through the same operation upon the blank
surface to which the figure is to be transferred, making the lines

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320 A History of Art in Ancient Egypt.

equal in number to those upon the original, but the resulting-
squares larger if the copy is to be larger, smaller if it is to be
smaller, than that original. Egyptian decorators often made use
of this process for the transference of sketches upon papyrus,
stone, or wood, to the wall. Of this practice we give two
examples. The first is an elaborate composition in which several
modifications and corrections of lines and attitudes may be traced
(Fig. 258) ; the second is an isolated figure (Fig. 259). In each
case the figures extend vertically over nineteen squares. The
first dates from the eighteenth, the second from the nineteenth

Fig. 258. — Design transferred by squaring. From Prisse.

The same device is sometimes made use of to transfer heads,
and even animals, from a small sketch to the wall. In the tomb
of Amenophis III., in the Bab-el-Molouk, there is a fine portrait
of a prince thus squared ;^ at Beni- Hassan we find a cow and an
antelope treated in the same fashion.*

Traces of another and yet more simple process are to be found.
Before drawing the figures in his bas-reliefs the artist sometimes
marked in red on the walls the vertical and horizontal lines
which would give the poise of the body, the height of the
shoulders and armpits, and of the lower edge of the drawers.
The positions of secondary anatomical points were marked upon

* Prisse, Hisioire de P Art £gyptien, 2 Lepsius, Denkmcelery part iii. pi. 70.

* Ibid, plate 152.

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The Principal Conventions in Egyptian Sculpture. 321

these lines, and the whole formed a rough guide for the hand of
the designer.^

The fact that these lines and squares are only found upon a
small number of paintings and bas-reliefs does not prove that
their employment was in any way exceptional. It is probable
that one of the two processes was generally used, but that the
colour spread both upon figures and ground hides their traces.
The few pictures in which they are now to be traced were never

Most of the painters and sculp-
tors to whom the decorations of
tombs and temples were confided
must have had recourse to these
contrivances, but here and there
were artists who had sufficient
skill and self-confidence to make
their sketches directly upon the
wall itself. More than one in-
stance of this has been dis-
covered in those Theban tombs
whose decorations were left un-
finished. In a few cases the
design has been made in red
chalk by a journeyman and after-
wards corrected, in black chalk,
by the master.^

As the bas-relief was thus

preceded by a sketch which Fig. 259. -Design transferred by squaring.

was more or less liable to modi- ^^^ ^"^*®-

fication, it would seem probable

that a similar custom obtained in the case of the statue. It
appears especially unlikely that those great figures in the harder

1 Prisse, Histoire de PArt £gyptien, text, p. 123. Lepsius, Denkmaler, pL 65.

2 Upon the preparation of the bas-relief, see Belzoni, Narrative of the
Operations^ etc. p. 175.

Prisse gives several interesting examples of these corrected designs, among others
a fine portrait of Seti I. {Histoire, etc. vol. ii.)

" Examples of these corrections are to be found in sculpture as well as in painting.
Our examination of the sculptures at Karnak showed that the artist did not always
follow the first sketch traced in red ink, but that as the work progressed he modified
it, and allowed himself to be guided, to some extent, by the effects which he saw


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322 A History of Art in Ancient Egypt.

rocks which represented such an enormous outlay of manual
labour, would be attacked without some guide which should pre-
serve them from the chance of ruin by some ill-considered blow.
Did the Egyptian sculptor begin, then, with a clay sketch ?
There is no positive information on the subject, but in all those
numerous bas-reliefs which represent sculptors at work, there is
not one in which the artist has before him anything in the shape
of a model or sketch to guide him in his task. It is possible
that the sameness of his statues, especially of his colossal figures
in granite or sandstone, enabled the Egyptian to dispense with
an aid which the infinite variety of later schools was to render

The Egyptian sculptor was contented with a few simple
attitudes which he reproduced again and again. He doubtless
began by marking the salient points and relative heights of the
different parts upon his block. The rock was so hard that there
was little risk of his journeymen spoiling the material by taking
away too much, supposing them to be carefully overlooked.
Marble would have been far more liable to such an accident.
Even Michael Angelo, when he worked the marble with his own
hands, spoilt more than one fine block from Carrara.

