Monday, 16 April 2012

The Dawn of Egyption Art

The Egyptions were master stone carvers we know, and when I think of their art what comes to mind is the monumental scale, the inscribed hieroglyphs and depictions of the eternal life of the pharoes.

But their early art is fascinating too and full of beautiful animal carvings.  When the people of the Nile valley were settling and building their houses of woven sticks and plastered mud, they were also producing sophisticated and naturalistic sculpture and artefacts in stone.  They often depict the wide variety of animals that would be found at that time roaming the flood plains.  Archaeologists believe that certain animals were associated with fertility, such as the frog, which hatched by the thousands after the spring rains.

Animal Sculpture - A stone jackal on the prowl from the fourth millennium B.C.

The exhibition The Dawn of Egyption Art just opened at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and brings together some 170 objects gathered from the Metropolitan Museum's important collection of early art, and from the collections of twelve other museums in the U.S. and Europe to illustrate the origins and early development of ancient Egyptian art.

Stone objects include a game board in the shape of a coiled rattlesnake and numerous wafer-thin hand-size stone carved palettes, used for mixing makeup, whose minimally inflected silhouettes nonetheless intimate various animals, including fish, lions and a pair of mating turtles. 

Animal stone carving - Turtles

The New York Times review by Roberta Smith articulates 'One of the show’s most valuable lessons is that the art of dynastic Egypt was able to suspend nature in such perfect stasis in part because the art of early Egypt devised so many lively ways to distill and abbreviate it or to precisely depict it. In this sense the show attests once more to the tension between the abstract and representational as one of the animating engines of visual form'. 

Which I think is an interesting observation.  Hope this comes to a museum near me - will have to invest in a catalogue I think.


  1. The jackal is beautiful!


  2. Wonderful post. I love hearing the history and the beginnings of art styles and genres. You weave it together so well Jennifer. Thank you.

  3. yeah, great post. I'd love to see this show.


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