The Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt

By W. Stevenson Smith | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 7
DYNASTY VI 2420-2258 B.C.

FROM our examination of the stylistic changes that were taking place towards the end of Dynasty V it was apparent that the monuments of the time of Tety, the first king of Dynasty VI, form a group with those of the reign of Unas. There are no apparent signs of political repercussion from the change of dynasty. At least two of the owners of the magnificently decorated tombs in the neighbourhood of the Tety Pyramid continued in service from the preceding reign. The biographical inscription of the Vizier Kagemni states that he had held office under Unas, while that king represented Nefer-seshem-ptah among the courtiers on the walls of his causeway corridor. The reliefs of the chapel of Mereruka are finer in quality but continue in the same style as those executed in the last years of the reign of Unas. As in the tombs of the family of that king, the rooms fill nearly the whole of the mastaba superstructure. No royal statues have survived, until we reach the reign of Pepy I, when, through the biography of Weni, we also begin to gain a clearer view of political events. The kings of Dynasty VI continued the custom initiated by Unas of inscribing on the walls of the burial apartments the long columns of religious utterances, ancient ritual, and spells known as the Pyramid Texts. These drew upon both solar beliefs and those concerning Osiris to ensure the well-being of the king after death. Although these royal burial-chambers have been cleared and the texts copied, the temples of the pyramids of Pepy I and Mernera have never been excavated. The pyramid temple of Tety was badly damaged but followed the plan of the Unas temple and was substantially like that of Pepy II (Figure 36). At the pyramid of this last king at South Saqqara it was possible to reconstruct the system of ramps and terraces at the valley temple (Figure 37). These seem to have been anticipated in the Unas Valley Temple, but this has only been partly excavated and remains unpublished.

The pyramid group of Pepy II was thoroughly investigated by Gustave Jéquier1 and the fragmentary decorations of this last great monument of the Old Kingdom painstakingly reconstituted. These show that certain of the cycles of scenes from the public life of the king were continued. In fact the Libyan booty was copied from Sahura, even to the names of the family of the conquered chief. Much space is devoted to religious ceremonies and to the association of the king with the gods, while the sanctuary retains the representations of the funerary meal. A detail of the offering bearers from one of these walls is illustrated on Plate 50B. The carving shows a refinement of the bold style which came in at the end of the previous dynasty, and in a few places exceptionally fine painted detail was preserved. One would never suspect from the beauty of this work that the end of the reign, which was one of the longest in history, would see a disastrous decline of the arts and the political collapse of the Old Kingdom.

There is a drastic reduction of the naturalistic elements that had appeared in the temples from the time of Weserkaf to that of Unas. One finds nothing like the varied

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