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

By László Török | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
HISTORY, SOCIETY, AND ART IN LATE ROMAN AND
EARLY BYZANTINE EGYPT

1. Images of social identity

Our sorrow and our love move into a foreign
language.
Pour your Egyptian feeling into the Greek you use.1

Looking at Egyptian late antique art from the particular stance indicated at the end of the previous chapter, we may easily find further monuments which encourage the student of Egyptian art to interpret his/her subject in the wider framework of late antique history. Reserving the monuments of the Egyptian late antique elite’s selfidentification with mythological figures for a more detailed discussion in later chapters of this book (Chapters VII, VIII), let me illustrate here one of the possibilities inherent in the comparison of Egyptian works of art with monuments from other regions of the late antique world. In the following pages I shall discuss three iconographic formulae which, although developed for the representation of elite status under the influence of models from outside Egypt, nevertheless display unmistakeably Egyptian features.2

Some time in the second half of the fourth century a painted wooden coffin was made for the burial of a boy called Ammonios (fig. 9).3 The front side of the simple chest-shaped coffin4 was decorated with

1 Constantine Cavafy: For Ammonis, who died at 29, in 610. in: Collected Poems trans. E. Keeley and P. Sherrard, ed. G. Savidis. Princeton 1992 71.

2 For the general difficulties of associating the types of funerary art with concrete social strata cf. C. Riggs: Facing the Dead: Recent Research on the Funerary Art of Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt. AJA 106 (2002) 85–101 98.

3 Malibu, J. Paul Getty Museum 82.AP.75, K. Parlasca: Mumienporträts: Neue Funde und Erkenntnisse in: Bailey (ed.) 1996 187–190 188 f., fig. 2; Parlasca 1996 155 ff., figs 1/a–f.

4 For the expensive workmanship of the coffin made from Lebanese cedar (Cedrus libanii), see, however, Parlasca 1996 157 ff.; M. Elston – J. Maish: Technical Investigation of a Painted Romano-Egyptian Sarcophagus from the Fourth Century A.D.

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