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In Egyptian art, style is everything. In the Egyptian Art we have examined, we see striking similarities in the objects d’art that are included in this view. One thing that we can see in all the art works that we have seen is that the style remains consistent throughout the history of Egypt. The view of this writer is to look at each work and compare it to other works later in Egypt’s history.
To that end, we will examine four separate works—the Palette of King Narmer, which was predynastic, the tomb of Ti at Saqqara which is of the Fifth Dynasty, the Portrait of Ni’Ankhesut, which is from the early Sixth Dynasty, and finally the Funerary Stele of Iamu, from the First Intermediate period. Each of these unique works has their own similarities to each other and their own unique differences. Three of the works are worked in limestone, which was a primary medium of Egyptian art, especially when it came to tomb or funerary art.
The fourth is in stone, and was used to hold makeup and was intricately carved with a well for that express purpose. The first work that this writer will examine is the Palette of King Narmer. This work is done in what is probably basalt or some other stone, as it is not done in the soft limestone that was common in other Egyptian art forms. Egyptologists are unsure exactly what event this depicts, but what we can see is that King Narmer is the largest figure on the palette. On the front of the palette Narmer is depicted leading an army and slaying an opposing army.
The opposing army is dead and decapitated, with their heads between their legs. This is pictured in the top third of the palette. In the middle third of the palette is a round depression made up of the entwined necks of two cats. This indented area is where eye makeup would have been placed. In the bottom third we see a warrior fighting a bull, a common theme in early Egyptian art. It should be noted here that the cats with the entwined heads is a distinctly Mesopotamian feature, showing the influence of the Middle Eastern art forms on early Egyptian art.
On the back of the palette, we see a large figure who appears to be Narmer, wearing the crown of Upper Egypt. He appears to be subduing an enemy, who appears to be the leader of Lower Egypt. This is obviously meant to symbolize the supremacy of Upper Egypt over Lower Egypt. We notice from the position of the figures that every figure is in the profile position, but the arms are facing forward. This shows early on the foundations of Egyptian art, mainly, the consistency of keeping a majority of the body in profile, while only putting arms and chest in full frontal view.
We also notice that on both sides of the palette, Narmer is the largest of the figures, making it clear that the palette is about him and his accomplishments. This is also a recurring theme in Egyptian art—the making of the main figure larger than other figures in the work. This assures the viewer that they are aware of who the main subject is. The second work that we are going to examine is the tomb of Ti at Saqqara. Again, we see that Ti is the largest figure in the work. This tomb relief is in color, which sets it apart from the other works we have examined.
It probably retains its color due to the fact that it was not exposed to the elements as were other works. The paint brings out the striking details and shows the intricacies of Egyptian tomb art. It is also worked in limestone, which was a primary medium in Egypt. In this relief, we se that Ti is on a boat on the Nile. The Nile is teeming with all sorts of marine life. From our knowledge of the hieroglyphics, we know that Ti and his hunters are hunting hippopotami in the Nile marshes. Again, Ti is in profile save for his hands and chest.
It is at this point, however, that we can see that there is very little difference between the picture of Ti and the picture of Narmer. This shows us that the Egyptians did not think about differentiation between human forms. They counted on the hieroglyphics and the idea of the larger figure being the focal point of the work. The third work that we will examine is the portrait of Ni’Ankhesut. It is a limestone portrait, which makes us assume that it is from the tomb of this individual. This is from the Sixth Dynasty. In this work, we see Ni’Ankhesut as the central figure in this work.
Out of necessity, Ni’Ankhesut is the largest figure in the work, and above his head are hieroglyphics. These probably tell his story or his name, though we do not see the characteristic cartouche that accompanies the name. The fact that this individual has a tomb indicates that he was of sufficiently high rank to have the wealth and prestige that a tomb connotes. Again, if we physically look at the portrait, we see that the head and the legs are in profile, but the chest and the arms are in full frontal view. This again shows the idiosyncrasies in Egyptian art.
If we compare the physicality of the portrait to the other two works that we have examined, we see that there is very little physical difference in the three figures. Again, the lack of differentiation among figures is evident. The final work we will examine is the Funerary Stele of Iamu. It is worked in limestone, which is the primary medium of Egyptian tomb art. This work is a more complex work than the portrait, but not as detailed as the Palette of Narmer. In this work, we see again that Iamu is the largest figure, and above his head are hieroglyphics.
In this relief, it is difficult for one to tell what Iamu is doing. Again, we see little physical differentiation with the other figures that we have examined, and we see that all the figures are in profile and that this is totally in keeping with all Egyptian art. This writer does see some beginnings of differentiation in the figures, which begins to pave the way for more realistic portraiture. What conclusions can we draw from these four works? The first thing is that Egyptian art changed little over the years of Egypt’s rise and fall. Second, we see that Egypt chose art to express and transmit their culture.
We also note that hieroglyphics were used to great effect to tell the individual stories that each work shows (with the exception of the Narmer Palette). Fourth, we can see that relief is the main form of art used by the Egyptians. Fifth, color is used throughout the Egyptian artistic world to give life to the two-dimensional images on the limestone walls. Sixth, relief is also a way to provide the art with a depth that it would otherwise lack. We must continue to learn from ancient art as it is the way that we learn the most about ourselves. To understand it is to better understand ourselves and our own culture.