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Egyptians have a long history with artifacts that today we view as "art." However, "there was no Egyptian word for art," and the "Egyptians' material artifacts were functional rather than being designed for aesthetic appeal," (Robins, 16). Egyptian pieces were not pieces at all, but "each artifact, rather than being created for the purpose of being viewed as in a museum was representational of what the pharaoh would need to continue his life and the life of Egypt after his death," (Robins, 19, 29). Egyptians, at first glance appear to be, a solemn, formal people obsessed with death and the preparations for it, but in truth, the Egyptian civilization was a very advanced civilization whose art indicated that Egyptians believed that by "participating in sacred rituals and communing through temples, the pharaoh's life after death was ensured" (Harris, 20, 21); in effect, the pharaoh would be able to resume daily activities, habits, and hobbies, just as he had during his life on earth. "Egyptians were not afraid of death as they didn't view death as an ending," (Bleiberg, 23) but only another beginning which would undoubtedly lead to continued connectedness to the Gods, their spiritual double (the ka), and materialistic things from Egypt as long as the appropriate burial procedures-complete with their attendant artifacts- were carried out.
To ensure this continuation of divine life and to prepare for the rebirth, which was imminent in the Egyptian mind, the Egyptian people built elaborate pyramids which were to serve as "homes" for the deceased pharaoh so that his body and spirit could safely dwell and continue the connection with the Gods which would ensure the continued existence of the Egyptian people. As the pharaoh was viewed as the living manifestation of "God," elaborate preparations had to be made for the preservation of his body which he would need to reclaim once reborn in the afterlife. Hence, the process of mummification which operated as a type of body preserver or "container for the spirit"(Bleiberg, 29) evolved to be sure that once the pharaoh reached his destination, his body would be intact so that he could effectively continue his life after death.
The process of mummification, itself, was a complex one, involving the "removal of the pharaoh's bodily organs which were interred into special jars so that they could be retrieved by the resurrected pharaoh when needed," (Bleiberg, 29). The tomb reliefs, which are interpreted as art, were present in every pharaoh's tomb, and "served to provide encouragement comfort, and knowledge" (Bleiberg, 24) to the deceased so that he might view them as a reminder of his station and duties in life as well as the familiar events going on at home (in Egypt) which he might enjoy once he had been completely resurrected and restored to his former self. The tomb reliefs often depicted gay images of female musicians dancing while playing their chosen instrument, food and food offerings, solemn formal images of the pharaoh with his family, advisors, alone, or with the gods themselves.
However, as beautiful as Egyptian art is to view today, the very fact that we are viewing it is in direct contradiction to what the Egyptians intended their "art" to be as it was "functional to the death and rebirth process" (Robins, 29). The artifacts that we, today, call Egyptian art were designed for the pharaoh's rebirth and his afterlife to ensure Egypt's continued connection and blessing from their Gods.
Death, as it was unavoidable was seen by the ancient Egyptian as an eternal state of existence, thus they attempted to prepare, through their mummifying techniques and burial procedures, as much as possible for the rebirth which was certain to take place once the burial procedures had been completed.
While mummies and tomb treasures are now thought of as artistic, in truth, each step taken in mummification was one of function, taken to ensure the "eternal preservation and protection of the deceased, " (Hart, 14). Assured within themselves of the processes of rebirth, ancient Egyptians took care to not only mask the body so that it would be fully intact for the journey into the afterlife, they also wrapped and saved internal organs for the pharaoh's later use. Entrails, as part of the ritualistic burials and preservation processes were delicately removed from the body, "bandaged separately and placed into special canopic jars which were topped with an animal head; this 'God-head' acted as protector of the specified organ which lay inside," (Chrisp, 35).
The body itself, after being dried out with salts, was wrapped in protective linen, often with spells and or amulets hidden inside the bandages to assist the mummy in its rebirth. Before being completely shrouded in the linen bandages, however, the mummy's face and body "was stuffed with cloths so that it would appear fuller" (Deady, 36) almost as if he still walked and stood under his own power. Yet the deceased would be unable to fully complete his resurrection were it not for the priests diligence in completing specialized rituals, "often watched over and guided by the god of mummification, 'Anubis' represented in Egyptian art as a jackal," (Gogerly, 15). The Egyptian mindset was one which viewed the "process of artistic creation through mummification, as a process necessary to insure by magical means the continued existence of the characterized pharaoh or to offer a dwelling place for his divine presence," (Egyptian Art and Architecture, 1451).
