When, where, and why has an art appeared? It is impossible to give an accurate and simple answer. It did not begin at a precise moment in history; it was gradually growing out of a non-art, forming and mutating along with a man’s creativity. Mark Getlein (2009, p. 113) concluded that it is “a natural part of perception”.
Ancient history was evolving not only in time but also through space. One or other people became carriers of human progress, as it was the focus of a world’s history for centuries, sometimes for thousands of years, then other people picked up the baton of new development, and pockets of previous old civilizations were submerged in the twilight for a long period.
Ancient civilizations, which are sufficiently well known to our science, arose from the 4th millennium BC in the territories of Asia Minor and North-East Africa: Sumer, Babylon, Egypt, and Assyria.
First countries with slave despotism appeared in valleys of large rivers, like islands, which were occupied by nomadic tribes in the middle of vast spaces. Their economy was simple, based on extensive land ownership. The rural community is a direct descendant of the clan, static, which has a poor talent for the organism’s development. Moreover, For centuries anthill temples, palaces, and tombs of the kings were erected with colossal efforts of the people. A grand building, which is in strange contrast to the primitive production base, has become possible because of slavery (Aldred, 1980).
Art was tending to a grandiose scale and monumental geometric forms. Is not it strange that at the beginning of history, when the guns were relatively primitive, and humans’ horizons were limited, a giant and majestic cult was created?
Ancient and Middle Kingdom
In Giza (near Cairo), there is three huge geometric body on a rocky plateau desert, casting sharp shadows on the sand. They are perfectly correct tetrahedral pharaohs’ pyramids: Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure. They are standing there for more than forty centuries. Their appearance was not saved, the burial chambers with the sarcophagus were plundered, but neither time nor people were able to break a perfectly stable, monolithic form of these structures. The highest of them, the Great Pyramid of Giza, still has no equal in size among the stone buildings of the world.
Its height is 146 meters, and the length of each verge base is 230 meters. Greek Parthenon, in comparison with it, would look quite tiny, like a boat, which is compared with the sea boat. The pyramid of Cheops (if it was hollow inside) could fit the whole ensemble of the Cathedral of St. Peter's in Rome.
Therefore, the pyramid is not hollow; it is almost a solid mass of the heavy stone slabs, and only below it was cut with narrow corridors, which leads to the tomb of the pharaoh. It had been estimated that to put all the stones, all of which is composed of the Cheops pyramid, now it would take 20,000 freight trains, each with 30 cars. Therefore, the pyramids were built with their bare hands, without the aid of beasts of burden. It is truly an extraordinary monument to a Pharaoh's inflexible will and years of hard labor of hundreds of thousands of slaves.
Low mortuary temples were sided to pyramids, at the foot of the tomb there were located rows of courtiers and relatives of the Pharaoh - the so-called "Mastaba" (literally, “stone bench”). Both temples and Mastaba were looked very small, comparing with pyramids, and were not noticeable from a distance, the pyramids and triangles in the sky could be seen everywhere as a reminder of the eternal.
A long straight road was leading to them from the east, from the fertile valleys, which were irrigated by the Nile: the road from the monastery life to the silent world of sand and tombs. The border of the desert is still guarded by the colossal sphinx, a lion with the face of Pharaoh Khafre – a great-grandfather of all the countless Egyptian sphinxes. It was created not only by people but also with the desert: People Shaped and processed rock, which was similar in shape to a reclining lion’s body.
The necropolis at Giza and its giant guard was built in the era of the Old Kingdom (the first half of the 3rd millennium BC). There were already formed the monumental style of Egyptian art, developed visual canons of art, which then were kept sacred for centuries. Their persistence was explained with a stagnant social order, as well as the fact that the art of Egypt was a part of the cult and funeral ritual. It is so closely associated with religion, which defined forces of nature and the earth's power, that it is difficult to understand its image structure, without having at least a general idea of the religious rites of the Egyptians.
The New Kingdom is the era of the third, and last, lifting of the Egyptian state, which came after the victory over the Asian tribes. It was a productive and artistic culture, especially during the 18th dynasty, which was reigning for two centuries (from the mid-16th to mid-14th century BC).
The art of the New Kingdom is imposing and majestic, but it breaks the flame of earthly feelings, thoughts, and anxieties. Traditional forms were covered inside with these new lights.
