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Fragment of  a wall of a tomb depicting a man and his wife

Fragment of a wall of a tomb depicting a man and his wife
© BA Antiquities Museum/C. Gerigk

Registration Number(s)
BAAM Serial Bibliotheca Alexandrina Antiquities Museum Number 0831

Inv.Inventory
 (Al-Asasif-Storeroom 33) 87

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Ancient Egyptian Antiquities

Fragment of a wall of a tomb depicting a man and his wife

Category:
Architecture, architectural decoration, reliefs
Date:
Ancient Egyptian period, New Kingdom (1550-1069 BCE)
Provenance:
Upper Egypt, Luxor (Thebes)
Material(s):
Rock, limestone
Length:
44 cm;
Width:
33 cm
Hall:
Ancient Egyptian Antiquities


Description

Part of a tomb wall decorated with high reliefs depicting the deceased lovingly embraced by his wife.  The wife's skin is painted in pale yellow, while her husband is depicted in dark brown.  This is in line with the ancient Egyptian tradition of showing the darker skin tone of tanned men who work outdoors, while their women are not exposed to the rays of the sun, particularly noble women.  The man wears a short white kilt and a wig, a large collar and a bracelet around each wrist.  Above the figures is a hieroglyphic inscription describing the wife as his beloved.

Sculpture and Painting

Sculpture as an art form was known to the ancient Egyptians since the beginning of Egyptian civilisation.  It was used to decorate the walls of temples and tombs.  It was divided into two types: sunken relief, also called 'hollow' or 'incised' relief, where the carving is "sunk below the level of the surrounding surface". Sunken reliefs were used for two purposes, namely hieroglyphic writings and to depict persons.

The other type, the elevated or high relief (also called alto relievo), is obtained when the sculpture or form extends or projects at least halfway out of the background or plane.

The two types of reliefs were used on walls from the time of the Fourth Dynasty in tomb chambers, on doors, thresholds, pillars and ceilings, as well as on temple walls.

Painting and sculpture had a political and religious dimension to them.  They showed different temple activities, the king as a warrior and victor in battles, the king as a priest backed by the gods and a preserver of religious ceremonies and rituals, as well as a celebrant of festivals.  Paintings also recorded battle scenes and temple activities.

Painting and sculpting involved a team effort and were not an individual endeavour.  One craftsman would paint, the other carve, while a third would supervise the work and correct it until it acquired its final shape.

The ancient Egyptian sculptor would show the torso and the eye from the front, while the head and lower body were depicted sideways. The body was sculpted flat, without depth or details and lines were sharp.  The torso was fixed in a triangle, while the rest of the body and clothes had sharp geometrical lines.

Scenes were sculpted from left to right or vice versa.  The wall was usually divided into sections or registers separated by horizontal lines in order to make use of the surface to depict several scenes.  Gods, royals and tomb owners were sculpted in a larger size than other people.

Lines became less marked during the New Kingdom and movements were more dynamic until the Twenty Sixth Dynasty, when lines were once again made sharper, as was the custom during the Old Kingdom.  This trend lasted during the Greco-Roman period as well. 

In private tombs, the tomb owner was depicted in the company of his wife in front of an offering table.  This scene was repeated over the ages.

Painting instead of carving spread in Thebes during the New Kingdom in view of its ease, particularly in tombs.  The artist covered the walls with a layer of fine plaster before painting, using many colours with great skill.

Colours were derived from vegetable products or from minerals which were crushed and powdered.  For instance, red and yellow were obtained from iron oxides, white from limestone and gypsum to depict clothing, while black from charcoal or burnt plant materials (soot).  These minerals were mixed with water and binders such as tree gum were used to fix the colours.  The painter depicted the same scenes which were previously carved, such as scenes from daily life or religious rituals to glorify the deceased.


The information given here is subject to modification/update as a result of ongoing research.

Bibliography
  • "Carving & sculpturing". In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, Edited by Donald B. Redford. Vol. I. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.  
  • "Carving". In Dictionary of Egyptian civilization. By Posener, Georges, Serge Sauneron and Jean Yoyotte. Translated from the French by Alix Macfarlane. London: Methuen, 1962.
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