Mummification and Associated Art Thesis

Pages: 6 (1794 words)  ·  Style: Chicago  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 20  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Art  (general)

Egyptian Art: Glory in Death

Death rites and rituals are an important part of every culture ever discovered. Ike birth, death is often seen as part of a great cycle that allows for the continuation of life and the given civilization. The Christian phrase often uttered at funerals, "from ashes to ashes, and from dust to dust," echoes this concept in our modern era, though we might not give the matter too much thought. The meanings behind and implications of such funerary and death rites are at least as varied as the cultures that produce them, with each civilization holding its own beliefs about the intricate interplay between, life, death, and the spiritual journey that lies between the two.

our modern Western world has been first Christianized and then, to a large degree, secularized, with deaths and funerals being one of the few life events still "celebrated" in a semi-religious manner. Many people agree that modern funerals are more for the living members of a community than they are for the deceased person who is honored during the ceremony. In a large way, this illustrates the way in which science -- especially modern psychology -- has come to replace religion in our modern society. Though the concept of an afterlife and the importance of funerary rites in achieving this afterlife used to be important, these concepts tend to be disregarded now by many Westerners as mythological explanations of the world.

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The Ancient Egyptians saw things very differently than today's world does. These difference in perspective were by no means limited to death and funerary rites, or the concept of an afterlife, but this was one huge aspect of Egyptian culture tat has changed drastically over the millennia. In many ways, death was the center of the Egyptian concept of life and living. Mummification and tomb art were both seen as essential practices in ensuring a good afterlife.

Thesis on Mummification and Associated Art Assignment

Coming to understand Egyptian culture is perhaps best undertaken through an understanding of artifacts, including artwork, as the Egyptian civilization was highly material, and their art and artifacts not only how they lived but what their hopes and expectations were, as well.

They clearly believed that the physical world was an absolutely essential ingredient -- perhaps the essential ingredient -- of true metaphysical reality. This is evidenced in their mummification practice, which is considered by many to me more advanced than even modern embalming techniques have been able to achieve.

Certain organs were carefully removed from the body of a deceased pharaoh, nobleman, or other aristocrats (who were the only people in Ancient Egyptian society that could afford mummification) placed in special urns and other containers with mixtures of spices and fluids that preserved these organs in remarkable condition for thousands of years, until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and their discovery.

The bodies of these individuals themselves were wrapped in linen strips that were also soaked in embalming fluids. The incredibly advanced medical and chemical knowledge that these processes evidence, combined with the dry desert air and the massive structures that often contained these mummies' tombs, preserved the material body of a deceased individual incredibly well. But the mummification process provides evidence of more than simply a knowledge of medical embalming techniques; it is also evidence of Egyptian attitudes towards death.

Though the preservation of the body and the individual organs through the processes of mummification have served modern archaeologists, anthropologists, and Egyptologists well, this was not the intent behind the actions of the Ancient Egyptians. They saw the preservation methods that they undertook as essential for ensuring a successful -- or even a possible -- afterlife for the deceased individual. Pharaohs were considered gods that had descended to Earth, and the royal lineage was considered divine -- it followed that like other gods, the pharaoh (and other members of nobility) must be immortal.

The afterlife to which it was presumed they traveled after the death of their earthly body mirrored this world in many details, including the need for a body with which to move about and enjoy the fruits of eternal paradise. Mummification was seen as necessary because without it, the body would crumble away leaving the soul no vessel to inhabit, creating a sort of eternal limbo for the deceased divine figure.

The needs of an individual in the Ancient Egyptian afterlife did not end with simply a body, however. Food and drink was also preserved in specially designed containers and concoctions, and the tombs themselves -- some of the most famous of which are contained in the pyramids -- were often constructed like palaces, with many different rooms with different purposes for the person to occupy in their life after death.

The afterlife, as in many subsequent cultures, was considered to be far more important than this world, which was viewed as something of a precursor to eternity, and mummification is imply the most famous example of this belief in modern times.

Along with the bodies, organs, food, treasure, and other physical artifacts that were to be of practical use to the person in their afterlife, tombs with mummies also typically contained many elaborate pieces of artwork, from the statuary of the sarcophagus -- the container of the mummy itself -- to the hieroglyphs and paintings that adorned the walls of many of the tombs' rooms. These pieces of art, just like the mummies themselves and the other things preserved along with the bodies of deceased nobility, are significant as more than simple adornments of a death bed, but served a vital function in the afterlife. This fact dictated many elements of their creation.

Artwork on the walls often depicted scenes or explicitly told stories (through hieroglyphic writing) of the entombed person's life, and could also represent scenes of the afterlife -- just as the representation of past events was a lasting physical rendering of temporal events, it was hoped that depicting future events of the afterlife in a similar manner would ensure their occurrence.

Whatever the intent of the illustration, however, there were certain rigid tropes and forms that the Ancient Egyptian artist had to have an extensive knowledge and mastery of before attempting a painting and/or relief carving on the tomb wall of a pharaoh.

These forms often bore little resemblance to realistic proportions, physical relationships or perspectives; instead, there were defined ways to present most body postures and actions.

One prime example of the various forms that certain postures and actions take in Ancient Egyptian art comes from the possible self-portrait one artist, Niankhptha, might have left of himself in a chapel wall outside a tomb.

The scene has been dubbed by modern scholars as the "Overseer of the Sculptors," and shows many of the different hand positions that had to be memorized and learned almost by rote for the successful portrayal of the scene in Ancient Egyptian art.

Also consistent with almost all wall paintings is the profile nature of most of the heads of the figures in the paintings, while the torsos face unnaturally out. There is no attempt at providing any perspective or dimension; the figures appear entirely flat despite the painting actually being carved in relief on the wall. Yet for all this there still seems to be some life in them; each person in the relief is busily engaged in some activity related to the production of a sculpture, and each actions is accompanied by a different positioning of the hand, torso, and shoulder. Each position veers from reality in its own way, too.

It seems odd that a culture so obsessed with the preservation of physical artifacts and detail would have such a representational style of art, particularly in funerary scenes that could have an effect on the afterlife -- this painting shows the not uncommon trick of placing connecting the left arm to the right shoulder (and vice-versa), which in certain positions makes the figures appear more realistic at first glance.

In fact, however, this can be seen to demonstrate the Egyptian belief that this world was merely representational of the next; there were certain rituals and traditions that needed to be performed and upheld in this world in order to ensure success in the next, and artwork was perhaps the prime example of this representation.

Another of this suspected self-portrait -- and most Egyptian art -- that our modern sensibilities might find unusual is how indistinguishable one figure is from the next. Again, this is evidence of the extreme representational quality of Ancient Egyptian art. Another such example comes from the in-tomb sculpture of Old Kingdom Pharaoh Rahotpe.

The style of the sculpture is markedly different from that of the New Kingdom relief painting, with slightly more attention paid to proportion and detail. Still, it is impossible to identify the figure based on facial features alone; it is necessary to rely on the hieroglyphics inscribed on the stone throne upon which the figure of the pharaoh is sat.

Again, the representational style of the Ancient Egyptians come… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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