Transfigurations of Hellenism: Aspects of Late Antique Art in Egypt, AD 250-700

By László Török | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
ON METHODS

Leafing through the many fine reproductions in
this beautiful book of art from Coptic Egypt, one
begins to suspect that the prerequisite for identify-
ing a work as Coptic, “im eigentlichen Sinne”, was
mediocre quality.1


1. Function, chronology, and style

Renewed archaeological work at Saqqara2 and a revision of the photographic and graphic documentation from the early-twentieth-century excavations conducted at Ahnas (Heracleopolis Magna), Bawit, Saqqara, and Bahnasa (Oxyrhynchos)3 very soon demonstrated the correctness of Torp’s thesis concerning the sepulchral function of the edifices from which the Heracleopolis Magna and Oxyrhynchos carvings originated. By defining the sepulchral context of a siginificant part of fourth- and fifth-century Egyptian figural and ornamental sculpture, “Leda Christiana” also indicated, however indirectly, the necessity as well as the possibility of the investigation and definition of the different social and cultural contexts in which the monuments of Egyptian late antique art and architecture were created and in which they functioned.

As ought to have seemed obvious, but was, for the time being, not realised, the funerary chapel types identified by Peter Grossmann and Hans-Georg Severin belonged to the fourth- to sixth-century urban elite (cf. Chapter V.3.1). Comparison of the figural and ornamental decoration associated with richly decorated elite burial edifices

1 Torp 1965a 375, on Wessel 1963. For fairness’ sake, it must be added that the quotation continues thus: “This, surely, was not the author’s intention; Wessel takes … an exceedingly positive attitude towards things Coptic.”

2 Grossmann 1971, 1972a, 1972b, 1980; Grossmann — Severin 1982.

3 Severin 1977b, 1981a; Grossmann — Severin 1982.

-37-

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