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The statues and bas-reliefs which decorated the temples and tombs of Ancient Egypt were for the most part painted. Coloured stones, such as granite, basalt, diorite, serpentine, and alabaster, sometimes escaped this law of polychrome; but in the case of sandstone, limestone, or wood it was rigorously enforced. If sometimes we meet with uncoloured monuments in these materials, we may be sure that the paint has been accidentally rubbed off, or that the work is unfinished. The sculptor and the painter were therefore inseparably allied. The first had no sooner finished his share of the task than the other took it up; and the same artist was often as skilful a master of the brush as of the chisel.


Of the system upon which drawing was taught by the Egyptian masters, we know nothing. They had learned from experience to determine the general proportions of the body, and the invariable relations of the various parts one with another; but they never troubled themselves to tabulate those proportions, or to reduce them to a system. Nothing in what remains to us of their works justifies the belief that they ever possessed a canon based upon the length of the human finger or foot. Theirs was a teaching of routine, and not of theory. Models executed by the master were copied over and over again by his pupils, till they could reproduce them with absolute exactness. That they also studied from the life is shown by the facility with which they seized a likeness, or rendered the characteristics and movements of different kinds of animals. They made their first attempts upon slabs of limestone, on drawing boards covered with a coat of red or white stucco, or on the backs of old manuscripts of no value. New papyrus was too dear to be spoiled by the scrawls of tyros. Having neither pencil nor stylus, they made use of the reed, the end of which, when steeped in water, opened out into small fibres, and made a more or less fine brush according to the size of the stem. The palette was of thin wood, in shape a rectangular oblong, with a groove in which to lay the brush at the lower end. At the upper end were two or more cup-like hollows, each fitted with a cake of ink; black and red being the colours most in use. A tiny pestle and mortar for colour-grinding , and a cup of water in which to clip and wash the brush, completed the apparatus of the student. Palette in hand, he squatted cross-legged before his copy, and, without any kind of support for his wrist, endeavoured to reproduce the outline in black. The master looked over his work when done, and corrected the errors in red ink.

The few designs which have come down to us are drawn on pieces of limestone, and are for the most part in sufficiently bad preservation. The British Museum possesses two or three subjects in red outline, which may perhaps have been used as copies by the decorators of some Theban tomb about the time of the Twentieth Dynasty. A fragment in the Museum of Gizeh contains studies of ducks or geese in black ink; and at Turin may be seen a sketch of a half-nude female figure bending backwards, as about to turn a somersault. The lines are flowing, the movement is graceful, the modelling delicate. The draughtsman was not hampered then as now, by the rigidity of the instrument between his fingers. The reed brush attacked the surface perpendicularly; broadened, diminished, or prolonged the line at will; and stopped or turned with the utmost readiness. So supple a medium was admirably adapted to the rapid rendering of the humorous or ludicrous episodes of daily life. The Egyptians, naturally laughter-loving and satirical, were caricaturists from an early period. One of the Turin papyri chronicles the courtship of a shaven priest and a songstress of Amen in a series of spirited vignettes; while on the back of the same sheet are sketched various serio-comic scenes, in which animals parody the pursuits of civilised man. An ass, a lion, a crocodile, and an ape are represented in the act of giving a vocal and instrumental concert; a lion and a gazelle play at draughts; the Pharaoh of all the rats, in a chariot drawn by dogs, gallops to the assault of a fortress garrisoned by cats; a cat of fashion, with a flower on her head, has come to blows with a goose, and the hapless fowl, powerless in so unequal a contest, topples over with terror. Cats, by the way, were the favourite animals of Egyptian caricaturists. An ostrakon in the New York Museum depicts a cat of rank en grande toilette, seated in an easy chair, and a miserable Tom, with piteous mien and tail between his legs, serving her with refreshments . Our catalogue of comic sketches is brief; but the abundance of pen-drawings with which certain religious works were illustrated compensates for our poverty in secular subjects. These works are The Book of the Dead and The Book of Knowing That which is in Hades, which were reproduced by hundreds, according to standard copies preserved in the temples, or handed down through families whose hereditary profession it was to conduct the services for the dead. When making these illustrations, the artist had no occasion to draw upon his imagination. He had but to imitate the copy as skilfully as he could. Of The Book of Knowing That which is in Hades we have no examples earlier than the time of the Twentieth Dynasty, and these are poor enough in point of workmanship, the figures being little better than dot-and-line forms, badly proportioned and hastily scrawled. The extant specimens of The Book of the Dead are so numerous that a history of the art of miniature painting in ancient Egypt might be compiled from this source alone. The earliest date from the Eighteenth Dynasty, the more recent being contemporary with the first Caesars. The oldest copies are for the most part remarkably fine in execution. Each chapter has its vignette representing a god in human or animal form, a sacred emblem, or the deceased in adoration before a divinity. These little subjects are sometimes ranged horizontally at the top of the text, which is written in vertical columns ; sometimes, like the illuminated capitals in our mediaeval manuscripts, they are scattered throughout the pages. At certain points, large subjects fill the space from top to bottom of the papyrus. The burial scene comes at the beginning; the judgment of the soul about the middle; and the arrival of the deceased in the Fields of Aalu at the end of the work. In these, the artist seized the opportunity to display his skill, and show what he could do. We here see the mummy of Hunefer placed upright before his stela and his tomb . The women of his family bewail him; the men and the priest present offerings. The papyri of the princes and princesses of the family of Pinotem in the Museum of Gizeh show that the best traditions of the art were yet in force at Thebes in the time of the Twenty-first Dynasty. Under the succeeding dynasties, that art fell into rapid decadence, and during some centuries the drawings continue to be coarse and valueless. The collapse of the Persian rule produced a period of Renaissance. Tombs of the Greek time have yielded papyri with vignettes carefully executed in a dry and minute style which offers a singular contrast to the breadth and boldness of the Pharaonic ages. The broad-tipped reed-pen was thrown aside for the pen with a fine point, and the scribes vied with each other as to which should trace the most attenuated lines. The details with which they overloaded their figures, the elaboration of the beard and the hair, and the folds of the garments, are sometimes so minute that it is scarcely possible to distinguish them without a magnifying glass. Precious as these documents are, they give a very insufficient idea of the ability and technical methods of the artists of ancient Egypt. It is to the walls of their temples and tombs that we must turn, if we desire to study their principles of composition.

Their conventional system differed materially from our own. Man or beast, the subject was never anything but a profile relieved against a flat background. Their object, therefore, was to select forms which presented a characteristic outline capable of being reproduced in pure line upon a plane surface. As regarded animal life, the problem was in no wise complicated. The profile of the back and body, the head and neck, carried in undulating lines parallel with the ground, were outlined at one sweep of the pencil. The legs also are well detached from the body. The animals themselves are lifelike, each with the gait and action and flexion of the limbs peculiar to its species. The slow and measured tread of the ox; the short step, the meditative ear, the ironical mouth of the ass; the abrupt little trot of the goat, the spring of the hunting greyhound, are all rendered with invariable success of outline and expression. Turning from domestic animals to wild beasts, the perfection of treatment is the same. The calm strength of the lion in repose, the stealthy and sleepy tread of the leopard, the grimace of the ape, the slender grace of the gazelle and the antelope, have never been better expressed than in Egypt. But it was not so easy to project manthe whole manupon a plane surface without some departure from nature. A man cannot be satisfactorily reproduced by means of mere lines, and a profile outline necessarily excludes too much of his person. The form of the forehead and the nose, the curvature of the lips, the cut of the ear, disappear when the head is drawn full face; but, on the other hand, it is necessary that the bust should be presented full face, in order to give the full development of the shoulders, and that the two arms may be visible to right and left of the body. The contours of the trunk are best modelled in a three-quarters view, whereas the legs show to most advantage when seen sidewise. The Egyptians did not hesitate to combine these contradictory points of view in one single figure. The head is almost always given in profile, but is provided with a full-face eye and placed upon a full-face bust. The full-face bust adorns a trunk seen from a three-quarters point of view, and this trunk is supported upon legs depicted in profile. Very seldom do we meet with figures treated according to our own rules of perspective. Most of the minor personages represented in the tomb of Khnumhotep seem, however, to have made an effort to emancipate themselves from the law of malformation. Their bodies are given in profile, as well as their heads and legs; but they thrust forward first one shoulder and then the other, in order to show both arms , and the effect is not happy. Yet, if we examine the treatment of the farm servant who is cramming a goose, and, above all, the figure of the standing man who throws his weight upon the neck of a gazelle to make it kneel down , we shall see that the action of the arms and hips is correctly rendered, that the form of the back is quite right, and that the prominence of the chestthrown forward in proportion as the shoulders and arms are thrown backis drawn without any exaggeration. The wrestlers of the Beni Hasan tombs, the dancers and servants of the Theban catacombs, attack, struggle, posture, and go about their work with perfect naturalness and ease . These, however, are exceptions. Tradition, as a rule, was stronger than nature, and to the end of the chapter, the Egyptian masters continued to deform the human figure. Their men and women are actual monsters from the point of view of the anatomist; and yet, after all, they are neither so ugly nor so ridiculous as might be supposed by those who have seen only the wretched copies so often made by our modern artists. The wrong parts are joined to the right parts with so much skill that they seem to have grown there. The natural lines and the fictitious lines follow and complement each other so ingeniously, that the former appear to give rise of necessity to the latter. The conventionalities of Egyptian art once accepted, we cannot sufficiently admire the technical skill displayed by the draughtsman. His line was pure, firm, boldly begun, and as boldly prolonged. Ten or twelve strokes of the brush sufficed to outline a figure the size of life. The whole head, from the nape of the neck to the rise of the throat above the collar-bone, was executed at one sweep. Two long undulating lines gave the external contour of the body from the armpits to the ends of the feet. Two more determined the outlines of the legs, and two the arms. The details of costume and ornaments, at first but summarily indicated, were afterwards taken up one by one, and minutely finished. We may almost count the locks of the hair, the plaits of the linen, the inlayings of the girdles and bracelets. This mixture of artless science and intentional awkwardness, of rapid execution and patient finish, excludes neither elegance of form, nor grace of attitude, nor truth of movement. These personages are of strange aspect, but they live; and to those who will take the trouble to look at them without prejudice, their very strangeness has a charm about it which is often lacking to works more recent in date and more strictly true to nature.