The architecture of temples was blooming. Priests became an independent political force, competing even with the king’s power. Therefore, not only the funerary temple of the kings but mainly temple shrines, which were dedicated to Amun, defined the architectural image of Egypt.
For centuries, there were built the famous temples of Amun-Ra (modern Karnak and Luxor). If the pyramid resembled a mountain, these temples resembled a dense forest, where you can get lost. From Luxor to Karnak there was waged a long, almost two miles, straight-line – an avenue of sphinxes. At the entrance to the courtyard of the temple, there were towering obelisks (one of the obelisks is on Place de la Concorde in Paris), the powerful pylons formed a portal, near the pylons there were sculpted colossi.
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From the open sun yard, which was surrounded by a colonnade, the path led into a gloomy hypostyle hall, and then in the dark sanctuary. There was a real forest: a thicket of columns (only in one Karnak room, there were 144 columns), which seemed to be like papyrus, lotus, palm, some of them were so large that even 5 men could not enfold it. Lower parts of the walls were decorated with floral patterns, and a ceiling was painted with gold stars on a dark blue background - apparently, the church symbolically portrayed Nile thickets starry night (Wilkinson, Hill, 1983).
All these architectural forms separately, including columns, imitated Nile plants and trees, had their prototypes in the middle and the ancient kingdom, but they had never joined in that impressive, spatially complex ensemble.
Monument of Culture of the Theban 18th Dynasty is the temple of Queen Hatshepsut in the Valley of Deir el-Bahri. Hatshepsut, who reigned in the late 16th - early 15th century BC, was the only Pharaoh-woman in the history of Egypt. She was paid homage to all the pharaohs’ divine honors; she was portrayed, as expected, with the attributes of Osiris, with a tied beard under the chin. She did not have a very aggressive campaign, but she jealously cared about domestic affairs, the lush and large-scale construction. She placed her funereally temple next to the tomb of Pharaoh Mentuhotep, the founder of the Theban kings, to emphasize their relationship and acceptability. Nevertheless, her church was more graceful and luxurious, comparing with a modest Mentuhotep’s temple, which was topped with the small pyramid.
Hatshepsut temple was richly and variously decorated with sculptures and reliefs, precious materials, vast palaces-terraces enlivened artificial ponds and trees. After the Queen’s death, her foster-son Tutmes III, whom she drove from the throne, destroyed much, trying to forget the name of the female pharaoh. Nevertheless, the church in ruins indicates a high peak of the art of the time.
Almost nothing remains about the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III, a father of the future reformer Akhenaten. There were preserved (in a damaged condition) the 21-meter colossus, who was sitting in front of the temple. Now they are rising under the background of the desert. Two sphinxes with the face of the Amenhotep III temple are calmly and regally recline on the Neva in St. Petersburg, in front of the Academy of Arts. On their pedestal, it is written that they were brought from ancient Thebes to the city of Petra in 1832. They went so well with the architectural ensemble of St. Petersburg, harmonizing with its buildings, bridges, bars, and its “strong, graceful form” of northern capital; it seems that they are being at home.
Portrait figures of the Amenhotep’s priest and his wife Rannai were filled in the fruitful art of the 18th dynasty in the 16th century BC. Rinnai was displayed in the traditional pose of an Egyptian statue, but there was something new, there was underscored the fragile femininity, figure unusually thin, elongated proportions, the silhouette of the body resembles a lotus bud tipped.
A “secular” spirit entered the art of Egypt. In reliefs and paintings of the tombs, temples, and palaces there were richly portrayed feasts, festivals, harpist dancers, receptions of ambassadors, dressing, and beauty treatments of the leading women. Migrating to the other world their women took with them a set of toiletries in gold, ivory, and faience: precious caskets with cosmetics, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, elegant dressing spoon.
With this influx of secular motives old canons were beginning to turn more freely. Although the old frieze-rhythmic composition and the first treatment of the figures have remained, increasingly there were appeared unusual poses and camera angles - from the front, three-quarter, from the back, the figures obscure one another, drawing more sophistication.
The period of the 18th Dynasty produced innovative fracture, which occurred during the reign of Amenhotep IV-Akhenaten, a pharaoh, who was famous for his reforms in the early 14th century BC.
