Ancient Egypt: Changing Times Reflected in Art

The ancient Egyptian world underwent many changes in the first through the fifth centuries C.E. Greek and Roman influences as well as Christian beliefs can be found in artwork of the era as well as loyalty to ancient ideas of the after-life. Two works summarize the cultural mix of the era. The first is “Portrait of a Boy” (http://www.metmuseum.org/Works_of_Art/viewOne.asp?dep=10&viewMode=0&item=18%2E9%2E2) crafted in second century Egypt. The piece is painted on wood using carefully mixed pigments and measures approximately fifteen inches in height. (Portrait of a Boy, 2005) The second object is a terra cotta sculpture entitled “Woman Wearing a Tunic.” (http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ho/05/afe/hod_12.185.4.htm) This piece was created in the early Byzantine period, sometime between the fourth and fifth centuries C.E. (Woman Wearing a Tunic, 2005) Both pieces reflected religious beliefs about the afterlife, one clinging to ancient ideas and the other adopting Christian beliefs.

Each of the works has a unique style. “Portrait of a Boy” is a realistic depiction of a young boy with dark hair and large, dark eyes. The artist made use of color, shading, and highlighting to create a sense of space. The painting is strongly influenced by Greek and Roman styles and is very different from earlier Egyptian art. (Portrait of a Boy, 2005) “Woman Wearing a Tunic” on the other hand is a slightly more stylized piece which depicts an Egyptian woman with Christian beliefs, as evidenced by the cross pendant she wears. While the figure is somewhat stylized, the fluid lines of the clothing and the forward step of the foot give the woman a natural stance. Instead of shading, black contour lines are used to indicate breaks and folds in the tunic. (Woman Wearing a Tunic, 2005) Both pieces depict hopeful, serene figures dressed in white, while incorporating bold colors.

While their styles are unique, the function of these pieces was very similar. Both were most likely entombed with their subject. “Portrait of a Boy” is a Faiyum panel; a portrait painted on wood, and was used to cover the head of a mummy. The panel would have been attached using the last layers of wrapping. (Portrait of a Boy, 2005) While “Portrait of a Boy” was used in the ancient Egyptian rituals, “Woman Wearing a Tunic” was most likely from a Christian tomb. (Woman Wearing a Tunic, 2005) Both pieces symbolized the subject’s belief in an after-life and both were sacred.

The mixture of Egypt’s cultural and religious beliefs in the early centuries was evidenced in its art. The spread of Christian ideals is reflected in “Woman Wearing a Tunic” and the still popular ancient beliefs are reflected in “Portrait of a Boy.” “Portrait of a Boy” also represents the melting pot of societies during this time. An Egyptian religious piece, it employed the styles of Greco-Roman art. (Portrait of a Boy, 2005) Both pieces are a perfect representation of the blending of cultures and beliefs which occurred at the end of the ancient era.

References:

Metropolitan Museum of Art, (2005). Portrait of a boy. Retrieved Jan. 22, 2006, from Works of Art Web site: http://www.metmuseum.org/Works_of_Art/viewOne.asp?dep=10&viewMode=0&item=18%2E9%2E2.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, (2005). Woman wearing a tunic. Retrieved Jan. 22, 2006, from Egypt 1-500 AD Web site: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ho/05/afe/hod_12.185.4.htm.

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