We admit, then, that the Egyptians could draw. Were they, as it has been ofttimes asserted, ignorant of the art of composition? We will take a scene at hazard from a Theban tombthat scene which represents the funerary repast offered to Prince Horemheb by the members of his family . The subject is half ideal, half real. The dead man, and those belonging to him who are no longer of this world, are depicted in the society of the living. They are present, yet aloof. They assist at the banquet, but they do not actually take part in it. Horemheb sits on a folding stool to the left of the spectator. He dandles on his knee a little princess, daughter of Amenhotep III., whose foster-father he was, and who died before him. His mother, Suit, sits at his right hand a little way behind, enthroned in a large chair. She holds his arm with her left hand, and with the right she offers him a lotus blossom and bud. A tiny gazelle which was probably buried with her, like the pet gazelle discovered beside Queen Isiemkheb in the hiding-place at Deir el Baharí, is tied to one of the legs of the chair. This ghostly group is of heroic size, the rule being that gods are bigger than men, kings bigger than their subjects, and the dead bigger than the living. Horemheb, his mother, and the women standing before them, occupy the front level, or foreground. The relations and friends are ranged in line facing their deceased ancestors, and appear to be talking one with another. The feast has begun. The jars of wine and beer, placed in rows upon wooden stands, are already unsealed. Two young slaves rub the hands and necks of the living guests with perfumes taken from an alabaster vase. Two women dressed in robes of ceremony present offerings to the group of dead, consisting of vases filled with flowers, perfumes, and grain. These they place in turn upon a square table. Three others dance, sing, and play upon the lute, by way of accompaniment to those acts of homage. In the picture, as in fact, the tomb is the place of entertainment. There is no other background to the scene than the wall covered with hieroglyphs, along which the guests were seated during the ceremony. Elsewhere, the scene of action, if in the open country, is distinctly indicated by trees and tufts of grass; by red sand, if in the desert; and by a maze of reeds and lotus plants, if in the marshes. A lady of quality comes in from a walk . One of her daughters, being athirst, takes a long draught from a “gullah”; two little naked children with shaven heads, a boy and a girl, who ran to meet their mother at the gate, are made happy with toys brought home and handed to them by a servant. A trellised enclosure covered with vines, and trees laden with fruit, are shown above; yonder, therefore, is the garden, but the lady and her daughters have passed through it without stopping, and are now indoors. The front of the house is half put in and half left out, so that we may observe what is going on inside. We accordingly see three attendants hastening to serve their mistresses with refreshments. The picture is not badly composed, and it would need but little alteration if transferred to a modern canvas. The same old awkwardness, or rather the same old obstinate custom, which compelled the Egyptian artist to put a profile head upon a full-face bust, has, however, prevented him from placing his middle distance and background behind his foreground. He has, therefore, been reduced to adopt certain more or less ingenious contrivances, in order to make up for an almost complete absence of perspective.

Again, when a number of persons engaged in the simultaneous performance of any given act were represented on the same level, they were isolated as much as possible, so that each man’s profile might not cover that of his neighbour. When this was not done, they were arranged to overlap each other, and this, despite the fact that all stood on the one level; so that they have actually but two dimensions and no thickness. A herdsman walking in the midst of his oxen plants his feet upon precisely the same ground-line as the beast which interposes between his body and the spectator. The most distant soldier of a company which advances in good marching order to the sound of the trumpet, has his head and feet on exactly the same level; as the head and feet of the foremost among his comrades . When a squadron of chariots defiles before Pharaoh, one would declare that their wheels all ran in the self-same ruts, were it not that the body of the first chariot partly hides the horse by which the second chariot is drawn . In these examples the people and objects are, either accidentally or naturally, placed so near together, that the anomaly does not strike one as too glaring. In taking these liberties, the Egyptian artist but anticipated a contrivance adopted by the Greek sculptor of a later age. Elsewhere, the Egyptian has occasionally approached nearer to truth of treatment. The archers of Rameses III. at Medinet Habu make an effort, which is almost successful, to present themselves in perspective. The row of helmets slopes downwards, and the row of bows slopes upwards, with praiseworthy regularity; but the men’s feet are all on the same level, and do not, therefore, follow the direction of the other lines . This mode of representation is not uncommon during the Theban period. It was generally adopted when men or animals, ranged in line, had to be shown in the act of doing the same thing; but it was subject to the grave drawback (or what was in Egyptian eyes the grave drawback) of showing the body of the first man only, and of almost entirely hiding the rest of the figures. When, therefore, it was found impossible to range all upon the same level without hiding some of their number, the artist frequently broke his masses up into groups, and placed one above the other on the same vertical plane. Their height in no wise depends on the place they occupy in the perspective of the tableau, but only upon the number of rows required by the artist to carry out his idea. If two rows of figures are sufficient, he divides his space horizontally into equal parts; if he requires three rows, he divides it into three parts; and so on. When, however, it is a question of mere accessories, they are made out upon a smaller scale. Secondary scenes are generally separated by a horizontal line, but this line is not indispensable. When masses of figures formed in regular order had to be shown, the vertical planes lapped over, so to speak, according to the caprice of the limner. At the battle of Kadesh, the files of Egyptian infantry rise man above man, waist high, from top to bottom of the phalanx ; while those of the Kheta, or Hittite battalions, show but one head above another .

It was not only in their treatment of men and animals that the Egyptians allowed themselves this latitude. Houses, trees, land and water, were as freely misrepresented. An oblong rectangle placed upright, or on its side, and covered with regular zigzags, represents a canal. Lest one should be in doubt as to its meaning, fishes and crocodiles are put in, to show that it is water, and nothing but water. Boats are seen floating upright upon this edgewise surface; the flocks ford it where it is shallow; and the angler with his line marks the spot where the water ends and the bank begins. Sometimes the rectangle is seen suspended like a framed picture, at about half way of the height of several palm trees ; whereby we are given to understand a tank bordered on both sides by trees. Sometimes, again, as in the tomb of Rekhmara, the trees are laid down in rows round the four sides of a square pond, while a profile boat conveying a dead man in his shrine, hauled by slaves also shown in profile, floats on the vertical surface of the water . The Theban catacombs of the Ramesside period supply abundant examples of contrivances of this kind; and, having noted them, we end by not knowing which most to wonder atthe obstinacy of the Egyptians in not seeking to discover the natural laws of perspective, or the inexhaustible wealth of resource which enabled them to invent so many false relations between the various parts of their subjects.

When employed upon a very large scale, their methods of composition shock the eye less than when applied to small subjects. We instinctively feel that even the ablest artist must sometimes have played fast and loose with the laws of perspective, if tasked to cover the enormous surfaces of Egyptian pylons.

