Thursday, January 27, 2011

Review: Proportion and Style in Ancient Egyptian Art

Proportion and Style in Ancient Egyptian ArtProportion and Style in Ancient Egyptian Art by Gay Robins

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This book will have different appeal depending.

I think this is of a lot of interest to anybody, who is

* interested in alternate artistic canons of the human body
* an Egyptologist
* Egyptian art

Dry, scholarly, be warned, but fascinating. I am not a researcher in the field so I tended to skim the book.

If anything, this increased my respect for ancient Egyptian art.

They had a complete system for encoding three dimensional objects in two dimensions without perspective in order to enhance the two dimensional decorative patterns. They portrayed the most typical view of each part, combining them in a seamless way, which reminds one of Cubism.

If a god (or king etc.) normally held a scepter in the right hand, they would portray the god that way if the god was facing right. They identified right with forward.

Sometimes, they would put a figure facing "backwards", to the left, to add rhythm.

If the same god were facing left, the god would be effectively mirror imaged, yet the scepter would still be in the right hand but it would be attached to the left arm.

So the spatial logic of the scene, and the way that right/forward left/back was encoded in Egyptian art would trump the side of the hand that had the thumb in real life. And I am sure that most artists were aware of this, and it bothered them no more than blueprint of a building bothers us.

In temples the work was usually completed. But in tombs the heirs usually stopped work when uncle Anentahiptohop dropped dead, since they needed to use the tomb, and they wanted to have something left of the estate.

Anyway, because the work is incomplete, they can see the way that the work is laid out in tombs.

There is a grid system for organizing and relating the major figures. It's sort of like the heads system in western life drawing--they just don't try to cover every possible situation at any possible angle like we do, anyway that would defeat the purpose of harmonizing everything in the plane.

This mostly applies to the major figures. Minor figures were almost invariably drawn freehand. Also, they relaxed almost all of the canon in depicting battles, since these were supposed to portray conflict.





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