The coffin itself, now prized for its intricate artistry was a vessel to ensure the safety of the mummy within. Designed attractively to be a "representation of the pharaoh as a divine being" (Robins, 250), the mummy cases also, as stated by Chrisp, "provided a substitute body which the pharaoh's spirit would recognize and reinhabit after rebirth" (34). "Eyes" as noted by McCall, "were carved into mummy cases before the final burial ensuring the deceased would have eternal sight" (18) and to ensure the deceased pharaoh would regain control of his "speech, sight, and hearing, priests, clad as Anubis, performed the 'Opening of the Mouth Ceremony,'" (Chrisp, 33) before the coffin was sealed away forever.
The artistic artifacts that came out of the mummification process served a necessary and functional purpose and do attest to the Egyptian's love of beauty. Their concern for "utility" of the artifacts they surrounded themselves with upon death was foremost in their minds as they prepared themselves for their journey to their eternal life.
Egyptian pyramids, served not only as a stylized and integral component of the Egyptian spiritual resurrection which distorted the sharp division between life and death, pyramids were also a status symbol which allowed them to be regarded as a "house of eternity" for the deceased pharaoh dwelling within, awaiting his rebirth which would restore him to his former status and allow the continued connection with the Gods of Egypt, ensuring Egypt's existence. "Death was as important as life as evidenced by the pyramids whose intricate architectural design not only took into account the exigencies of everyday material but also acquired a special and even greater significance by virtue of the fact that they institutionalized man's interpretation of his religion, state, and community" (Baumgart, 8). Thus, after death the bodies were interred in the huge mystical constructions with much of the individual's prized possessions which he would need and or want upon his return to life.
In the pharaoh's mind it would be a great waste to squander huge amounts of time, financial and human resources in the building of extraordinary palaces which would only last the length of the pharaoh's life on earth. More appropriate, in the Egyptian pharaoh's mind, was the construction of a "home" which would serve him through his eternal life which was certain to span a greater length of time than his mortal life. Pyramids were built of stone which was deemed "least likely to suffer the depredations of time" (Malek, 41). Additionally, pyramids were secure fortresses thought sturdy enough to withstand all elements which may have attempted invasion.
As monuments of art, Egyptian pyramids represent the ideals of "order, balance, precision, and harmony" which the pharaoh tried to preserve in the lives of the Egyptian people (Malek, 4). Mathematical artistry becomes apparent in the pyramid based on their geometric design and balanced proportion. Furthermore, the pyramids were a functional work of art which served multiple purposes; to demonstrate respect, exalt the gods, "embody the notion of kingship, underpin the privileged position of the elite through which the king governed as well as ensure the deceased pharaoh had a reliable and safe passageway through which he could be resurrected and continue his role in the self-sustaining system which reinforced and justified the established social order" (Robins, 252).
Tomb reliefs, beautiful stylized portraits of ancient Egyptian life often represented on the walls of tombs, served not only to impart knowledge, encouragement, and information to the deceased as he journeyed into the afterworld, but also provided a vehicle through which the pharaoh could construct his interpretation of the resurrection process and the richness of life which would be unveiled in the afterlife. Tomb reliefs also acted as a "motivational factor for the spirit (ka) of the deceased so the ka would be reborn into divinity" (Rachewiltz, 42).
Representations of the afterlife decorated the walls of many tombs serving as a guide and compass to provide a history of life's events as well as a template which "acted on the basis that the deceased would be strengthened by the images and complete his resurrection so that he, too, could enjoy life in the hereafter," (Otto, 22). The ancient Egyptians believed in the function of their creations, thus Egyptian artisans, as noted by Meredith Hooper, "designed the tomb reliefs to not only last forever as the pharaohs imagined their spirit would, artists also embedded meanings in the paintings, now widely recognized simply as beautiful aesthetic creations," (14).
Egyptian artisans, as noted by Chrisp, also attempted to display the tasks which would exist in the afterworld as reflected by commonly seen tomb reliefs displaying "harvest scenes in which the man alongside his wife would attend to the farming as it was thought to be in the afterlife," (19). Musicians as a sign of how thoroughly the Egyptian enjoyed life were often depicted singing or engaged in some form of merriment. Likewise, "songs composed on papyri and scenes displaying musical instruments offer a glimpse of Egyptian revelry" (Hart, 50) and how closely they thought life in the hereafter was patterned after life on earth.
This desire by the Egyptian artisans to recreate life through tomb reliefs is also demonstrated through their portrayals of the pharaoh who was represented as an enduring connection between life and the afterlife. It was important to represent the pharaoh as an ongoing entity that would continue signifying the connection with the Gods whom Egypt depended upon. Thus, as noted by Robins, "the pharaoh was often shown carrying out 'kingly duties,' perhaps being crowned, engaged in a religious ceremony, or stonily accepting lotus blossoms offered by his wife and children," (252). The pharaoh wished to be accepted into the afterlife at his proper status and perhaps as a magnifier of his station, tomb reliefs, showed him as being "mourned by goddesses, in the hopes that they might assist the deceased pharaoh and ensure his resurrection" (Robins, 249).