Hence the unities of the subject are never strictly observed in these enormous bas-reliefs. The main object being to perpetuate the memory of a victorious Pharaoh, that Pharaoh necessarily plays the leading part; but instead of selecting from among his striking deeds some one leading episode pre-eminently calculated to illustrate his greatness, the Egyptian artist delighted to present the successive incidents of his campaigns at a single coup d’oeil. Thus treated, the pylons of Luxor and the Ramesseum show a Syrian night attack upon the Egyptian camp; a seizure of spies sent by the prince of the Kheta for the express purpose of being caught and giving false intelligence of his movements; the king’s household troops surprised and broken by the Khetan chariots; the battle of Kadesh and its various incidents, so furnishing us, as it were, with a series of illustrated despatches of the Syrian campaign undertaken by Rameses II. in the fifth year of his reign. After this fashion precisely did the painters of the earliest Italian schools depict within the one field, and in one uninterrupted sequence, the several episodes of a single narrative. The scenes are irregularly dispersed over the surface of the wall, without any marked lines of separation, and, as with the bas-reliefs upon the column of Trajan, one is often in danger of dividing the groups in the wrong place, and of confusing the characters. This method is reserved almost exclusively for official art. In the interior decoration of temples and tombs, the various parts of the one subject are distributed in rows ranged one above the other, from the ground line to the cornice. Thus another difficulty is added to the number of those which prevent us from understanding the style and intention of Egyptian design. We often imagine that we are looking at a series of isolated scenes, when in fact we have before our eyes the disjecta membra of a single composition. Take, for example, one wall-side of the tomb of Ptahhotep at Sakkarah . If we would discover the link which divides these separate scenes, we shall do well to compare this wall-subject with the mosaic at Palestrina , a monument of Graeco-Roman time which represents almost the same scenes, grouped, however, after a style more familiar to our ways of seeing and thinking. The Nile occupies the immediate foreground of the picture, and extends as far as the foot of the mountains in the distance. Towns rise from the water’s edge; and not only towns, but obelisks, farm-houses, and towers of Graeco-Italian style, more like the buildings depicted in Pompeian landscapes than the monuments of the Pharaohs. Of these buildings, only the large temple in the middle distance to the right of the picture, with its pylon gateway and its four Osirian colossi, recalls the general arrangement of Egyptian architecture. To the left, a party of sportsmen in a large boat are seen in the act of harpooning the hippopotamus and crocodile. To the right, a group of legionaries, drawn up in front of a temple and preceded by a priest, salute a passing galley. Towards the middle of the foreground, in the shade of an arched trellis thrown across a small branch of the Nile, some half-clad men and women are singing and carousing. Little papyrus skiffs, each rowed by a single boatman, and other vessels fill the vacant spaces of the composition. Behind the buildings we see the commencement of the desert. The water forms large pools at the base of overhanging hills, and various animals, real or imaginary, are pursued by shaven-headed hunters in the upper part of the picture. Now, precisely after the manner of the Roman mosaicist, the old Egyptian artist placed himself, as it were, on the Nile, and reproduced all that lay between his own standpoint and the horizon. In the wall-painting the river flows along the line next the floor, boats come and go, and boatmen fall to blows with punting poles and gaffs. In the division next above, we see the river bank and the adjoining flats, where a party of slaves, hidden in the long grasses, trap and catch birds. Higher still, boat-making, rope-making, and fish-curing are going on. Finally, in the highest register of all, next the ceiling, are depicted the barren hills and undulating plains of the desert, where greyhounds chase the gazelle, and hunters trammel big game with the lasso. Each longitudinal section corresponds, in fact, with a plane of the landscape; but the artist, instead of placing his planes in perspective, has treated them separately, and placed them one above the other. We find the same disposition of the parts in all Egyptian tomb paintings. Scenes of inundation and civil life are ranged along the base of the wall, mountain subjects and hunting scenes being invariably placed high up. Sometimes, interposed between these two extremes, the artist has introduced subjects dealing with the pursuits of the herdsman, the field labourer, and the craftsman. Elsewhere, he suppresses these intermediary episodes, and passes abruptly from the watery to the sandy region. Thus, the mosaic of Palestrina and the tomb-paintings of Pharaonic Egypt reproduce the same group of subjects, treated after the conventional styles and methods of two different schools of art. Like the mosaic, the wall scenes of the tomb formed, not a series of independent scenes, but an ordinary composition, the unity of which is readily recognised by such as are skilled to read the art-language of the period.


The preparation of the surface about to be decorated demanded much time and care. Seeing how imperfect were the methods of construction, and how impossible it was for the architect to ensure a perfectly level surface for the facing stones of his temple-walls and pylons, the decorator had perforce to accommodate himself to a surface slightly rounded in some places and slightly hollowed in others. Even the blocks of which it was formed were scarcely homogeneous in texture. The limestone strata in which the Theban catacombs were excavated were almost always interspersed with flint nodules, fossils, and petrified shells. These faults were variously remedied according as the decoration was to be sculptured or painted. If painted, the wall was first roughly levelled, and then overlaid with a coat of black clay and chopped straw, similar to the mixture used for brick-making. If sculptured, then the artist had to arrange his subject so as to avoid the inequalities of the stone as much as possible. When these occurred in the midst of the figure subjects, and if they did not offer too stubborn a resistance to the chisel, they were simply worked over; otherwise the piece was cut out and a new piece fitted in, or the hole was filled up with white cement. This mending process was no trifling matter. We could point to tomb-chambers where every wall is thus inlaid to the extent of one quarter of its surface. The preliminary work being done, the whole was covered with a thin coat of fine plaster mixed with white of egg, which hid the mud-wash or the piecing, and prepared a level and polished surface for the pencil of the artist. In chambers, or parts of chambers, which have been left unfinished, and even in the quarries, we constantly find sketches of intended bas-reliefs, outlined in red or black ink. The copy was generally executed upon a small scale, then squared off, and transferred to the wall by the pupils and assistants of the master. As in certain scenes carefully copied by Prisse from the walls of Theban tombs, the subject is occasionally indicated by only two or three rapid strokes of the reed . Elsewhere, the outline is fully made out, and the figures only await the arrival of the sculptor. Some designers took pains to determine the position of the shoulders, and the centre of gravity of the bodies, by vertical and horizontal lines, upon which, by means of a dot, they noted the height of the knee, the hips, and other parts . Others again, more self-reliant, attacked their subject at once, and drew in the figures without the aid of guiding points. Such were the artists who decorated the catacomb of Seti I., and the southern walls of the temple of Abydos. Their outlines are so firm, and their facility is so surprising, that they have been suspected of stencilling; but no one who has closely examined their figures, or who has taken the trouble to measure them with a compass, can maintain that opinion. The forms of some are slighter than the forms of others; while in some the contours of the chest are more accentuated, and the legs farther apart, than in others. The master had little to correct in the work of these subordinates. Here and there he made a head more erect, accentuated or modified the outline of a knee, or improved some detail of arrangement. In one instance, however, at Kom Ombo, on the ceiling of a Graeco-Roman portico, some of the divinities had been falsely oriented, their feet being placed where their arms should have been. The master consequently outlined them afresh, and on the same squared surface, without effacing the first drawing. Here, at all events, the mistake was discovered in time. At Karnak, on the north wall of the hypostyle hall, and again at Medinet Habu, the faults of the original design were not noticed till the sculptor had finished his part of the work. The figures of Seti I. and Rameses III. were thrown too far back, and threatened to overbalance themselves; so they were smoothed over with cement and cut anew. Now, the cement has flaked off, and the work of the first chisel is exposed to view. Seti I. and Rameses III. have each two profiles, the one very lightly marked, the other boldly cut into the surface of the stone .

The sculptors of ancient Egypt were not so well equipped as those of our own day. A kneeling scribe in limestone at the Gizeh Museum has been carved with the chisel, the grooves left by the tool being visible on his skin. A statue in grey serpentine, in the same collection, bears traces of the use of two different tools, the body being spotted all over with point-marks, and the unfinished head being blocked out splinter by splinter with a small hammer. Similar observations, and the study of the monuments, show that the drill , the toothed-chisel, and the gouge were also employed. There have been endless discussions as to whether these tools were of iron or of bronze. Iron, it is argued, was deemed impure. No one could make use of it, even for the basest needs of daily life, without incurring a taint prejudicial to the soul both in this world and the next. But the impurity of any given object never sufficed to prevent the employment of it when required. Pigs also were impure; yet the Egyptians bred them. They bred them, indeed, so abundantly in certain districts, that our worthy Herodotus tells us how the swine were turned into the fields after seed-sowing, in order that they might tread in the grain. So also iron, like many other things in Egypt, was pure or impure according to circumstances. If some traditions held it up to odium as an evil thing, and stigmatised it as the “bones of Typhon,” other traditions equally venerable affirmed that it was the very substance of the canopy of heaven. So authoritative was this view, that iron was currently known as “Ba-en-pet,” or the celestial metal. The only fragment of metal found in the great pyramid is a piece of plate-iron; and if ancient iron objects are nowadays of exceptional rarity as compared with ancient bronze objects, it is because iron differs from bronze, inasmuch as it is not protected from destruction by its oxide. Rust speedily devours it, and it needs a rare combination of favourable circumstances to preserve it intact. If, however, it is quite certain that the Egyptians were acquainted with, and made use of, iron, it is no less certain that they were wholly unacquainted with steel. This being the case, one asks how they can possibly have dealt at will upon the hardest rocks, even upon such as we ourselves hesitate to attack, namely, diorite, basalt, and the granite of Syene. The manufacturers of antiquities who sculpture granite for the benefit of tourists, have found a simple solution of this problem. They work with some twenty common iron chisels at hand, which after a very few turns are good for nothing. When one is blunted, they take up another, and so on till the stock is exhausted. Then they go to the forge, and put their tools into working order again. The process is neither so long nor so difficult as might be supposed. In the Gizeh Museum is a life-size head, produced from a block of black and red granite in less than a fortnight by one of the best forgers in Luxor. I have no doubt that the ancient Egyptians worked in precisely the same way, and mastered the hardest stones by the use of iron. Practice soon taught them methods by which their labour might be lightened, and their tools made to yield results as delicate and subtle as those which we achieve with our own. As soon as the learner knew how to manage the point and the mallet, his master set him to copy a series of graduated models representing an animal in various stages of completion, or a part of the human body, or the whole human body, from the first rough sketch to the finished design . Every year, these models are found in sufficient number to establish examples of progressive series. Apart from isolated specimens which are picked up everywhere, the Gizeh collection contains a set of fifteen from Sakkarah, forty-one from Tanis, and a dozen from Thebes and Medinet Habu. They were intended partly for the study of bas-reliefs, partly for the study of sculpture proper; and they reveal the method in use for both.