Although we have no evidence to show that the Egyptians
understood the use of clay models, we have some idea of the
process by which they were enabled to do without them, and of
the nature of their professional education. The chief Egyptian
museums possess works which have been recognized as graduated
exercises in the technique of sculpture. They are of limestone,
and of no great size — from four to ten inches high. The use of
these little models is shown to have been almost universal by the
fact that Mariette found them on nearly every ancient site
that he excavated. Their true character is beyond doubt. ^ At
Boulak there are twenty-seven sculptured slabs which were found
at Tanis. One is no more than a rough sketch, just begun. By
its side is a completed study of the same subjects. Some of these
slabs are carved on both sides ; on others we find one motive

growing under his hands. The western wall of the hypostyle hall contains many
instances of this. It is decorated with sculptures on a large scale, in which the
lines traced by the chisel differ more or less from those of the sketch. {Descripfion^
Ant vol. ii. p. 445.)

^ Mariette, Notice du Musee^ Nos. 623-688.

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The Principal Conventions in Egyptian Sculpture. 323

treated twice, side by side, once in the state of first sketch, and
again as a finished study. The plaques which bear the heads of
cynocephali, of lions and lionesses, are remarkable for the free-
dom of their execution (Figs. 260, 261, and 262).^ The same

Fig. 260. — Head of a Cynocephalus.

may be said of fifteen royal heads found at Sakkarah. They
should be examined together. They range ^ in order from No. 623,
which is a roughly-blocked-out sketch, to 637, a finished head.

Fig. 261. — Head of a Lion. Fig. 262. — Head of a Lioness.

One of these models is divided down the middle, so as to give

accent to the profile. A few of them are squared in order to test

the proportions. But even here no canon of proportion is to be

* Nos. 652-654 of the Notice du Mush, ^ j^ the Boulak catalogue.

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324 A History of Art in Ancient Egypt.

found. **If the squares were based upon some unchanging unit,
they would be identical in every model in which they occur. But
in one of these heads we find three horizontal divisions between
the uraeus and the chin ; in another four. In most cases the
number of the squares seems to have been entirely due to the
individual caprice or convenience of the artist. There are but
two examples in which another rule seems to have been followed ;
in them the proportions of the squares are identical, and their
intersections fall upon the same points. All that may be
fairly deduced from this, however, is that they are the work
of the same hands." ^ A second series of royal heads was found
at Tanis ; others have been discovered in the Fayoum. Boulak
also possesses models of the ram, the jackal, and the uraeus, of
arms, legs, hands, etc. Upon a plaque from Tanis the figure of
Isis appears twice, once as a sketch and once as a finished study.

From the style of these remains Mariette is disposed to think
that they were not earlier than the Saite epoch. As the Egyptian
intellect gradually lost its inventive powers, the study of such
models as these must have played a more and more important
part in artistic education ; but we have no reason to believe that
their use was confined to the later ages of the monarchy. As
artists became accustomed to reproduce certain fixed types, they
gradually lost their familiarity with nature, and their works became
ever more uniform and monotonous. This tendency is to be
easily recognized in Egyptian work long before the days of Amasis
and the Psemetheks ; in some degree it is found even in the
productions of the Ancient Empire. The use of the models in
question may have become general at the beginning of the Middle
Empire. But their introduction was not due to the priests, but to
the masters in the arts, who saw that they offered a sure and rapid
method of instructing their scholars.

Yet one more cause of the monotony of type which distinguished
Egyptian art after its first renascence remains to be noticed. The
Egyptians were fully conscious of the great antiquity of their
civilization. They thought of other nations much as the Greeks
and Romans of a later age thought of those whom they called
barbarians. When the scribes had to speak of foreigners they

^ Mariette, La Galerie de V&gypte Ancienne h r Exposition du Trocad^ro^
pp. 69, 70.