The conceptual framework of Egyptian craftsmanship was that functionality remains the primary focus in the intricate design and decoration of their work, though they are now marveled at and enjoyed for the beauty of the design and color. Yet, as stated by Robins, Egyptian art encompassed far more than human society; thus "artwork" was used as a vessel "to represent, display, harmonize, and glorify everything associated with Egyptian life and the preservation and manifestation of the pharaoh through both life and death (252).
Wall Text - Musicians:
Tomb reliefs served functional as opposed to aesthetic purposes and, as stated by Russmann, "tomb decorations were not chosen randomly but each image was in some way representative of some facet of Egyptian life" (31). Tomb reliefs not only highlighted the activities expected to occur in the afterlife, the crafted illustrations established unity and conformity throughout the civilization.
The tomb reliefs, as stated by Meredith Hooper, "held various connotations which can be deciphered and read, yet one message clearly beheld in all Egyptian paintings was the idea of lasting forever" (14). Egyptians were shown engaged in all activities of life as such activities did not stop due to one's death, instead they continued on in the afterlife. This particular relief entitled "Musicians" depicts a set of six females playing lyres and double-flutes. This relief shows, as stated by Hart, "enjoyment of life to the fullest as demonstrated by the depictions of music and revelry" (50).
In this relief, note the message toward the female sex that they are fertile and life-giving as evidenced by the fact that they are shown in a nude or nearly nude state emphasizing their womanly attributes. Additionally, they are shown producing music, no doubt inciting happiness, pleasure, and entertainment toward their audience, reinforcing the message toward women they are suited to entertain and pleasure audiences, which as inferred by Hart, "included their husbands and the pharaoh" (50).
The message is aided in its presentation by the use of color which served to indicate the "essence or character of a depicted object, therefore, as the musicians are colored a yellowish shade, it can be inferred that they are female" (Owusu, 48). Furthermore, as Owusu asserts, the shades of white which are integrated into the picture reflect "joy, divine light, and cosmic energy" (48) which would have coincided with the message of joy and everlasting life being portrayed. Finally, the reddish tones seen in the musicians' skin also indicate, as stated by Owusu, "a stimulating life-affirming radiation" (48) which further adds gaiety to the scene.
Wall Text - Opening the Mouth Ceremony from the Book of the Dead of Hunefer:
Tomb reliefs provided representations which served to simulate everyday Egyptian pharaoh life and also describe the riches which would, no doubt, become available once the deceased pharaoh had successfully crossed over and been reborn. Some of these representation appeared almost as though the artisans had designed "symbolic reminders of specific ceremonies, which if performed correctly, could influence the pharaoh's passage into the underworld" (Owusu, 306) and his success after resurrection. As is noted from the Chapter 8 Lecture Notes, "humans everywhere have strived throughout history to not only visualize and conceptualize what they considered to be divine, but also to enhance themselves within that image as well gain control over those ultimately uncontrollable forces of life and death," (MacDevitt).
The tomb relief I will be discussing is titled "Opening the Mouth Ceremony from the Book of the Dead of Hunefer" originating from the New Kingdom of Egypt approximately 1550 BC. This particular image depicts a funeral procession preparing the mummified pharaoh for a banquet held in his honor. We see mourners in the form of two women who lovingly grasp the mummy's bandages while "the mummy itself is being supported by a priest wearing the costume of Anubis, the jackal headed god of the dead, while two lesser priests touch the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth of the mummified pharaoh under the observant eyes of a leopard-skin clad priest" (Perl, 67). This ceremony , as suggested by Perl, was carried out in order to "restore the deceased pharaoh's senses to him so that he might hear, see, taste, smell, and walk about once his resurrection was complete" (68). Sacrifices were often offered at the scene of the funeral as this relief shows in its depiction of a calf that stands solemnly with his mother, awaiting the sacrificial ceremony in which the calf would be offered. This relief, placed on the tomb walls of many deceased pharaohs', offered a crafted illustration of how the pharaoh could expect to regain control of his bodily senses and thus, was a message of teaching for both the priests as well as the onlookers. This tomb relief also correlated with the Egyptian idea of "creating functional artifacts" which could continue to be utilized even after death.