The Egyptians treated bas-relief in three ways: either as a simple engraving executed by means of incised lines; or by cutting away the surface of the stone round the figure, and so causing it to stand out in relief upon the wall; or by sinking the design below the wall-surface and cutting it in relief at the bottom of the hollow. The first method has the advantage of being expeditious, and the disadvantage of not being sufficiently decorative. Rameses III. made use of it in certain parts of his temple at Medinet Habu; but, as a rule, it was preferred for stelae and small monuments. The last-named method lessened not only the danger of damage to the work, but the labour of the workman. It evaded the dressing down of the background, which was a distinct economy of time, and it left no projecting work on the surface of the walls, the design being thus sheltered from accidental blows. The intermediate process was, however, generally adopted, and appears to have been taught in the schools by preference. The models were little rectangular tablets, squared off in order that the scholar might enlarge or reduce the scale of his subject without departing from the traditional proportions. Some of these models are wrought on both sides; but the greater number are sculptured on one side only. Sometimes the design represents a bull; sometimes the head of a cynocephalous ape, of a ram, of a lion, of a divinity. Occasionally, we find the subject in duplicate, side by side, being roughly blocked out to the left, and highly finished to the right. In no instance does the relief exceed a quarter of an inch, and it is generally even less. Not but that the Egyptians sometimes cut boldly into the stone. At Medinet Habu and Karnakon the higher parts of these temples, where the work is in granite or sandstone, and exposed to full daylightthe bas-relief decoration projects full 6-3/8 inches above the surface. Had it been lower, the tableaux would have been, as it were, absorbed by the flood of light poured upon them, and to the eye of the spectator would have presented only a confused network of lines. The models designed for the study of the round are even more instructive than the rest. Some which have come down to us are plaster casts of familiar subjects. The head, the arms, the legs, the trunk, each part of the body, in short, was separately cast. If a complete figure were wanted, the disjecta membra were put together, and the result was a statue of a man, or of a woman, kneeling, standing, seated, squatting, the arms extended or falling passively by the sides. This curious collection was discovered at Tanis, and dates probably from Ptolemaic times. Models of the Pharaonic ages are in soft limestone, and nearly all represent portraits of reigning sovereigns. These are best described as cubes measuring about ten inches each way. The work was begun by covering one face of a cube with a network of lines crossing each other at right angles; these regulated the relative position of the features. Then the opposite side was attacked, the distances being taken from the scale on the reverse face. A mere oval was designed on this first block; a projection in the middle and a depression to right and left, vaguely indicating the whereabouts of nose and eyes. The forms become more definite as we pass from cube to cube, and the face emerges by degrees. The limit of the contours is marked off by parallel lines cut vertically from top to bottom. The angles were next cut away and smoothed down, so as to bring out the forms. Gradually the features become disengaged from the block, the eye looks out, the nose gains refinement, the mouth is developed. When the last cube is reached, there remains nothing to finish save the details of the head-dress and the basilisk on the brow. No scholar’s model in basalt has yet been found; but the Egyptians, like our monumental masons, always kept a stock of half-finished statues in hard stone, which could be turned out complete in a few hours. The hands, feet, and bust needed only a few last touches; but the heads were merely blocked out, and the clothing left in the rough. Half a day’s work then sufficed to transform the face into a portrait of the purchaser, and to give the last new fashion to the kilt. The discovery of some two or three statues of this kind has shown us as much of the process as a series of teacher’s models might have done. Volcanic rocks could not be cut with the continuity and regularity of limestone. The point only could make any impression upon these obdurate materials. When, by force of time and patience, the work had thus been finished to the degree required, there would often remain some little irregularities of surface, due, for example, to the presence of nodules and heterogeneous substances, which the sculptor had not ventured to attack, for fear of splintering away part of the surrounding surface. In order to remove these irregularities, another tool was employed; namely, a stone cut in the form of an axe. Applying the sharp edge of this instrument to the projecting nodule, the artist struck it with a round stone in place of a mallet. A succession of carefully calculated blows with these rude tools pulverised the obtrusive knob, which disappeared in dust. All minor defects being corrected, the monument still looked dull and unfinished. It was necessary to polish it, in order to efface the scars of point and mallet. This was a most delicate operation, one slip of the hand, or a moment’s forgetfulness, being enough to ruin the labour of many weeks. The dexterity of the Egyptian craftsman was, however, so great that accidents rarely happened. The Sebekemsaf of Gizeh, the colossal Rameses II. of Luxor, challenge the closest examination. The play of light upon the surface may at first prevent the eye from apprehending the fineness of the work; but, seen under favourable circumstances, the details of knee and chest, of shoulder and face, prove to be no less subtly rendered in granite than in limestone. Excess of polish has no more spoiled the statues of Ancient Egypt than it spoiled those of the sculptors of the Italian Renaissance.

A sandstone or limestone statue would have been deemed imperfect if left to show the colour of the stone in which it was cut, and was painted from head to foot. In bas-relief, the background was left untouched and only the figures were coloured. The Egyptians had more pigments at their disposal than is commonly supposed. The more ancient painters’ palettesand we have some which date from the Fifth Dynastyhave compartments for yellow, red, blue, brown, white, black, and green. Others, of the time of the Eighteenth Dynasty, provide for three varieties of yellow, three of brown, two of red, two of blue, and two of green; making in all some fourteen or sixteen different tints.

Black was obtained by calcining the bones of animals. The other substances employed in painting were indigenous to the country. The white is made of gypsum, mixed with albumen or honey; the yellows are ochre, or sulphuret of arsenic, the orpiment of our modern artists; the reds are ochre, cinnabar, or vermilion; the blues are pulverised lapis-lazuli, or silicate of copper. If the substance was rare or costly, a substitute drawn from the products of native industry was found. Lapis-lazuli, for instance, was replaced by blue frit made with an admixture of silicate of copper, and this was reduced to an impalpable powder. The painters kept their colours in tiny bags, and, as required, mixed them with water containing a little gum tragacanth. They laid them on by means of a reed, or a more or less fine hair brush. When well prepared, these pigments are remarkably solid, and have changed but little during the lapse of ages. The reds have darkened, the greens have faded, the blues have turned somewhat green or grey; but this is only on the surface. If that surface is scraped off, the colour underneath is brilliant and unchanged. Before the Theban period, no precautions were taken to protect the painter’s work from the action of air and light. About the time of the Twentieth Dynasty, however, it became customary to coat painted surfaces with a transparent varnish which was soluble in water, and which was probably made from the gum of some kind of acacia. It was not always used in the same manner. Some painters varnished the whole surface, while others merely glazed the ornaments and accessories, without touching the flesh-tints or the clothing. This varnish has cracked from the effects of age, or has become so dark as to spoil the work it was intended to preserve. Doubtless, the Egyptians discovered the bad effects produced by it, as we no longer meet with it after the close of the Twentieth Dynasty.

Egyptian painters laid on broad, flat, uniform washes of colour; they did not paint in our sense of the term; they illuminated. Just as in drawing they reduced everything to lines, and almost wholly suppressed the internal modelling, so in adding colour they still further simplified their subject by merging all varieties of tone, and all play of light and shadow, in one uniform tint. Egyptian painting is never quite true, and never quite false. Without pretending to the faithful imitation of nature, it approaches nature as nearly as it may; sometimes understating, sometimes exaggerating, sometimes substituting ideal or conventional renderings for strict realities. Water, for instance, is always represented by a flat tint of blue, or by blue covered with zigzag lines in black. The buff and bluish hues of the vulture are translated into bright red and vivid blue. The flesh-tints of men are of a dark reddish brown, and the flesh-tints of women are pale yellow. The colours conventionally assigned to each animate and inanimate object were taught in the schools, and their use handed on unchanged from generation to generation. Now and then it happened that a painter more daring than his contemporaries ventured to break with tradition. In the Sixth Dynasty tombs at Deir el Gebrawi, there are instances where the flesh tint of the women is that conventionally devoted to the depiction of men. At Sakkarah, under the Fifth Dynasty, and at Abu Simbel, under the Nineteenth Dynasty, we find men with skins as yellow as those of the women; while in the tombs of Thebes and Abydos, about the time of Thothmes IV. and Horemheb, there occur figures with flesh-tints of rose-colour.