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The Principal Conventions in Egyptian Sculpture. 325

made use of a complete vocabulary of contemptuous terms, and,
as always occurs, the pride of race upon which they were based
long survived the condition of things which formed its justification.
The Greek conquest was necessary to cure the Egyptians of their
disdain, or, at least, to compel them to hide it Now the visible
sign of their superiority was the beauty of the national type, as
elaborated by judicious selection and represented in art since the
earliest days of the monarchy. The Egyptian was proud of him-
self when he compared the refined features of his gods and kings,
their graceful attitudes and smiling looks, with the thick and heavy
lines of the negro or the hard and truculent features of the Libyan
and the Syrian nomad. In attempting to innovate, some danger
of lowering the nobility of the type would be incurred. The
pressure of neighbouring races ended by throwing back the
Egyptian frontiers. At one time they were forcibly curtailed
by victorious invasion ; at others they were weakened here and
there, allowing the entrance of the shepherds, of foreign merchants,
and of mercenaries of various nationalities. The purity of the
Egyptian blood was menaced, and at all hazards it was necessary
to preserve without alteration the ideal image of the race, the
concrete emblem of its glorious past and the pledge of its high
destinies. It was thus that in Egypt progress was hampered
by fear of retrogression. Perfection is impossible to those who
fear a fall.

Another obstacle that helped to prevent the Egyptians from
reaching the perfection which their early achievements seemed
to promise, was their love for colour. They did not establish a
sufficiently sharp line of demarcation between painting and
sculpture. They always painted their statues, except when they
carved them in materials which had a rich natural hue of their
own, a hue to which additional vivacity was given by a high
polish. By this means varied tints were obtained which were
in harmony with the polychromatic decoration which was so near
their hearts. Their excuse is to be found in their ignorance of
statuary marble and of the clear and flesh-like tones and texture
which it puts on under the sculptor's chisel.

The Egyptians, however, never committed the fault of colouring
their statues in an imitative fashion, like those who make wax
figures. Their hues were always conventional. Moreover, they
were never either broken or shaded, which is sufficient to show

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326 A History of Art in Ancient Egypt.

that no idea of realistic imitation was implied in their use.^
Sculpture is founded upon an artificial understanding by which
tangible form and visible colour are dissociated from each other.
When the sculptor looks to the help of the painter he runs great
risk of failing to give all the precision and beauty of which form
by itself is capable, to his work. Even the Greeks did not grasp
this truth at once. The Egyptians had at least a glimmering of
it, and we must thank them for having employed polychromy
in their sculpture in a discreet fashion.

§ ID. The General Characteristics of the Egyptian Style.

We have attempted to give an idea of the origin of Greek
sculpture, of its development and its decadence. We have
noticed those slow changes of taste and style which sometimes
required a thousand years for their evolution, for a century in
Egypt was hardly equal to a generation elsewhere. After proving
that Egypt did not escape the universal law of change, we studied
the methods and conventions which were peculiar to her sculptors
and impressed their works with certain common characteristics.
The union of these characteristics formed the Egyptian style.
We must now define that style, and attempt to make its originality
clear to our readers.

In its commencement Egyptian art was entirely realistic. It
was made realistic both by the conceptions which presided at its
birth and by the wants which it was called upon to satisfy. The
task to which it applied itself with a skill and conscience which are
little less than marvellous, was the exact representation of all that
met its vision. In the bas-relief it reproduced the every-day
scenes of agricultural life and of the national worship ; in the
statue it portrayed individuals with complete fidelity. But even
in those early ages imagination was not asleep. It was continually
seeking to invent forms which should interpret its favourite ideas.
It figured the exploits of the king, the defender of the national
civilization, in the form of a warrior brandishing his mace over the
heads of his enemies. In the royal statues everything combined to
mark the gulf between the Pharaoh and his subjects, their materials,

^ Ch. Blanc, Voyage de la Haute-^gypte, p. 99.

