The shape of this libation vessel imbues the offering with the power of its symbols, ankh (life, living) and ka (spiritual essence), reflecting its religious purpose. 1st Dynasty (3100-2900 B.C.). Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA), New York.

Read Like an Egyptian — Art in Ancient Egypt, Part 1

Probably only one percent of the ancient Egyptians were literate, and those literate few were royalty, nobility, upper-crust managers and administrators, at least some of the top military people, full-time priests and scribes. But many people could “read” what they were seeing, and understand it without knowing how to read hieroglyphs. The ideas and symbolic iconography were grounded in their culture; the art spoke to them even if their knowledge of the written text was, for the vast majority of the public, rudimentary at best — no doubt limited to a few basic glyphs. [more…]

Edition - March, 2014

Nebamun hunting in the marshes

The paintings from the lost tomb-chapel of Nebamun

The paintings from the tomb of Nebamun are justifiably famous for their beauty and incredible dynamism. The British Museum purchased the panels that it has in 1821 . They were located by a Greek tomb robber named Giovanni d’Athanasi, who worked as an agent for Henry Salt in Luxor. Unfortunately d’Athanasi was angered by the finder’s fee offered and he refused to give up the location of the tomb from where the panels had been removed. The location of the chapel remains unknown to this day. [more…]

Edition - February, 2014

Ancient Egyptian Cosmetic Spoons of the New Kingdom

Ancient Egyptian Cosmetic Spoons of the New Kingdom

I was in the Louvre in Paris recently and was impressed by the exhibit of cosmetic spoons, so beautifully carved and so sinuously expressive. Although they are usually referred to as cosmetic, ointment or unguent spoons, their function has never been definitively established and they come in a variety of forms. This short article is a brief introduction to a much wider topic. [more…]

Figure 5 Early Dynastic smiting scene by King Den, British Museum. Photograph by CaptMondo

The Origin and Early Development of the Smiting Scene

The depiction of the king with mace raised above a helpless prisoner is one of the most prominent and enduring images of ancient Egypt. Although it has often been claimed that the origin for this iconic image lies in the Predynastic Era, this is unlikely. Not until the Narmer Palette do we see a possible model for dynastic developments of the image. These developments are traced here within the Early Dynastic Period [more…]

The Significance of the Crossed Arms Pose -  Part 2: Osiris, The Osiris and the Osirides

The Significance of the Crossed Arms Pose – Part 2: Osiris, The Osiris and the Osirides

Is it a futile activity to ask, as I do in this series of articles, “What is The Significance of the Crossed-Arm Pose?” It might be argued, for instance, that variations in the pose at death exhibited by royal mummies simply reflect what embalmers decided to do on the day, or at least the customary practice of a particular undertaker. Similarly, it might be argued that each individual anthropoid coffin might be expected to reveal some unique design characteristic, and that no significance should be attached to the specific hand/arm pose depicted on the lid. [more…]

Aspects of Colour in Ancient Egypt

The paper considers the colour palette found in painted works from the Old Kingdom through to the New Kingdom and considers how it evolved based on the availability of key pigment resources. Moreover the present day ensemble of colours within surviving images is not entirely representative of the original colours which have changed hue owing to the action of oxidisation and, in many cases, light bleaching. The paper compares the Egyptian palette against theories of linguistic representation of colour in various societies as well as identifying some of the key symbolisms. [more…]

The purpose is to offer a compilation of the key aspects of painted colour in Ancient Egypt drawing on multiple authorities and adding new insights from the author. [more…]

Figure 2. Thutmes III imposing order over chaos, the enemies of Egypt, on the seventh pylon at Karnak

Ancient Egyptian Religion, Part 6 — Art for Eternity

Part 1 of this series set forth the foundation principles of Egyptian religion as cosmic order (maat), duality, and divine magic (heka), which we saw expressed in tomb architecture in Part 5. Now in Part 6 we will continue our exploration of the tomb, looking for evidence of those concepts as they are expressed in art.  [more…]

Figure 14. bHn dog beneath chair. Tomb of Nebamun. Photgraph by P. Gorgori

Eternal Companions – The Creatures Who Could Speak to God

Animals were a ritually charged symbol of life, lavishly represented in Egypt’s literature, arts, and crafts. They were believed to be creatures of the gods with the ability to communicate directly with a range of deities. Indeed, animal vocalisation was perceived as a secret language understood by the gods. The prominence of animals within Egyptian elite culture however, did not result in the animal loving traditions which exist today. Animal necropolises throughout Egypt bear witness to the fact that many creatures, including those we now value as domestic pets, were routinely strangled mummified and presented as votive offerings to gods with which the animals were associated. [more…]

Edition - June, 2011

The Geese of Meidum

The Geese of Meidum

This iconic painting from the Old Kingdom Mastaba of Nefermaat and Itet is in The Egyptian Museum in Cairo and consists of three pairs of birds on one register. The right-hand central pair are universally accepted as Red-breasted Goose, Branta ruficollis, and the left-hand central pair as Greater White-fronted Goose, Anser albifrons.  [more…]