It must not, however, be supposed that the effect produced by this artificial system was grating or discordant. Even in works of small size, such as illuminated MSS. of The Book of the Dead, or the decoration of mummy-cases and funerary coffers, there is both sweetness and harmony of colour. The most brilliant hues are boldly placed side by side, yet with full knowledge of the relations subsisting between these hues, and of the phenomena which must necessarily result from such relations. They neither jar together, nor war with each other, nor extinguish each other. On the contrary, each maintains its own value, and all, by mere juxtaposition, give rise to the half-tones which harmonise them.

Turning from small things to large ones, from the page of papyrus, or the panel of sycamore wood, to the walls of tombs and temples, we find the skilful employment of flat tints equally soothing and agreeable to the eye. Each wall is treated as a whole, the harmony of colour being carried out from bottom to top throughout the various superimposed stages into which the surface was divided. Sometimes the colours are distributed according to a scale of rhythm, or symmetry, balancing and counterbalancing each other. Sometimes one special tint predominates, thus determining the general tone and subordinating every other hue. The vividness of the final effect is always calculated according to the quality and quantity of light by which the picture is destined to be seen. In very dark halls the force of colour is carried as far as it will go, because it would not otherwise have been visible by the flickering light of lamps and torches. On outer wall-surfaces and on pylon-fronts, it was as vivid as in the darkest depths of excavated catacombs; and this because, no matter how extreme it might be, the sun would subdue its splendour. But in half-lighted places, such as the porticoes of temples and the ante-chambers of tombs, colour is so dealt with as to be soft and discreet. In a word, painting was in Egypt the mere humble servant of architecture and sculpture. We must not dream of comparing it with our own, or even with that of the Greeks; but if we take it simply for what it is, accepting it in the secondary place assigned to it, we cannot fail to recognise its unusual merits. Egyptian painting excelled in the sense of monumental decoration, and if we ever revert to the fashion of colouring the façades of our houses and our public edifices, we shall lose nothing by studying Egyptian methods or reproducing Egyptian processes.


To this day, the most ancient statue known is a colossusnamely, the Great Sphinx of Gizeh. It was already in existence in the time of Khufu (Cheops), and perhaps we should not be far wrong if we ventured to ascribe it to the generations before Mena, called in the priestly chronicles “the Servants of Horus.” Hewn in the living rock at the extreme verge of the Libyan plateau, it seems, as the representative of Horus, to uprear its head in order to be the first to catch sight of his father, Ra, the rising sun, across the valley . For centuries the sands have buried it to the chin, yet without protecting it from ruin. Its battered body preserves but the general form of a lion’s body. The paws and breast, restored by the Ptolemies and the Caesars, retain but a part of the stone facing with which they were then clothed in order to mask the ravages of time. The lower part of the head-dress has fallen, and the diminished neck looks too slender to sustain the enormous weight of the head. The nose and beard have been broken off by fanatics, and the red hue which formerly enlivened the features is almost wholly effaced. And yet, notwithstanding its fallen fortunes, the monster preserves an expression of sovereign strength and greatness. The eyes gaze out afar with a look of intense and profound thoughtfulness; the mouth still wears a smile; the whole countenance is informed with power and repose. The art which conceived and carved this prodigious statue was a finished art; an art which had attained self-mastery, and was sure of its effects. How many centuries had it taken to arrive at this degree of maturity and perfection? In certain pieces belonging to various museums, such as the statues of Sepa and his wife at the Louvre, and the bas-reliefs of the tomb of Khabiusokari at Gizeh, critics have mistakenly recognised the faltering first efforts of an unskilled people. The stiffness of attitude and gesture, the exaggerated squareness of the shoulders, the line of green paint under the eyes,in a word, all those characteristics which are quoted as signs of extreme antiquity, are found in certain monuments of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties. The contemporary sculptors of any given period were not all equally skilful. If some were capable of doing good work, the greater number were mere craftsmen; and we must be careful not to ascribe awkward manipulation, or lack of teaching, to the timidity of archaism. The works of the primitive dynasties yet sleep undiscovered beneath seventy feet of sand at the foot of the Sphinx; those of the historic dynasties are daily exhumed from the depths of the neighbouring tombs. These have not yielded Egyptian art as a whole; but they have familiarised us with one of its schoolsthe school of Memphis. The Delta, Hermopolis, Abydos, the environs of Thebes and Asuan, do not appear upon the stage earlier than towards the Sixth Dynasty; and even so, we know them through but a small number of sepulchres long since violated and despoiled. The loss is probably not very great. Memphis was the capital; and thither the presence of the Pharaohs must have attracted all the talent of the vassal principalities. Judging from the results of our excavations in the Memphite necropolis alone, it is possible to determine the characteristics of both sculpture and painting in the time of Seneferu and his successors with as much exactness as if we were already in possession of all the monuments which the valley of the Nile yet holds in reserve for future explorers.

The lesser folk of the art-world excelled in the manipulation of brush and chisel, and that their skill was of a high order is testified by the thousands of tableaux they have left behind them. The relief is low; the colour sober; the composition learned. Architecture, trees, vegetation, irregularities of ground, are summarily indicated, and are introduced only when necessary to the due interpretation of the scene represented. Men and animals, on the other hand, are rendered with a wealth of detail, a truth of character, and sometimes a force of treatment, to which the later schools of Egyptian art rarely attained. Six wooden panels from the tomb of Hesi in the Gizeh Museum represent perhaps the finest known specimens of this branch of art. Mariette ascribed them to the Third Dynasty, and he may perhaps have been right; though for my own part I incline to date them from the Fifth Dynasty. In these panels there is nothing that can be called a “subject.” Hesi either sits or stands , and has four or five columns of hieroglyphs above his head; but the firmness of line, the subtlety of modelling, the ease of execution, are unequalled. Never has wood been cut with a more delicate chisel or a firmer hand.

The variety of attitude and gesture which we so much admire in the Egyptian bas-relief is lacking to the statues. A mourner weeping, a woman bruising corn for bread, a baker rolling dough, are subjects as rare in the round as they are common in bas-relief. In sculpture, the figure is generally represented either standing with the feet side by side and quite still, or with one leg advanced in the act of walking; or seated upon a chair or a cube; or kneeling; or, still more frequently, sitting on the ground cross-legged, as the fellahin are wont to sit to this day. This intentional monotony of style would be inexplicable if we were ignorant of the purpose for which such statues were intended. They represent the dead man for whom the tomb was made, his family, his servants, his slaves, and his kinsfolk. The master is always shown sitting or standing, and he could not consistently be seen in any other attitude. The tomb is, in fact, the house in which he rests after the labours of life, as once he used to rest in his earthly home; and the scenes depicted upon the walls represent the work which he was officially credited with performing. Here he superintends the preliminary operations necessary to raise the food by which he is to be nourished in the form of funerary offerings; namely, seed-sowing, harvesting, stock-breeding, fishing, hunting, and the like. In short, “he superintends all the labour which is done for the eternal dwelling.” When thus engaged, he is always standing upright, his head uplifted, his hands pendent, or holding the staff and baton of command. Elsewhere, the diverse offerings are brought to him one by one, and then he sits in a chair of state. These are his two attitudes, whether as a bas-relief subject or a statue. Standing, he receives the homage of his vassals; sitting, he partakes of the family repast. The people of his household comport themselves before him as becomes their business and station. His wife either stands beside him, sits on the same chair or on a second chair by his side, or squats beside his feet as during his lifetime. His son, if a child at the time when the statue was ordered, is represented in the garb of infancy; or with the bearing and equipment proper to his position, if a man. The slaves bruise the corn, the cellarers tar the wine jars, the hired mourners weep and tear their hair. His little social world followed the Egyptian to his tomb, the duties of his attendants being prescribed for them after death, just as they had been prescribed for them during life. And the kind of influence which the religious conception of the soul exercised over the art of the sculptor did not end here. From the moment that the statue is regarded as the support of the Double, it becomes a condition of primary importance that the statue shall reproduce, at least in the abstract, the proportions and distinctive peculiarities of the corporeal body; and this in order that the Double shall more easily adapt himself to his new body of stone or wood. The head is therefore always a faithful portrait; but the body, on the contrary, is, as it were, a medium kind of body, representing the original at his highest development, and consequently able to exert the fulness of his physical powers when admitted to the society of the gods. Hence men are always sculptured in the prime of life, and women with the delicate proportions of early womanhood. This conventional idea was never departed from, unless in cases of very marked deformity. The statue of a dwarf reproduced all the ugly peculiarities of the dwarf’s own body; and it was important that it should so reproduce them. If a statue of the ordinary type had been placed in the tomb of the dead man, his “Ka,” accustomed during life to the deformity of his limbs, would not be able to adapt itself to an upright and shapely figure, and would therefore be deprived of the conditions necessary to his future well-being. The artist was free to vary the details and arrange the accessories according to his fancy; but without missing the point of his work, he could not change the attitude, or depart from the general style of the conventional portrait statue. This persistent monotony of pose and subject produces a depressing effect upon the spectator,an effect which is augmented by the obtrusive character given to the supports. These statues are mostly backed by a kind of rectangular pediment, which is either squared off just at the base of the skull, or carried up in a point and lost in the head-dress, or rounded at the top and showing above the head of the figure. The arms are seldom separated from the body, but are generally in one piece with the sides and hips. The whole length of the leg which is placed in advance of the other is very often connected with the pediment by a band of stone. It has been conjectured that this course was imposed upon the sculptor by reason of the imperfection of his tools, and the consequent danger of fracturing the statue when cutting away the superfluous materialan explanation which may be correct as regards the earliest schools, but which does not hold good for the time of the Fourth Dynasty. We could point to more than one piece of sculpture of that period, even in granite, in which all the limbs are free, having been cut away by means of either the chisel or the drill. If pediment supports were persisted in to the end, their use must have been due, not to helplessness, but to routine, or to an exaggerated respect for ancient method.

