The Art of Ancient Egypt: Architecture, Sculpture, Painting, Applied Art

By Not Cited; Hermann Ranke | Go to book overview
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INTRODUCTION

Not very long ago there prevailed among historians of art, and among the art-loving public they influenced, one universal opinion, namely, that the only works of Antiquity which could really be called art, were those of the Greeks. It was held that the divine fire had descended upon Hellas and inspired the gifted Greek artists to achievements of the highest quality, which must inevitably remain as patterns for all time. A feeble reflection of Greek genius was to be discerned in Roman art, but everything produced before the Greeks, or at the same time by other nations, was looked upon as more or less barbaric. At the best such works could be considered as modest predecessors worthy of mention because they showed the way to the fulfilment attained by the Greeks.

This last concession was also made as regards the Egyptians, whose works commanded attention on account of their numbers and still more on account of their convincing lifelikeness. But as more and more works of Egyptian art have been discovered during the last decades and have been studied with increasing zeal by research-workers and connoisseurs, it has become gradually clearer that within the limits of Egyptian history a level of artistic creation was attained which is equal to that of any other people. We know now that Egyptian art--in the course of the curious transformation which it underwent during the three 'Kingdoms'--represents one of the greatest achievements of human creation in the field of art to be found in the whole world. We know also that it was neither superior nor inferior to Greek art, but simply 'different', and that the Greeks themselves regarded these works with the greatest admiration. A close study of Egyptian art is one of the most thrilling experiences which the lover of art can undertake, and it is hoped that the examples of Egyptian arts and crafts illustrated in the present volume may provide the reader with an introduction to this experience.

Early students of Egyptian art thought that its beginnings were to be sought among the works of the pyramid-builders of Giza and their contemporaries, and were astounded that such perfect works could exist at the very beginning. Like Athene from the head of Jupiter, Egyptian art seemed

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