Egyptian Painting 2

Carving and color were used to brighten and enliven the interior. The battles, the judgment scenes, the Pharaoh playing at draughts with his wives, the religious rites and ceremonies, were all given with brilliant arbitrary color, surrounded oftentimes by bordering bands of green, yellow, and blue. Color showed everywhere from floor to ceiling. Even the explanatory hieroglyphic texts ran in colors, lining the walls and winding around the cylinders of stone. The lotus capitals, the frieze and architrave, all glowed with bright hues, and often the roof ceiling was painted in blue and studded with golden stars.
All this shows a decorative motive in Egyptian painting, and how constantly this was kept in view may be seen at times in the arrangement of the different scenes, the large ones being placed in the middle of the wall and the smaller ones going at the top and bottom, to act as a frieze and dado. There were, then, two leading motives for Egyptian painting ; (1) History, monarchical, religious, or domestic ; and (2) Decoration.
TECHNICAL METHODS: Man in the early stages of civilization comprehends objects more by line than by color or light. The figure is not studied in itself, but in its sun-shadow or silhouette. The Egyptian hieroglyph represented objects by outlines or arbitrary marks and conveyed a simple meaning without circumlocution. The Egyptian painting was substantially an enlargement of the hieroglyph. There was no attempt to place objects in the setting which they hold in nature. Perspective and light-and-shade were disregarded. Objects, of whatever nature, were shown in flat profile. In the human figure the shoulders were square, the hips slight, the legs and arms long, the feet and hands flat. The head, legs, and arms were shown in profile, while the chest and eye were twisted to show the flat front view. There are only one or two full-faced figures among the remains of Egyptian painting. After the outline was drawn the enclosed space was filled in with plain color. In the absence of high light, or composed groups, prominence was given to an important figure, like that of the king, by making it much larger than the other figures. This may be seen in any of the battle-pieces of Rameses II., in which the monarch in his chariot is a giant where his followers are mere pygmies. In the absence of perspective, receding figures of men or of horses were given by multiplied outlines of legs, or heads, placed before, or after, or raised above one another. Flat water was represented by zigzag lines, placed as it were upon a map, one tree symbolized a forest, and one fortification a town.
These outline drawings were not realistic in any exact sense. The face was generally expressionless, the figure, evidently done from memory or pattern, did not reveal anatomical structure, but was nevertheless graceful, and in the representation of animals the sense of motion was often given with much truth. The color was usually an attempt at nature, though at times arbitrary or symbolic, as in the case of certain gods rendered with blue, yellow, or green skins. The backgrounds were always of flat color, arbitrary in hue, and decorative only. The only composition was a balance by numbers, and the processional scenes rose tier upon tier above one another in long panels.
Such work would seem almost ludicrous did we not keep in mind its reason for existence. It was, first, symbolic story-telling art, and secondly, architectural decoration. As a story-teller it was effective because of its simplicity and directness. As decoration, the repeated expressionless face and figure, the arbitrary color, the absence of perspective


were not inappropriate then nor are they now. Egyptian painting never was free from the decorative motive.
<< Previous page -- Next page >>