Most museums are poor in statues of the Memphite school; France and Egypt possess, however, some twenty specimens which suffice to ensure it an honourable place in the history of art. At the Louvre we have the “Cross-legged Scribe," and the statues of Skemka and Pahurnefer; at Gizeh there are the “Sheikh el Beled" and his wife, Khafra, Ranefer, the Prince and General Rahotep, and his wife, Nefert, a “Kneeling Scribe,” and a “Cross-legged Scribe.” The original of the “Cross-legged Scribe” of the Louvre was not a handsome man , but the vigour and fidelity of his portrait amply compensate for the absence of ideal beauty. His legs are crossed and laid flat to the ground in one of those attitudes common among Orientals, yet all but impossible to Europeans. The bust is upright, and well balanced upon the hips. The head is uplifted. The right hand holds the reed pen, which pauses in its place on the open papyrus scroll. Thus, for six thousand years he has waited for his master to go on with the long-interrupted dictation. The face is square-cut, and the strongly-marked features indicate a man in the prime of life. The mouth, wide and thin-lipped, rises slightly towards the corners, which are lost in the projecting muscles by which it is framed in. The cheeks are bony and lank; the ears are thick and heavy, and stand out well from the head; the thick, coarse hair is cut close above the brow. The eyes, which are large and well open, owe their lifelike vivacity to an ingenious contrivance of the ancient artist. The orbit has been cut out from the stone, the hollow being filled with an eye composed of enamel, white and black. The edges of the eyelids are of bronze, and a small silver nail inserted behind the iris receives and reflects the light in such wise as to imitate the light of life. The contours of the flesh are somewhat full and wanting in firmness, as would be the case in middle life, if the man’s occupation debarred him from active exercise. The forms of the arm and back are in good relief; the hands are hard and bony, with fingers of somewhat unusual length; and the knees are sculptured with a minute attention to anatomical details. The whole body is, as it were, informed by the expression of the face, and is dominated by the attentive suspense which breathes in every feature. The muscles of the arm, of the bust, and of the shoulder are caught in half repose, and are ready to return at once to work. This careful observance of the professional attitude, or the characteristic gesture, is equally marked in the Gizeh Cross-legged Scribe, and in all the Ancient Empire statues which I have had an opportunity of studying.

The Cross-legged Scribe of Gizeh was discovered by M. de Morgan at Sakkarah in the beginning of 1893. This statue exhibits a no less surprising vigour and certainty of intention and execution on the part of the sculptor than does its fellow of the Louvre, while representing a younger man of full, firm, and supple figure.

Khafra is a king . He sits squarely upon his chair of state, his hands upon his knees, his chest thrown forward, his head erect, his gaze confident. Had the emblems of his rank been destroyed, and the inscription effaced which tells his name, his bearing alone would have revealed the Pharaoh. Every trait is characteristic of the man who from childhood upwards has known himself to be invested with sovereign authority. Ranefer belonged to one of the great feudal families of his time. He stands upright, his arms down, his left leg forward, in the attitude of a prince inspecting a march-past of his vassals. The countenance is haughty, the attitude bold; but Ranefer does not impress us with the almost superhuman calm and decision of Khafra.

General Rahotep , despite his title and his high military rank, looks as if he were of inferior birth. Stalwart and square-cut, he has somewhat of the rustic in his physiognomy. Nefert, on the contrary , was a princess of the blood royal; and her whole person is, as it were, informed with a certain air of resolution and command, which the sculptor has expressed very happily. She wears a close-fitting garment, opening to a point in front. The shoulders, bosom, and bodily contours are modelled under the drapery with a grace and reserve which it is impossible to praise too highly. Her face, round and plump, is framed in masses of fine black hair, confined by a richly-ornamented bandeau. This wedded pair are in limestone, painted; the husband being coloured of a reddish brown hue, and the wife of a tawny buff.

Turning to the “Sheikh el Beled” (fig, 191), we descend several degrees in the social scale. Raemka was a “superintendent of works,” which probably means that he was an overseer of corvée labour at the time of building the great pyramids. He belonged to the middle class; and his whole person expresses vulgar contentment and self-satisfaction. We seem to see him in the act of watching his workmen, his staff of acacia wood in his hand. The feet of the statue had perished, but have been restored. The body is stout and heavy, and the neck thick. The head , despite its vulgarity, does not lack energy. The eyes are inserted, like those of the “Cross-legged Scribe.” By a curious coincidence, the statue, which was found at Sakkarah, happened to be strikingly like the local Sheikh el Beled, or head-man, of the village. Always quick to seize upon the amusing side of an incident, the Arab diggers at once called it the “Sheikh el Beled,” and it has retained the name ever since. The statue of his wife, interred beside his own, is unfortunately mutilated. It is a mere trunk, without legs or arms ; yet enough remains to show that the figure represented a good type of the Egyptian middle-class matron, commonplace in appearance and somewhat acid of temper. The “Kneeling Scribe” of the Gizeh collection belongs to the lowest middle-class rank, such as it is at the present day. Had he not been dead more than six thousand years, I could protest that I had not long ago met him face to face, in one of the little towns of Upper Egypt. He has just brought a roll of papyrus, or a tablet covered with writing, for his master’s approval. Kneeling in the prescribed attitude of an inferior, his hands crossed, his shoulders rounded, his head slightly bent forward, he waits till the great man shall have read it through. Of what is he thinking? A scribe might feel some not unreasonable apprehensions, when summoned thus into the presence of his superior. The stick played a prominent part in official life, and an error of addition, a fault in orthography, or an order misunderstood, would be enough to bring down a shower of blows. The sculptor has, with inimitable skill, seized that expression of resigned uncertainty and passive gentleness which is the result of a whole life of servitude. There is a smile upon his lips, but it is the smile of etiquette, in which there is no gladness. The nose and cheeks are puckered up in harmony with the forced grimace upon the mouth. His large eyes (again in enamel) have the fixed look of one who waits vacantly, without making any effort to concentrate his sight or his thoughts upon a definite object. The face lacks both intelligence and vivacity; but his work, after all, called for no special nimbleness of wit. Khafra is in diorite; Raemka and his wife are carved in wood; the other statues named are of limestone; yet, whatever the material employed, the play of the chisel is alike free, subtle, and delicate. The head of the scribe and the bas-relief portrait of Pharaoh Menkauhor, in the Louvre, the dwarf Nemhotep , and the slaves who prepare food-offerings at Gizeh, are in no wise inferior to the “Cross-legged Scribe” or the “Sheikh el Beled.” The baker kneading his dough is thoroughly in his work. His half-stooping attitude, and the way in which he leans upon the kneading-trough, are admirably natural. The dwarf has a big, elongated head, balanced by two enormous ears . He has a foolish face, an ill-shapen mouth, and narrow slits of eyes, inclining upwards to the temples. The bust is well developed, but the trunk is out of proportion with the rest of his person. The artist has done his best to disguise the lower limbs under a fine white tunic; but one feels that it is too long for the little man’s arms and legs.

The thighs could have existed only in a rudimentary form, and Nemhotep, standing as best he can upon his misshapen feet, seems to be off his balance, and ready to fall forward upon his face. It would be difficult to find another work of art in which the characteristics of dwarfdom are more cleverly reproduced.

