Klajdi Selimaj HUN192. Oct. 23 , 2009

Klajdi Selimaj
Oct. 23rd, 2009
Essay: MET
The Classical Artisan in Ancient Egypt
Egypt, one of the most ancient civilizations, has a magnificent history of art and one of the
wonders of the world: the pyramids of Giza. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET), includes a big
collection of Egyptian art which provides anyone the chance to see and experience for themselves the
uniqueness of such ancient art. During my visit to the MET, I was fascinated with the Egyptian
collection and the history which they represented. A few things I noticed was: the amount of gold
which they used in either sculptures, paintings, or everyday material (jewelry, clothing, decoration,
etc), and the details in the sculptures.
Most of the Egyptian art, if not all of it, is filled with their mythology, and belief system to their
gods and the afterlife. Egyptians believed that beyond this life, there is another one in which we
continue living; for such reasons after an important person (mostly kings) would die, they prepared
with rituals and prayers for the person's journey to the afterlife. According to Jefferson Monet, after the
person has died, the mummification ritual would proceed; they would remove the internal organs from
the body, and they would wrap the body with layers of linen bandages. After this process was complete
they would insert the mummy into a sarcophagus. 1
Ernst Hans Gombrich
says "The Egyptians held the belief that the preservation of the body was
not enough. If the likeness of the king was also preserved, it was doubly sure that he would continue to
exist forever. So they ordered sculptors to chisel the king's head out of hard, imperishable granite, and
put it in the tomb where no one saw it, there to work its spell and to help his Soul to keep alive in and
Monet, Jefferson. "An Overview of Mummification in Ancient Egypt." Egypt Travel, Tours,
Vacations, Ancient Egypt from Tour Egypt. 2005. Web. 21 Oct. 2009.
through the image. One Egyptian word for sculptor was actually 'He-who-keeps-alive'”2.
Indeed, if we look at this sarcophagus picture, we can
see the body details sculptured in it. These sarcophagi seem
to be made of stone and paintings. They have the size a bit
bigger of an approximate real person's body. The external
parts seem to have the shape and representation of the
pharaoh bodies which they hosted. They present the king
standing with his hands crossed and his eyes open. Below
the crossed hands appears to be different paintings and
curved lines beginning from the one shoulder to the other. In
both sarcophagi the pharaohs are wearing a black wig and a
long black beard. The internal parts have paintings (pictures)
which seem to narrate the life of each pharaoh.
As Ernst H. Gombrich mentions, “[for the classical artisan in ancient Egypt], to us these reliefs
and wall-paintings provide in extraordinarily vivid picture of life as it was lived in Egypt ... The reason
is that the Egyptian painters had a very different way from ours of representing real life. ... What
mattered most was not prettiness but completeness. It was the artists' task to preserve everything as
clearly and permanently as possible. So they did not set out to sketch nature as it appeared to them from
any fortuitous angle. They drew from memory, according to strict rules which ensured that everything
that had to go into the picture would stand out in perfect clarity”.3
Unlike modern civilizations, ancient Egyptians did not use letters in their writing system; they
used symbols, the so called hieroglyphics. The following picture presents the Egyptian Book Of The
Gombrich, Ernst H. "The Story of Art." Mark Harden's Artchive. Web. 21 Oct. 2009.
Gombrich, Ernst H. "The Story of Art." Mark Harden's Artchive. Web. 21 Oct. 2009.
Dead. Marie Parson explains that “The Book of the Dead is the name of mortuary spells written on
sheets of papyrus covered with magical texts and accompanying illustrations called vignettes. These
were placed with the dead in order to help them pass through the dangers of the underworld and attain
an afterlife of bliss in the Field of Reeds. ... The texts are divided into individual spells or chapters,
nearly two hundred in total, though no one papyrus contains them all. … The spells were originally
designated by the Egyptians ... expressing the freedom granted to the spirit forms to come and go as
they pleased in the afterlife”.4
This object is made out of papyrus paper a few meters wide, and
perhaps half a meter tall. As Parson mentioned, it contains different
hieroglyphics, which were prayers for the ones who died to find their path
in the afterlife. Most of this papyrus is light brownish color, however some
of the symbols have other colors such as green and black. Some of these
Parsons, Marie. "The Book of the Dead An Introduction." Tour Egypt. Tour Egypt, 1996. Web.
21 Oct. 2009.
symbols can be identified as people and others as animals. However each animal may have a different
interpretation as in ancient Egypt, some animals represent different Egyptian gods.
As mentioned earlier, ancient Egyptians believed in the afterlife. For such reason after the king
died they would precede to the mummification the king's body and preserve the organs. After the king's
death they would bring different offerings, for his soul to have during his journey in the afterlife. The
third and last picture presents a sculpture of a middle age woman bringing offers to the dead with her
left foot forward. On top of her head she holds a trapezoid shaped basket with her left hand and on the
right hand she holds a golden vessel. It is made out of stone and its size is approximately two meters
tall. The basket on top of her head is brownish with black stripes which look like the metal structure of
it. She appears to wear a wig like the ones that are worn by the pharaohs. The sculpture has a lot of
details as one can see clearly the woman's face and the makeup she is wearing. She wears a dress with
red, green, and black dots which are ordered in lines. She seems to have bracelets in her both her legs.
Furthermore, all these paintings, sculptures and crafts were made by people who were not fully
recognized for their work as art. The Egyptian artisan was never told to be original; the goal seemed to
be completeness, the task to preserve everything as clearly as possible.5 As E. Feldman mentions in his
book “We use the term 'artisan' to designate painters, sculptors, and craftsmen in the ancient world,
because our concept of the artist did not exist”(Feldman 48)6
Low, Natalie. "Egyptian Statues." Minnesota State University. MSU, 2002. Web. 21 Oct. 2009.
Feldman, Edmund Burke. Artist a social history. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall, 1995. Print.