Sculpture of the Old Kingdom of Ancient EgyptWritten by: UnregisteredIntroduction Egypt is situated in the north-eastern corner of the African continent.
It is composed of two very different regions–Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt. Lower Egypt–the Black Land as it was also called by the ancient Egyptians–with its fertile soil strip along the Nile River makes up the northern part of the country. The Red Land–the Upper Egypt–is a desertous southern part with the red, sun-baked soil.
The history of ancient Egypt starts around 3000 B.C. when, according to the tradition, Menes Narmer unified the two lands and founded the first dynasty. That was the beginning of the Old Kingdom–the period of stability of the state that lasted until 2263 B.C. and included the dynasties Ist to VIth. Old Kingdom is known as the Golden Age of Egyptian art: during this period the famous pyramids of Giza and the legendary Sphinx were built and the canon that lasted for two millenniums was established.
Influences Even though Egyptians were the first to build a civilization they weren't the first artists. Obviously the first artists on Earth were the cavemen who produced the beautiful cave paintings found all over the world. However, the artworks that date tens of thousands of years back had little influence–or at least little direct influence–on the Egyptian art.
The characteristic features of the art of the Old Kingdom were derived almost exclusively from the works of the Bronze Age (4500-3000 B.C.). Made in that period, there were sculptures of animals that were the predecessors of the statues of Egyptian gods and goddesses in the shape of animals.
There were terra-cotta figures of women–probably the slaves from the African tribes–which probably were to represent the Mother Goddesses. However the art of the Old Kingdom had much more to borrow from that prehistoric period than just bits and pieces of ideas here and there. Probably the most important thing that the Bronze Age should be noted for in this context is the development of the canon of Egyptian sculpture.Here is quite long, but very complete and precise definition of the word 'canon' given by the Polish Egyptologist Kazimierz Michalowski in his book called Great Sculpture of Ancient Egypt: 1) The canon is a historically conditioned element of indigenous character.
2) It is a result of a mass of observations and experiences that lead to the fixing in art of the most typical forms found in nature but brought down to specific and constant proportions. 3) Its aim is to depict in the most "legible and comprehensible" idiom and to reflect reality not only as a visible but also a social experience. 4) It fulfils an active function in the ideological superstructure, which serves the ruling class, by reinforcing the conviction that the social order is stable and just through the glorification of the gods and the king. 5) It is one of the essential conditions for creating teamwork in workshops, to maintain a high level of production and quality.The sculptures from the predynastic period and the Old Kingdom were similar in many ways. General stiffness, unnatural positions, and little attention to detail and musculature mark the sculptures from both time periods. However, during the Old Kingdom the elaboration of human figure occurred adding more realism to the sculptural works.General Analysis of The Sculpture of Old Kingdom–Different Canons To me it's a very logical approach to analyze ancient Egyptian sculpture using the 'canonical' criteria and analyzing the rigid sets of art rules that determined the appearance statues.
Obviously all the sculptures of the Old Kingdom can be recognized as such because of the general features (barely indicated musculature, lack of detailing, and general squareness) and materials used (painted limestone, wood, terra-cotta). However, there were different canons for the people of different social classes. The sculptures of pharaohs (i.
e. kings) and the high royalty were the most canonical of all. The statues possess the very hierarchic attitudes and are depicted only in two poses–seating and walking. They have perfectly shaped young bodies and the only defects that can be found on the sculptures are due to the age of the stone that obviously did wear down in more than four millenniums. This approach is very logical since the pharaohs were considered to be the children of Egyptian greatest god Horus. The subjects of the pharaoh could only see him seating or walking and probably couldn't even dare to imagine him doing anything like yawning, jumping, crawling, you name it. The aim of sculpture was to depict the glory of the divine king of the land, thus the sculptures were done as perfectly and canonical as possible.
Going back to Michalowski's definition of canon, it serves to help.