The Art of Egypt: The Time of the Pharaohs

The Art of Egypt: The Time of the Pharaohs

The Art of Egypt: The Time of the Pharaohs

The Art of Egypt: The Time of the Pharaohs

Excerpt

Although Egyptian art drew the admiration of the ancients, it did not evoke any very great echo in the Western world until the end of the 18th century. It was only then that a lively interest began to be taken in the land of the Nile.

The scholars who accompanied the Napoleonic armies to Egypt in 1798 were the first to investigate the mysterious works of sculpture and inscriptions that they found there, and in so doing laid the foundations for the scientific study of Egyptian culture. For a long time Egyptian art remained misunderstood by Europeans, since they proceeded from false premisses. To those brought up in the Greek school, the Egyptian treatment of form inevitably seemed rigid and primitive. It was thought to possess the clumsiness appropriate to an early stage of development, when men had not yet succeeded in representing in an organic and lively manner the world they saw about them.

Only in the 19th century, when excavations were begun and an abundance of works reached European museums, did it become clear how inadequate this traditional aesthetic approach was in attempting to appreciate the genius of Egyptian art. The relationship between the viewer and the work of art is no doubt always determined by aesthetic considerations, but it must not be forgotten that the image obtained in this way is bound to be a subjective one.

In order to assess Egyptian art objectively, it is necessary to know something of Egyptian history in pharaonic times, of Egyptian religion, and of the Egyptians' way of life.

When we look at the monuments, sculptures and reliefs that have been preserved, we are at once struck by their magnificent homogeneity in the expression of form -- although we have to bear in mind that, the further back a culture lies in time, the stranger its forms appear to us, and the greater is the tendency to see them as possessing a kind of unity. A close examination of the development of Egyptian art styles reveals that transformation and differentiation took place between one epoch and another, so that, for example, it is possible to distinguish clearly a work of the 3rd millennium B.C. from one of the end millennium B.C. or the Late Period.

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