Thursday, 13 December 2012

Lecture to celebrate Luxor being a governorate - Francesco Tiradritti

Colour and Painting in Ancient Egypt 10/12/12
 To celebrate the anniversary of Luxor becoming a Governorate a series of lectures was arranged at Luxor library. The first was by Francesco and was on the subject of colours and painting in ancient Egyptian art. This lecture builds on his book published in 2007 and the lecture in 2008 at the Mummification Museum which is documented on this blog.

A lot of his argument hinges on the hieroglyph for the letter T which is a half circle with the straight side on the bottom. I have to admit i found his lecture more understandable since I have studying glyphs because of knowing T is such an important symbol being used to indicate gender of both nouns and verbs so it appears a lot. It is supposed to be the symbol for bread X1 in Gardiner’s list, however it is noting that X2 is the glyph that appears in offering formulas for bread, beer etc.

Firstly Francesco showed a slide with the T glyph cut out and asked us what is the colour of bread. Answers varied and he actually had another slide where he had recorded answers and the most common was orange with yellow and brown a close second. This glyph is always shown as black which (unless you are a bad cook) is not the normal colour of bread. This was the origin of his research. The Ancient Egyptian world was a simple one cantered on the Nile, surrounded by the inhabitated land and further surrounded by the desert and he showed a slide of a pot illustrating this in its decoration.

The next bit is hard to document without his pictures as it is all about colour, hues and colour charts. The world was divided into
Light white/yellow Black land Red desert Blue water and Green vegetation. These are called Hudj (green), Kem (black) Desher (red) Hedj (white). He was then trying to see where dark blue fitted in.
 In the Chester Beatty papyrus there is a phrase “her hair is true lapis” Xsbd mAa Snw=s this lead him to the idea that there were two opposites light = colour = hedj and darkness = no colour, absence of colour. In the 6th dynasty tombs at Saqqara the backgrounds are black, indicating empty space and black glyphs are put on this which are a different black.

 So you have a different categorisation where there is light, colours and darkness. The darkness is called Kek Hedj Hudj, Kem, Desher Kek The water glyph is shown black against this dark background as water is black because of the silt of the inundation. He believes that the half circle is not bread at all but the primordial mound (N30 Gardner). Bread in Ancient Egypt was flat or moulded (baked in a bread mould) into shapes and the bread in the offering formula is always this moulded type X2 sign. He believes that it is a preconceived idea that this is bread.

So there is another relationship of opposites between colours imagine a large X linking these four.

Darkness Kek Dry Desher

Humid Hudj Light Hedj

 During the 1st millennium blue and yellow are the most popular colours. Although the men were portrayed as red and the women yellow these colour differences could also be used to differentiate between individuals. He showed a model from the Leiden museum of bread and beer making, the yellow men are the more prominent men, the ones who spent more time indoors. In the Louvre there is a stele of the God re-Horakhty giving life and the ‘rays’ of the sun are multi coloured showing an understanding of rainbows (rainbows were rare in Ancient Egypt). It is obvious that the Ancient Egyptian artist had a much more complex view of colour than was first thought.

Lugi Vassalli was an artist and his diary has recently been found. He was protecting the monuments before Mariette. He was responsible for the removal of the Medium geese from the tomb and the slide showed where they fitted into the scene. Because Lugi was an artist he understood the artistic importance of the vignette. It was a manual of Ancient Egyptian art. Firstly when you put three of anything this is shorthand for plural or many in hieroglyphics. There are two groups and the out/exterior goose shows a different position and is larger given a sort of perspective, repetition is avoided by use of colour and position and movement is indicated by the tail position.

There are not many paintings in Old Kingdom art but he showed us some. I the mastaba of Ti there is a scenes of cattle wading through the water and the legs of the cattle show through the water. The First intermediate Period was a time of impressionistic art the tiller from Niankhpepi shows from the modelling of the legs an impression of the man being caught in a moment of time and the movement shown by the elongated legs. The three lady offering bearers in a line could be three different ladies or the same lady caught 3 times (like the pictures in a cartoon showing movement). There are two odd pictures in the tomb of Ankhtifi a cow showing a full face to the viewer and a man who looks deformed. But taken in relation to the pictures on the pillars next to them you realise the cow is looking towards another cow that is delivery a calf and the man has turned towards a festival. These pictures are catching the movement. In the Turin museum there is a picture showing the blood spurting from the neck of a cow as it is slaughtered, a man shown in a much paler colour who is a supervisor and the clever use of spots of red paint to highlight something such as the tongue of a cow illustrating its tenderness to its calf as it licks it.

He then went on to talk about the influence of Minoan paintings, when Bietek excavated at Tel el Baba he identified that there where people and bull as engaging in bull leaping like the paintings at Knossos. Actually it is not really possible to leap over a charging bull and it is quite possible that the scene was mis interrupted and it was actually an attempt at portraying perspective. He also does not believe just because there were bulls that this implies Minoan. When you look at the art and the portrayal of a man the proportions are completely different. Undoubtedly there was influence to and fro Egypt and Minoa, indeed all around the Mediterranean basin both backwards and forwards including and through Syria/Palestine area. (At this point a rather lively debate broke out with some members of the audience convinced that Egyptian sea craft had reached ocean going capabilities.) There is a story that Tuthmosis IV married a Minoan princess but no actual proof.

Thebes was the golden age of Egyptian painting and he cited some examples
• The female banquet in the tomb of Rekhmire
• The tomb of Sennefer with the grape ceiling
• In the tomb of Nakht the demonstration of personality in the man ploughing who is bald, with a bent back and red from the son
• The pile of food before the owner compared to the pile of food in front of the workers • In the Meena the vignettes should appear in the order of work but the 2 part appears first as this was the one Meena was responsible for
• The chariot, you would not use your best chariot (he used the equivalent of a Ferrari) to go to the fields
• The flight of birds at Malkata that look as though they are disturbed by the door opening
• The mourning women in the tomb of Ramose, again indicating movement

It was a fantastic lecture and really challenged you to put aside previous notions and actually look at what was in front of you. He is extending his research (e.g. does region influence colour choice) and I advise you to keep your eyes peeled for any of his publications as they are sure to be interesting. There was a very lively debate at the end. One of the members of the audience had done his dissertation on Hatshepsut and commented on the changes of her skin colour during her various incarnations, daughter, queen, regent, queen regent, king etc. Mansour did an excellent lecture the next night on the developments at Karnak but because of the revolution stopping work due to funds he had not got many updates on previous lectures at the Mummification Museum.

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