The sculpture of the first Theban empire is in close connection with that of Memphis. Methods, materials, design, composition, all are borrowed from the elder school; the only new departure being in the proportions assigned to the human figure. From the time of the Eleventh Dynasty, the legs become longer and slighter, the hips smaller, the body and the neck more slender. Works of this period are not to be compared with the best productions of the earlier centuries. The wall-paintings of Siut, of Bersheh, of Beni Hasan, and of Asuan, are not equal to those in the mastabas of Sakkarah and Gizeh; nor are the most carefully-executed contemporary statues worthy to take a place beside the “Sheikh el Beled” or the “Cross-legged Scribe.” Portrait statues of private persons, especially those found at Thebes, are, so far as I have seen, decidedly bad, the execution being rude and the expression vulgar. The royal statues of this period, which are nearly all in black or grey granite, have been for the most part usurped by kings of later date. Usertesen III., whose head and feet are in the Louvre, was appropriated by Amenhotep III., as the sphinx of the Louvre and the colossi of Gizeh were appropriated by Rameses II. Many museums possess specimens of supposed Ramesside Pharaohs which, upon more careful inspection, we are compelled to ascribe to the Thirteenth or Fourteenth Dynasty. Those of undisputed identity, such as the Sebekhotep III. of the Louvre, the Mermashiu of Tanis, the Sebekemsaf of Gizeh, and the colossi of the Isle of Argo, though very skilfully executed, are wanting in originality and vigour. One would say, indeed, that the sculptors had purposely endeavoured to turn them all out after the one smiling and commonplace pattern. Great is the contrast when we turn from these giant dolls to the black granite sphinxes discovered by Mariette at Tanis in 1861, and by him ascribed to the Hyksos period. Here energy, at all events, is not lacking. Wiry and compact, the lion body is shorter than in sphinxes of the usual type. The head, instead of wearing the customary “klaft,” or head-gear of folded linen, is clothed with an ample mane, which also surrounds the face. The eyes are small; the nose is aquiline and depressed at the tip; the cheekbones are prominent; the lower lip slightly protrudes. The general effect of the face is, in short, so unlike the types we are accustomed to find in Egypt, that it has been accepted in proof of an Asiatic origin . These sphinxes are unquestionably anterior to the Eighteenth Dynasty, because one of the kings of Avaris, named Apepi, has cut his name upon the shoulder of each. Arguing from this fact, it was, however, too hastily concluded that they are works of the time of that prince. On a closer examination, we see that they had already been dedicated to some Pharaoh of a yet earlier period, and that Apepi had merely usurped them; and M. Golenischeff has shown that they were made for Amenemhat III., of the Twelfth Dynasty, and with his features. Those so-called Hyksos monuments may be the products of a local school, the origin of which may have been independent, and its traditions quite different from the traditions of the Memphite workshops. But except at Abydos, El Kab, Asuan, and some two or three other places, the provincial art of ancient Egypt is so little known to us that I dare not lay too much stress upon this hypothesis. Whatever the origin of the Tanite School, it continued to exist long after the expulsion of the Hyksos invaders, since one of its best examples, a group representing the Nile of the North and the Nile of the South, bearing trays laden with flowers and fish, was consecrated by Pisebkhanu of the Twenty-first Dynasty.

The first three dynasties of the New Empire have bequeathed us more monuments than all the others put together. Painted bas-reliefs, statues of kings and private persons, colossi, sphinxes, may be counted by hundreds between the mouths of the Nile and the fourth cataract. The old sacerdotal cities, Memphis, Thebes, Abydos, are naturally the richest; but so great was the impetus given to art, that even remote provincial towns, such as Abu Simbel, Redesiyeh, and Mesheikh, have their chefs-d’oeuvre, like the great cities. The official portraits of Amenhotep I. at Turin, of Thothmes I. and Thothmes III. at the British Museum, at Karnak, at Turin, and at Gizeh, are conceived in the style of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Dynasties, and are deficient in originality; but the bas-reliefs in temples and tombs show a marked advance upon those of the earlier ages. The modelling is finer; the figures are more numerous and better grouped; the relief is higher; the effects of perspective are more carefully worked out. The wall-subjects of Deir el Baharí, the tableaux in the tombs of Hui, of Rekhmara, of Anna, of Khamha, and of twenty more at Thebes, are surprisingly rich, brilliant, and varied. Awakening to a sense of the picturesque, artists introduced into their compositions all those details of architecture, of uneven ground, of foreign plants, and the like, which formerly they neglected, or barely indicated. The taste for the colossal, which had fallen somewhat into abeyance since the time of the Great Sphinx, came once again to the surface, and was developed anew. Amenhotep III. was not content with statues of twenty-five or thirty feet in height, such as were in favour among his ancestors. Those which he erected in advance of his memorial chapel on the left bank of the Nile in Western Thebes, one of which is the Vocal Memnon of the classic writers, sit fifty feet high. Each was carved from a single block of sandstone, and they are as elaborately finished as though they were of ordinary size. The avenues of sphinxes which this Pharaoh marshalled before the temples of Luxor and Karnak do not come to an end at fifty or a hundred yards from the gateway, but are prolonged for great distances. In one avenue, they have the human head upon the lion’s body; in another, they are fashioned in the semblance of kneeling rams. Khuenaten, the revolutionary successor of Amenhotep III., far from discouraging this movement, did what he could to promote it. Never, perhaps, were Egyptian sculptors more unrestricted than by him at Tell el Amarna. Military reviews, chariot-driving, popular festivals, state receptions, the distribution of honours and rewards by the king in person, representations of palaces, villas, and gardens, were among the subjects which they were permitted to treat; and these subjects differed in so many respects from traditional routine that they could give free play to their fancy and to their natural genius. The spirit and gusto with which they took advantage of their opportunities would scarcely be believed by one who had not seen their works at Tell el Amarna. Some of their bas-reliefs are designed in almost correct perspective; and in all, the life and stir of large crowds are rendered with irreproachable truth. The political and religious reaction which followed this reign arrested the evolution of art, and condemned sculptors and painters to return to the observance of traditional rules. Their personal influence and their teaching continued, however, to make themselves felt under Horemheb, under Seti I., and even under Rameses II. If, during more than a century, Egyptian art remained free, graceful, and refined, that improvement was due to the school of Tell el Amarna. In no instance perhaps did it produce work more perfect than the bas-reliefs of the temple of Abydos, or those of the tomb of Seti I. The head of the conqueror , always studied con amore, is a marvel of reserved and sensitive grace. Rameses II. charging the enemy at Abu Simbel is as fine as the portraits of Seti I., though in another style. The action of the arm which brandishes the lance is somewhat angular, but the expression of strength and triumph which animates the whole person of the warrior king, and the despairing resignation of the vanquished, compensate for this one defect. The group of Horemheb and the god Amen , in the Museum of Turin, is a little dry in treatment. The faces of both god and king lack expression, and their bodies are heavy and ill-balanced. The fine colossi in red granite which Horemheb placed against the uprights of the inner door of his first pylon at Karnak, the bas-reliefs on the walls of his speos at Silsilis, his own portrait and that of one of the ladies of his family now in the museum of Gizeh, are, so to say, spotless and faultless. The queen’s face is animated and intelligent; the eyes are large and prominent; the mouth is wide, but well shaped. This head is carved in hard limestone of a creamy tint which seems to soften the somewhat satirical expression of her eyes and smile. The king is in black granite; and the sombre hue of the stone at once produces a mournful impression upon the spectator. His youthful face is pervaded by an air of melancholy, such as we rarely see depicted in portraits of Pharaohs of the great period. The nose is straight and delicate, the eyes are long, the lips are large, full, somewhat contracted at the corners, and strongly defined at the edges. The chin is overweighted by the traditional false beard. Every detail is treated with as much skill as if the sculptor were dealing with a soft stone instead of with a material which resisted the chisel. Such, indeed, is the mastery of the execution, that one forgets the difficulties of the task in the excellence of the results.

It is unfortunate that Egyptian artists never signed their works; for the sculptor of this portrait of Horemheb deserves to be remembered. Like the Eighteenth Dynasty, the Nineteenth Dynasty delighted in colossi. Those of Rameses II. at Luxor measured from eighteen to twenty feet in height ; the colossal Rameses of the Ramesseum sat sixty feet high; and that of Tanis about seventy. The colossi of Abu Simbel, without being of quite such formidable proportions, face the river in imposing array. To say that the decline of Egyptian art began with Rameses II. is a commonplace of contemporary criticism; yet nothing is less true than an axiom of this kind. Many statues and bas-reliefs executed during his reign are no doubt inconceivably rude and ugly; but these are chiefly found in provincial towns where the schools were indifferent, and where the artists had no fine examples before them. At Thebes, at Memphis, at Abydos, at Tanis, in those towns of the Delta where the court habitually resided, and even at Abu Simbel and Beit el Wally, the sculptors of Rameses II. yield nothing in point of excellence to those of Seti I. and Horemheb. The decadence did not begin till after the reign of Merenptah. When civil war and foreign invasion brought Egypt to the brink of destruction, the arts, like all else, suffered and rapidly declined. It is sad to follow their downward progress under the later Ramessides, whether in the wall-subjects of the royal tombs, or in the bas-reliefs of the temple of Khonsu, or on the columns of the hypostyle hall at Karnak. Wood carving maintained its level during a somewhat longer period. The admirable statuettes of priests and children at Turin date from the Twentieth Dynasty. The advent of Sheshonk and the internecine strife of the provinces at length completed the ruin of Thebes, and the school which had produced so many masterpieces perished miserably.

