Africa

Egypt Arts Part 2

We have little or nothing of the works carried out by the tinite and bubastite pharaohs in their capitals. The Ethiopians, for what they built in Egypt, do not depart from the previous tradition. More barbarians appear the temples of Napata, while saving the form. Among the Persians only Darius built the temple of el-Ḥībah in the great oasis. The variations that could be introduced were then used in the Greco-Roman temples, which are the ones we know best. They looked at noon and stretched far north in a rectangle. The portico of the court is grafted onto the internal face of the pylon; the cell is isolated in the middle of a corridor and contains a stone naos. The classic example is the sanctuary of the god Hor at Edfu. Not far from the main building is the mammisi, in which it was believed that the goddesses went to give birth; sometimes it reproduces the periptero of the XVIII dynasty.

In the most distant predynastic period, the corpses, wrapped in mats, cloths, skins, were buried in ovoid tombs dug into the sand, with some set of objects and food placed next to them. Towards the end, the shape becomes rectangular and the surrounding sand is retained with wooden planks and brick walls. At the foot of the dead, a department for offerings is defined. A pile of stones can barely save it from the ravages of predatory or wandering animals. At the beginning of the story a rough stele bearing the name, distinguished, at least for the great, the bones. Over time, the sovereigns already have grandiose buildings that ventilate the castles of the living. The facades have vertical grooves and inside there is a large central hall reserved for the deceased and various rooms for furnishings. Only under the II dynasty some architectural elements are made of stone. In the Memphis period they appear as tombs of the rich but ṣṭ abah, so called by the Arabs because they resemble the guest benches placed at the door of their houses. They are rectangular stone constructions, with slightly inclined faces. A well, which opens in the central top, communicated with the underground chamber containing a stone or wooden sarcophagus. In the eastern corner, a stone false door indicated the entrance to the dead man’s house. In front of it, a flat table of offerings, also made of stone, was used to deposit the food presented to the deceased. Over time this simple plant became more complicated. A chapel for worship was developed next to the false door; a blind corridor was created in the thickness of the wall (in Arabic serd ā b) to shelter the statues; in the internal part various rooms richly decorated with reliefs were arranged. The tiered pyramids, such as those of Meidūm and Saqqārah, elevated for the pharaohs of the III dynasty can be considered as more superimposed mastabas. The first true pyramid, an expression of majesty and power, was built Śenfôre in Dahshūr. On one side there was the corridor leading to the sarcophagus chamber. For worship there was a special funerary temple located to the east: that of Ṣôser in Saqqārah, and those near the pyramids of el-Gīzah and of Abū Ṣīr, are the most complete examples. In Saqqārah a temple was also recently found for the feasts of the royal jubilee, which is similar to the classical type of basilica. Overall in the ancient kingdom the architecture has not only solved the problem of replacing the scarce wood and fragile brick with the eternal stone construction, but it has become true art, rhythmically arranging the various bodies, varying their proportions and height, offering the eye the admirable escape of the rooms, lightening the lines with the fluted pillar and the slender column. In the Middle Kingdom, the pharaohs continued to build brick pyramids in el-Lisht, in Dahshūr, in Illāhūn, which have not come down to us. Characteristic are those of the Mentḥótpe of Deir el-Baḥrī (XI dynasty), located on two terraces with arcades, which inspired the builder of the nearby Hatšepsówe temple. At the same age, the hypogea, that is, tombs dug into the mountain, appeared in the province. A slope limited by walls led to the clearing in the open air; a portico with pillars and columns was cut into the rock; one entered a large hall and behind this was the funerary chapel; a well went down to the sarcophagus chamber. This type of burial was very popular in the XVIII dynasty and in the following ones. Even the pharaohs adopted it and the Valley of the kings is full of these “syringes” (as the Greeks said) adorned with drawings and texts. The funerary temple, in these cases, became independent from the tomb and elevated in the plan. Little remains of the Saitic period. In Thebes the previous constructions with labyrinths of halls and corridors were imitated,  when the old ones were not used; in Saqqārah the tomb, made up of small limestone blocks, was a vaulted room with walls decorated with religious texts.

Even in the minor arts those qualities of elegance, harmony, solidity that are found in the major ones shine forth. Pottery is the first that comes to our knowledge, in the Neolithic. Starting from this period up to our era, there are various changes undergone by the material, the shape, the decoration; for the predynastic alone we note more than a thousand types. At this time the vases are still modeled by hand: yet they have a perfect shape, often adorned with figures or, shaped like a fantasy, they portray women, birds, fish. To come across other painted types, it is necessary to arrive at the second half of the 18th dynasty, in which the containers for wine are adorned on the belly with rich floral motifs and perhaps have the face of the god Bês and the goddess Hathor imprinted on the neck.

Where the artistic genius was best expressed was in the stone vases: the best, undoubtedly, were made at the end of the predynastic, true masterpieces of this industry. Over time the use of semi-precious stones decreases and with the XII dynasty alabaster prevails. The vases of this material found in the tomb of Tut‛anḫamôn are of a strange baroque style, mixed with small columns, figures of men and animals. Even in the works of flint the Egyptian pre-dynastic surpasses what other peoples have produced similar. Alongside the very fine, delicately retouched weapons, bracelets of surprising thinness can be admired.

The working of the glass, not blown but pulled in paste, is testified to the beginning of the XVIII dynasty, for now. Enamel (faience) dates back to prehistoric times and always had great vogue. They made pearls for necklaces, plaques, amulets, statuettes, scarabs and vases in the shape of cups or glasses, often in different colors. The industry continued prosperous even under Arab domination.

Wood was less rare in ancient times than in Egypt today. Much of the funerary furnishings, sarcophagi, coffins, headrests, were of this material. Already in the fifth dynasty there are small boxes of good taste encrusted with enamels, ivory, ebony. Even the furniture denote elegance and refinement. Those of the time of Amenḥq̂tpe III and IV, carved and gilded, light in form, testify to great technical skill. Numerous toilet bowls gracefully decorated with figures of women, naked slaves, animals, delicate chisel works belong to the same period.

The goldsmith’s work began in the pre-dynastic period, where there is no lack of large golden pearls, remains of rings and earrings. In the 1st dynasty the bracelets of a queen show that she knew how to work and compose with skill. A magnificent group of jewels is that of Dahshūr and Illāhūn (XII dynasty) where the carnelian, the turquoise, the lapis lazuli are artistically applied to gold. The tiaras and the necklaces of the princesses, worked in threads and in beads, are the most graceful that can be done.

Less pure are those of Queen Ahhótpe in the 18th dynasty; but that the art had not decayed almost a hundred jewels from the tomb of Tut‛anḫamôn, of unsurpassed perfection and beauty, prove. If something egregious was also later done in Egypt, it cannot stand up to this comparison. Less work was done in silver, but there are spoons, cups, vases and plates from the 18th dynasty; the best come from Mende. The same furnishings were set up in bronze and copper from the 1st dynasty.

Egypt Arts 2