There were destroyed a psychic armor tight. There appeared interested in the intimate experience, lyrical motifs, and preserved reliefs depicting scenes of the private life of Akhenaten: in the family circle, caressing and amusing children. Two women accompanied him on the path of life and maybe complicated his reform efforts, his mother Tia and favorite wife Nefertiti, who bore six daughters to him. Their iconography was extensive and a subtle imprint of femininity lied in the art of the time. Updated content did not easily fit the category of Egyptian art style, which was inspired by centuries. A language of fine character, solemn, flowing silhouettes, strict constructions faced odds with the new trends. Akhenaten demanded realism artists’ transmission of individual features in the raw: especially it was true to his images. Before, the pharaohs were depicted with a portrait likeness, but more heroes, always with a powerful physique. The appearance of Akhenaten conformed to the ideals of the heroic ruler.
Real masterpieces were created in a portrait round sculpture. In the Times workshop (during excavations), there were discovered Akhenaten's daughter heads, each with its own individual warehouse personality, and portraits of Akhenaten, which were poorly preserved and broken. All these heads were served as models for portraits, which were placed in tombs. The models were based on the masks, which were taken from living people. Master performed a consecutive series of castings with masks, each time reworking, summarizing, and eliminating unnecessary details. Without the aid of masks, Egyptian artists could not reach a large portrait similarity, which was required beyond the grave ritual. Nevertheless, the process of implementation of the mask in a portrait of a lifeless cast became a high work of art. One of the most famous portraits is a portrait of Queen Nefertiti (or rather three of her best portraits).
The first one is the bust of sandstone, which depicted a young Queen. The second portrait is the most famous: Nefertiti in the prime of her beauty, “a mistress of joy,” majesty queen with a proud head carriage, crowned by a blue hat. This bust was painted and almost completed, with the only left eye-socket blank. The sclera, iris, and pupil in Egyptian sculpture are portrayed usually with inlaid alabaster or crystals. Nefertiti was encrusted with only one right eye. The researchers supposed that it was done deliberately because that Nefertiti was still alive and opening eyes was a sacred action: it has enlivened the soul of a deceased person. A “staring” bust could take away the soul of a living original.
The third sculpture portrait of Nefertiti, an incomplete one, was an appearance of the queen, which had become much older (she was more than thirty years). Nevertheless, now it looks more inspired, the appearance of Nefertiti shows signs of physical decay: the tougher features stronger denote cheekbones with a little down the corners of her mouth. The shadow of sadness lies in the still beautiful face (Smith, Simpson, 1998). A world-historical role of Egypt at those times was exhausted, and there appeared a brighter sunrise of Hellas.
Secret Recordings of Egyptian Priests
For the inhabitants of ancient Egypt, any label, whether it was drawn on papyrus or stamped on the stone, was a gift from the gods, but the characters were more than just abstract symbols. Each of them displayed the essence of each subject, which was portrayed. Knowing how to use these figures, it was possible to attain eternal life or to destroy the enemy's soul.
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The most powerful among all these characters was an ankh, a cross with a loop, symbolizing a life. Pharaoh, who cared about not to become a victim of violent death or grave robbers or envy power-hungry family, and wanted to save his soul, ordered the artist to paint his tomb, to portray himself with sacred characters of “ankh” under the nose, the repository of all human vitality. As long as the image remained was undamaged, his soul was remained to be alive, being able to breathe the breath of life.
Finally, even when Egypt ceased to be an independent country, its culture millennia gradually nurtured a culture of a Mediterranean. The Egyptian city of Alexandria in the 4th century BC was the site of crossing and synthesis of Greek and Egyptian cultures, which ruled Alexandria governor Macedonian Ptolemaic Pharaoh dynasty and called himself “the chosen one of Ra, the favorite one of Amun”. The famous library of Alexandria and the Alexandria Museum (a temple of the Muses and bastion of science) were owed their existence not only to the Greeks but to the Egyptians, who had a vast knowledge of astronomy, mathematics, arts, and crafts. Egypt's cultural heritage continued to live in the Julian calendar, the geometry of Heron, the study of fractions from the Greek mathematicians to solve the problem in an arithmetic progression of the Armenian mathematician of the seventh century AD. Greek sages, such as Pythagoras, sought to acquire knowledge of Egyptian priests and spent many years in their discipleship.
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