The Renaissance did not dawn till near the end of the Ethiopian Dynasty, some three hundred years later. The over-praised statue of Queen Ameniritis already manifests some noteworthy qualities. The limbs, somewhat long and fragile, are delicately treated; but the head is heavy, being over-weighted by the wig peculiar to goddesses. Psammetichus I., when his victories had established him upon the throne, busied himself in the restoration of the temples. Under his auspices, the valley of the Nile became one vast studio of painting and sculpture. The art of engraving hieroglyphs attained a high degree of excellence, fine statues and bas-reliefs were everywhere multiplied, and a new school arose. A marvellous command of material, a profound knowledge of detail, and a certain elegance tempered by severity, are the leading characteristics of this new school. The Memphites preferred limestone; the Thebans selected red or grey granite; but the Saïtes especially attacked basalt, breccia, and serpentine, and with these fine-grained and almost homogeneous substances, they achieved extraordinary results. They seem to have sought difficulties for the mere pleasure of triumphing over them; and we have proof of the way in which artists of real merit bestowed years and years on the chasing of sarcophagus lids and the carving of statues in blocks of the hardest material. The Thueris, and the four monuments from the tomb of Psammetichus in the Gizeh Museum, are the most remarkable objects hitherto discovered in this class of work. Thueris was the especial protectress of maternity, and presided over childbirth. Her portrait was discovered by some native sebakh diggers in the midst of the mounds of the ancient city of Thebes. She was found standing upright in a little chapel of white limestone which had been dedicated to her by one Pibesa, a priest, in the name of Queen Nitocris, daughter of Psammetichus I. This charming hippopotamus, whose figure is perhaps more plump than graceful, is a fine example of difficulties overcome; but I do not know that she has any other merit. The group belonging to Psammetichus has at all events some artistic value. It consists of four pieces of green basalt; namely, a table of offerings, a statue of Osiris, a statue of Nephthys, and a Hathor-cow supporting a statuette of the deceased . All four are somewhat flaccid, somewhat artificial; but the faces of the divinities and the deceased are not wanting in sweetness; the action of the cow is good; and the little figure under her protection falls naturally into its place. Certain other pieces, less known than these, are however far superior. The Saite style is easy of recognition. It lacks the breadth and learning of the first Memphite school; it also lacks the grand, and sometimes rude, manner of the great Theban school. The proportions of the human body are reduced and elongated, and the limbs lose in vigour what they gain in elegance. A noteworthy change in the choice of attitudes will also be remarked. Orientals find repose in postures which would be inexpressibly fatiguing to ourselves. For hours together they will kneel; or sit tailor-wise, with the legs crossed and laid down flat to the ground; or squat, sitting upon their heels, with no other support than is afforded by that part of the sole of the foot which rests upon the ground; or they will sit upon the floor with their legs close together, and their arms crossed upon their knees. These four attitudes were customary among the people from the time of the ancient empire.

This we know from the bas-reliefs. But the Memphite sculptors, deeming the two last ungraceful, excluded them from the domain of art, and rarely, if ever, reproduced them. The “Cross-legged Scribe” of the Louvre and the “Kneeling Scribe” of Gizeh show with what success they could employ the two first. The third was neglected (doubtless for the same reason) by the Theban sculptors. The fourth began to be currently adopted about the time of the Eighteenth Dynasty.

It may be that this position was not in fashion among the moneyed classes, which alone could afford to order statues; or it may be that the artists themselves objected to an attitude which caused their sitters to look like square parcels with a human head on the top. The sculptors of the Saite period did not inherit that repugnance. They have at all events combined the action of the limbs in such wise as may least offend the eye, and the position almost ceases to be ungraceful. The heads also are modelled to such perfection that they make up for many shortcomings. That of Pedishashi has an expression of youth and intelligent gentleness such as we seldom meet with from an Egyptian hand. Other heads, on the contrary, are remarkable for their almost brutal frankness of treatment. In the small head of a scribe , lately purchased for the Louvre, and in another belonging to Prince Ibrahim at Cairo, the wrinkled brow, the crow’s-feet at the corners of the eyes, the hard lines about the mouth, and the knobs upon the skull, are brought out with scrupulous fidelity. The Saite school was, in fact, divided into two parties. One sought inspiration in the past, and, by a return to the methods of the old Memphite school, endeavoured to put fresh life into the effeminate style of the day. This it accomplished, and so successfully, that its works are sometimes mistaken for the best productions of the Fourth and Fifth Dynasties. The other, without too openly departing from established tradition, preferred to study from the life, and thus drew nearer to nature than in any previous age. This school would, perhaps, have prevailed, had Egyptian art not been directed into a new channel by the Macedonian conquest, and by centuries of intercourse with the Greeks.

The new departure was of slow development. Sculptors began by clothing the successors of Alexander in Egyptian garb and transforming them into Pharaohs, just as they had in olden time transformed the Hyksos and the Persians. Works dating from the reigns of the first Ptolemies scarcely differ from those of the best Saite period, and it is only here and there that we detect traces of Greek influence. Thus, the colossus of Alexander II., at Gizeh , wears a flowing head-dress, from beneath which his crisp curls have found their way. Soon, however, the sight of Greek masterpieces led the Egyptians of Alexandria, of Memphis, and of the cities of the Delta to modify their artistic methods. Then arose a mixed school, which combined certain elements of the national art with certain other elements borrowed from Hellenic art. The Alexandrian Isis of the Gizeh Museum is clad as the Isis of Pharaonic times; but she has lost the old slender shape and straitened bearing. A mutilated effigy of a Prince of Siut, also at Gizeh, would almost pass for an indifferent Greek statue.

The most forcible work of this hybrid class which has come down to us is the portrait-statue of one Hor , discovered in 1881 at the foot of Kom ed Damas, the site of the tomb of Alexander. The head is good, though in a somewhat dry style. The long, pinched nose, the close-set eyes, the small mouth with drawn-in corners, the square chin,every feature, in short, contributes to give a hard and obstinate character to the face. The hair is closely cropped, yet not so closely as to prevent it from dividing naturally into thick, short curls. The body, clothed in the chlamys, is awkwardly shapen, and too narrow for the head. One arm hangs pendent; the other is brought round to the front; the feet are lost. All these monuments are the results of few excavations; and I do not doubt that the soil of Alexandria would yield many such, if it could be methodically explored. The school which produced them continued to draw nearer and nearer to the schools of Greece, and the stiff manner, which it never wholly lost, was scarcely regarded as a defect at an epoch when certain sculptors in the service of Rome especially affected the archaic style. I should not be surprised if those statues of priests and priestesses wearing divine insignia, with which Hadrian adorned the Egyptian rooms of his villa at Tibur, might not be attributed to the artists of this hybrid school. In those parts which were remote from the Delta, native art, being left to its own resources, languished, and slowly perished. Nor was this because Greek models, or even Greek artists, were lacking. In the Thebaid, in the Fayum, at Syene, I have both discovered and purchased statuettes and statues of Hellenic style, and of correct and careful execution. One of these, from Coptos, is apparently a miniature replica of a Venus analogous to the Venus of Milo. But the provincial sculptors were too dull, or too ignorant, to take such advantage of these models as was taken by their Alexandrian brethren. When they sought to render the Greek suppleness of figure and fulness of limb, they only succeeded in missing the rigid but learned precision of their former masters. In place of the fine, delicate, low relief of the old school, they adopted a relief which, though very prominent, was soft, round, and feebly modelled. The eyes of their personages have a foolish leer; the nostrils slant upwards; the corners of the mouth, the chin, and indeed all the features, are drawn up as if converging towards a central point, which is stationed in the middle of the ear. Two schools, each independent of the other, have bequeathed their works to us. The least known flourished in Ethiopia, at the court of the half-civilised kings who resided at Meroe. A group brought from Naga in 1882, and now in the Gizeh collection, shows the work of this school during the first century of our era . A god and a queen, standing side by side, are roughly cut in a block of grey granite. The work is coarse and heavy, but not without energy. Isolated and lost in the midst of savage tribes, the school which produced it sank rapidly into barbarism, and expired towards the end of the age of the Antonines. The Egyptian school, sheltered by the power of Rome, survived a little longer. As sagacious as the Ptolemies, the Caesars knew that by flattering the religious prejudices of their Egyptian subjects they consolidated their own rule in the valley of the Nile. At an enormous cost, they restored and rebuilt the temples of the national gods, working after the old plans and in the old spirit of Pharaonic times. The great earthquake of B.C. 22 had destroyed Thebes, which now became a mere place of pilgrimage, whither devotees repaired to listen to the voice of Memnon at the rising of Aurora. But at Denderah and Ombos, Tiberius and Claudius finished the decoration of the great temples. Caligula worked at Coptos, and the Antonines enriched Esneh and Philae. The gangs of workmen employed in their names were still competent to cut thousands of bas-reliefs according to the rules of the olden time. Their work was feeble, ungraceful, absurd, inspired solely by routine; yet it was founded on antique traditiontradition enfeebled and degenerate, but still alive. The troubles which convulsed the third century of our era, the incursions of barbarians, the progress and triumph of Christianity, caused the suspension of the latest works and the dispersion of the last craftsmen. With them died all that yet survived of the national art.