TRADITIONALISM OF EGYPTIAN DESIGN

In order to appreciate mural design and execution it must be stressed that it was an age-old tradition, not an art form. The Egyptian painter or sculptor was not an independent or inspired creator. He was a craftsman who was part of a team which included masons, draughtsmen, jewellersand metal-workers. They all worked anonymously. Their creations were designed not for artistic appraisal nor, apart from afew exceptions, for aesthetic purposes. They formed a factory of artisans reproducing approved traditional themes with amazing accuracy. Statues for tomb or shrine were never to be seen, except by the Pharaoh or high priest, and these had a religious function. They were believed to be infused with the divine spirit of the one portrayed. Statues of the Pharaoh in open court or temple front were placed there so that the populace could gaze on the great Pharaoh who was under the protection of the gods. Praising him and praising God were one and the same thing. Amon guided the Pharaoh and the Pharaoh guided the people. This is the reason why the Egyptian monarch was repeatedly and untiringly shown in consort with the various deities. With the help of Amon, his power was absolute. The people voiced no opinions on the one hand, while he showed no weakness on the other. He was always represented in the prime of life, in powerful, confident, unbending majesty. The Pharaoh was above hopes or pleasures, fears or sufferings. In all statues and mural portrayals he was in disputably idealized and stereotyped. The torso, legs, arms and position of the head of the Pharaohs of the passing dynasties differed little. But there were subtle differences in their physiognomies. Chephren of the 4th Dynasty for example had a decidedly more prominent lower jaw than his successor Mykerinus. And the lips and dents by the side of Ramses II's mouth are very different from those of Seti I, whose features are somehow finer.

It has already been noted that the distinctive characteristics of Amon, when he was not depicted as a ram with curled horns or asa man with a ram's head, were hisp laited heard, his two upright plumes,his scepter and symbol of life. The Pharaoh in turn also has characteristics: a cobra (guardian against evil) which coiled around his forehead, and a special skirt falling into a triangle in front, The decorated belt that held this in position was sometimes covered with beads or embroidery and the tail of an ox (symbol of power) was attached to it. He carried his scepter, Etiquette was apparently carefully observed. Religious ceremonies, jubilees and other rituals, which grew more complex as time passed, conformed not only in general practice but in the most strict observance of rules and dress. Each detail has been brought down to us in the work of the relief sculptors.

Just as traditional ceremonies and rituals continued from generation to generation with very little basic change, so did the execution of mural records of the occasions become more and more stylized. The few realistic details which made their way into the representations, even as far back as the Old Kingdom, are seen repeated from dynasty to dynasty, even though they are somewhat irrelevant in terms of the symbolic and primitive purpose of the work. By the 18th Dynasty there was knowledge of perspective and foreshortening but the relief sculptors did not try to improvise. The detail of a knee-cap, the muscles of an arm or a collar-bone were their only touches of realism.

Apart from the relatively short break with tradition under Akhenaten, only the efficiency and maturity of the work changed with the years. In the Luxor temple the divine immobility of the portrayals of Amenhotep III, particularly when shown in consort with the deities, are very little different from those of Ramses II some eight generations later. The same uniformity is found in the Karnak temple, which spans two thousand years.

TRADITIONALISM OF EGYPTIAN DESIGN

In order to appreciate mural design and execution it must be stressed that it was an age-old tradition, not an art form. The Egyptian painter or sculptor was not an independent or inspired creator. He was a craftsman who was part of a team which included masons, draughtsmen, jewellersand metal-workers. They all worked anonymously. Their creations were designed not for artistic appraisal nor, apart from afew exceptions, for aesthetic purposes. They formed a factory of artisans reproducing approved traditional themes with amazing accuracy. Statues for tomb or shrine were never to be seen, except by the Pharaoh or high priest, and these had a religious function. They were believed to be infused with the divine spirit of the one portrayed. Statues of the Pharaoh in open court or temple front were placed there so that the populace could gaze on the great Pharaoh who was under the protection of the gods. Praising him and praising God were one and the same thing. Amon guided the Pharaoh and the Pharaoh guided the people. This is the reason why the Egyptian monarch was repeatedly and untiringly shown in consort with the various deities. With the help of Amon, his power was absolute. The people voiced no opinions on the one hand, while he showed no weakness on the other. He was always represented in the prime of life, in powerful, confident, unbending majesty. The Pharaoh was above hopes or pleasures, fears or sufferings. In all statues and mural portrayals he was in disputably idealized and stereotyped. The torso, legs, arms and position of the head of the Pharaohs of the passing dynasties differed little. But there were subtle differences in their physiognomies. Chephren of the 4th Dynasty for example had a decidedly more prominent lower jaw than his successor Mykerinus. And the lips and dents by the side of Ramses II's mouth are very different from those of Seti I, whose features are somehow finer.

It has already been noted that the distinctive characteristics of Amon, when he was not depicted as a ram with curled horns or asa man with a ram's head, were hisp laited heard, his two upright plumes,his scepter and symbol of life. The Pharaoh in turn also has characteristics: a cobra (guardian against evil) which coiled around his forehead, and a special skirt falling into a triangle in front, The decorated belt that held this in position was sometimes covered with beads or embroidery and the tail of an ox (symbol of power) was attached to it. He carried his scepter, Etiquette was apparently carefully observed. Religious ceremonies, jubilees and other rituals, which grew more complex as time passed, conformed not only in general practice but in the most strict observance of rules and dress. Each detail has been brought down to us in the work of the relief sculptors.

Just as traditional ceremonies and rituals continued from generation to generation with very little basic change, so did the execution of mural records of the occasions become more and more stylized. The few realistic details which made their way into the representations, even as far back as the Old Kingdom, are seen repeated from dynasty to dynasty, even though they are somewhat irrelevant in terms of the symbolic and primitive purpose of the work. By the 18th Dynasty there was knowledge of perspective and foreshortening but the relief sculptors did not try to improvise. The detail of a knee-cap, the muscles of an arm or a collar-bone were their only touches of realism.

Apart from the relatively short break with tradition under Akhenaten, only the efficiency and maturity of the work changed with the years. In the Luxor temple the divine immobility of the portrayals of Amenhotep III, particularly when shown in consort with the deities, are very little different from those of Ramses II some eight generations later. The same uniformity is found in the Karnak temple, which spans two thousand years.

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