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The General Characteristics of the Egyptian Style. 327

size, attitude, and expression, although in natural life there can
have been no such distinction. Finally the Great Sphinx at Gizeh
is sufficient to prove that the Egyptians, in their endeavour to
make the great deities whom they had conceived visible to
the eye, had attempted to create composite types of which the
elements were indeed existent in nature, but separate and distinct.

After the first renascence their imaginations played more freely.
They multiplied the combinations under which their gods were
personified. They transformed and idealized the human figure
by the gigantic proportions which they gave to it in the seated
statues of the king, and in those upright colossi in which the
majesty of Pharaoh and the divinity of Osiris are combined in
one individual. The sculptors portrayed the king in attitudes
which had never been seen by mortal eyes. Sometimes he is
seated upon the knee of a goddess and drawing nourishment from
her breast ; sometimes he bends, like a respectful and loving son,
before his father Amen, who blesses him, and seems by his gesture
to convey to him some of his own omnipotence and immortality.
Again he is presented to us in the confusion of battle, towering so
high above his adversaries that we can only wonder how they had
the temerity to stand up against him. Events hardly passed thus
in those long and arduous campaigns against the Khetas and the
People of the sea, in which more than one of the Theban Pharaohs
spent their lives. Victory, when it was victory, was long and
hotly disputed. Superiority of discipline and armament told at
last and decided the contest in favour of the Egyptians, who were
inferior in strength and stature to most of their enemies, especially
to those who came from Asia Minor and the Grecian islands.

It is hardly just, therefore, to say, as has been said,^ that
** Egyptian art had only one aim, the exact rendering of reality ;
in it all qualities of observation are developed to their utmost
capabilities, those of imagination are wanting." Egyptian art is
not like the sensitized plate of the photographer. It does not
confine itself to the faithful reproduction of the objects placed
before it. Painters and sculptors were not content, as has been
pretended, with the art that can be seen, as opposed to the art that
can be imagined, and an injustice is done to them by those who
would confine the latter to the Aryan race. The apparent
precision of such an assertion makes it all the more misleading.
^ E. Melchior de VoGui, Chez les Fharaons,

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328 A History of Art in Ancient Egypt.

Egyptian art was realistic in its inception and always remained
so to a certain degree, but with the passage of time the creative
intellect began to play a part in the production of plastic works ;
it added to and combined the elements which it took from nature,
and thus created imaginary beings which differed from natural fact
by their proportions, their beauty, and their composition. The
Egyptian artist had his ideal as well as the Greek.

In saying, then, that the art of Egypt was realistic, we have
only laid the first stone of the definition we wish to establish. Its
original character was, perhaps, still more due to another feature,
namely to its elimination or suppression of detail. This elimina-
tion, far from diminishing with time, went on increasing as the
country grew older. It may be traced to the action of two causes.
In the first place, the influence of the ideographic writing upon
the national style can hardly be exaggerated. The concrete
images of things could only be introduced into it by means of
simplification and generalization. In such a school the eye learnt
to despoil form of all those details which were merely accidental,
of all that made it particular. It sought for the species, or even
the genus, rather than the individual. This tendency was increased
by the peculiar properties of the materials upon which the
Egyptians lavished their skill and patience. The harder rocks
turned the edges of their bronze chisels, and compelled them to
choose between roughly-blocked-out sketches and a laborious
polish which obliterated all those minor details of modelling which
should vary according to the sex, the age, and the muscular
exertion of the persons represented. We see, then, that the
rebellious nature of the granite, and the imperfect methods which
it imposed, completed the lessons begun by that system of figured
writing which dates from the remotest periods of Egyptian

There is an obvious contradiction between the tendency which
we have just noticed, and those habits of realistic imitation whose

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