Ancient Egypt Bas-relief

"a liaison between sculpture and painting"



Ancient Egypt Bas-relief is a liaison between sculpture and painting. Architecture and Sculpture are the major Egyptian arts; but if abundance counted, bas-relief would have to be added to them.

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Anvient Egypt Bas-relief

No other people so tirelessly carved its history or legends upon its walls.

At first we are shocked by the dull similarity of these glyptic narratives, the crowded confusion, the absence of proportion and perspective or the ungainly attempt to achieve this by representing the far above the near; we are surprised to see how tall the Pharaoh is, and how small are his enemies; and, as in the sculpture, we find it hard to adjust our pictorial habits to eyes and breasts that face us boldly, while noses, chins and feet turn coldly away.

But then we find ourselves caught by the perfect line and grace of the falcon and serpent carved on King Wenephes' tomb, by the limestone reliefs of King Zoser on the Step Pyramid at Sakkara, by the wood-relief of Prince Hesire from his grave in the same locality, and by the wounded Libyan on a Fifth Dynasty tomb at Abusir.

A patient study of muscles taut in pain.

At last we bear with equanimity the long reliefs that tell how Thutmose III and Rameses II carried all before them; we recognize the perfection of flowing line in the bas-relief carved for Seti I at Abydos and Karnak;

and we follow with interest the picturesque engravings wherein the sculptors of Hatshepsut tell on the walls of Der-el-Bahri the story of the expedition sent by her to the mysterious land of Punt (Somaliland?).

Ancient Egypt Bas-relief Art

We see the long ships with full-spread sail and serried oars heading south amid waters alive with octopi, Crustacea and other toilers of the sea;

we watch the fleet arriving on the shores of Punt, welcomed by a startled but fascinated people and king; we see the sailorscarrying on board a thousand loads of native delicacies; we read the jest of the Punt workman "Be careful of your feet, you over there; look out!"

Then we accompany the heavy-laden vessels as they return north-ward filled (the inscription tells us) "with the marvels of the land of Punt, all the odoriferous trees of the lands of the gods, incense, ebony, ivory, gold, woods of divers kinds, cosmetics for the eyes, monkeys, dogs, panther skins, . . . never have like things been brought back for any king from the beginning of the world.

The ships come through the great canal between the Red Sea and the Nile;

we see the expedition landing at the docks of Thebes, depositing its varied cargo at the very feet of the Queen.

And lastly we are shown, as if after the lapse of time, all these imported goods beautifying Egypt:

on every side ornaments of gold and ebony, boxes of perfumes and unguents, elephants' tusks and animals' hides;

while the trees brought back from Punt are flourishing so well on the soil of Thebes that under their branches oxen enjoy the shade.

It is one of the supreme bas-relief s in the history of art.


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