Painting of the Day

20 Jun

Goldsmiths at Work. Artist Unknown. Painting on Wall, 1411-1375 BC. Located at Tomb 181, Valley of the Nobles, Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, Egypt.

Notes from 1001 Paintings You Must See Before You Die:

Goldsmiths at Work is a fragment of a wallpainting from the tomb of Ipuki and Nebamun who were craftsmen and sculptors who worked in the royal necropolis at Thebes during the reign of Amenhotep II. The eighteenth dynasty of ancient Egypt–often combined with the nineteenth and twentieth dynasties under the group title “New Kingdom”–was a time of great artistic flowering in ancient Egypt. Ipuki and Nebamun were involved in the royal building projects of the New Kingdom. Despite Nebamun’s modest title of “scribe and counter of grain,” he artfully prepared his own burial tomb to be shared by Ipuki, combining their skills to make a tomb as equally well crafted as any of the nobles’ tombs surrounding it. At least one wall of these tomb chambers was reserved for celebrating the work of the deceased. Goldsmiths at Work portrays eleven craft workers engaged in various activities from the initial weighing of gold to the creation of gold objects. Gold was used to decorate temples dedicated by the pharaoh, and was placed alongside the kings in their tombs for use in the afterlife. Goldsmiths at Work is an elegant portrayal of work, with many hands animated in diverse actions. It also provides important historical information about ancient Egyptian workshops, and the high degree of skill required by goldsmiths. Nebamun and Ipuki, who were possibly brothers, or related through marriage, are two artists who cannot resist providing an intimate portrait of their vocation, and of the artistic process at large.

My comments:

I thought since I mostly post Modern and Contemporary artworks on this blog, I would pick a work from another of my favorite eras of art history: ancient Egypt. What I love about ancient Egyptian art is that it intricately and beautifully weaves together every facet of life and devotes it to only one goal, to prepare humans’ burial tombs for a peaceful, enjoyable and endless afterlife. In fact, their art makes it seem as if the ancient Egyptians did nothing but prepare for their afterlives. But were their lives really this singularly focused? If one examined all the art that is produced in the United States today, it would reveal that we are pretty strange and wildly complex. It would be hard to make generalizations about American culture through its art, other than that we clearly enjoy freedom of expression. I would hazard to guess that the ancient Egyptians were much more complex, and didn’t think about their afterlives all of the time, but since the only art that we still have comes from the ancient Egyptians’ burial tombs, all of their art is a reflection of that sector of their lives. Which is somewhat sad, because it would be so interesting to see more sides of ancient Egypt.

Even so, it is clear that the ancient Egyptians were serious about the afterlife. Their painting style is incredibly distinctive; I think even the person who knows the least about art would be able to recognize ancient Egyptian as such. I wonder why they chose the simplistic, technically inaccurate (in terms of how human anatomy actually operates) figure types for all of their portrayals of people. Is it really true that they were not skilled enough to create anything more nuanced and detailed? Is there a way to ever find this out?

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