We note the presence of deities and use of color which is reflected in the relief and is typical of Egyptian culture. For example, I cite the presence of Anubis, jackal headed god of the dead, whom the priest has disguised himself as. Anubis was thought to be, as stated by Owusu, a "specialist in embalming mummies and protector of the deceased pharaoh should he encounter any evil during his resurrection" (55). I also note the unique use of color seen throughout this crafted illustration. We may observe the color black seen in the skin color of the priests and mourning ladies which "embodies the underworld as it signals the ground to which all life must return for rebirth" (Owusu, 48). Yet, in a striking contrast, the color white is used to denote divinity and purity; while, the blue-green which is seen in the headdress of the mummified pharaoh implies, as stated by Owusu, "maturity as well as the unity of Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt." (48).
Wall Text - Mummified Body with Anubis (from the Book of the Dead)
Tomb reliefs were designed by the Egyptian craftsmen under the pharaoh's direction to represent not only life events but also events which took place in preparation for death. In their quest to live forever, as stated by Lila Perl, "the Egyptians managed to preserve an indelible picture of the Egyptian way of life" (112), even as they prepared for death. Tomb reliefs served as an effective device for the ancient Egyptian pharaohs to "cheat death and continue to seek favor with the gods while guiding his people (Perl, 16). Therefore, tomb reliefs were often created to show the pharaoh on his way to his afterlife, usually through the mummification and burial processes.
The particular relief I would like to discuss is titled "Mummified Body with Anubis (from the Book of the Dead). This relief depicts a mummified pharaoh lying serenely on a couch while Anubis, the Egyptian God of mummification, watches over him. This relief symbolizes the important connection the pharaoh shares with the God Anubis. Anubis carefully checks the deceased pharaoh's bandages and ensures his comfort in preparation for the pharaoh's journey to the afterlife. The pharaoh will be reborn, thus reestablishing a connection with the Gods ensuring the continuation of Egypt.
The pharaoh reclines upon a lion-headed couch as the lion was an important animal in Egyptian culture. He "was thought to be the guardian of the king's throne" (Owusu 275) and as such the king, as Owusu further elaborates, "was more than willing to be equated with lions and was often shown with lionesses when preparing for battle or hunting" (275). The lion further symbolized the rebirth cycle which lends validity and strength to the pharaoh's journey as he undertakes his own resurrection.
We note, as stated by Hooper, "the pharaoh has been painted to appear as he would, most likely, have wished to appear" (28) as evidenced by his apparent youth contrasted with the wisdom reflected in his stare. We may also observe Anubis's stooped posture as he bends over the mummified pharaoh. As a member of the divine, Anubis appears taller than the pharaoh which symbolizes his greater stature. The use of color also appears symbolic and even ironic in this relief. For example, note the black which is the main color in the relief. Black, as stated by Owusu, "was traditionally considered to embody the underworld, however, it also, in Egyptian culture serves to symbolize life" (48) as the black silt of the Nile River made possible the continued existence of Egypt. Additionally, the white background which both Anubis and the pharaoh are framed against indicates, as stated by Owusu, "divinity, purity and cosmic power" (48).
Art can be a powerful tool of negotiation, often used to "perpetuate existing attitudes and cultural ideas while other art images may be used to discourage or downplay undesirable images (Lazzari, 171). Within the context of this statement, ideas about reproduction and nurturing are represented through the depiction, of prehistoric fertility goddess Venus of Willendorf and the Polynesian god Te Rongo who share many similarities and differences.
In discussing the similarities between the two pieces I would like to point out that both pieces were valued in their respective cultures as representative of the concept of fertility. Both fertility gods stand to advance the conceptual framework which each society is built upon. For example, the Polynesian societies which crafted the god Te Rongo appears to have adhered to the concept of men being foremost in the reproduction processes while the prehistoric people seemed to place women as the foremost persons in the reproduction process. I also would like to point out the fact that both pieces emphasize the gentalia in the male and female figures stressing their importance as fertility gods/goddesses. The two fertility gods have even been purposely deformed to further suggest their health, vitality and strength in child-bearing as evidenced in the Venus's large misshapen breasts, stomach and hips while "Te Rongo" has been crafted with an erect penis. I note a subtle similarity in that both people seem to have a role as nurturer. Venus's large breasts speak to the bountifulness of her milk which may aid in the life-affirming process of her children while Te Rongo is also portrayed as nurturer evidenced by the fact that his children have been etched onto his person in a pseudo-birth pouch as though he is providing them life and strength by virtue of their connectedness to him.
Differences between the two figures appear to be clearer and perhaps more tangible than were the similarities. For example, the primary difference is seen in that Te Rongo is a male god while the prehistoric Venus is female. The next difference I note is seen in the craftsmanship of the two figures. For example, I note Te Rongo has been carefully carved, his body skillfully proportioned, features well defined with his "sons" cleanly etched below his chest capacity. Thus, the artists have given Te Rongo an identity. In contrast, the Venus of Willendorf has no clearly discernable features other than her arms which are folded across her enlarged breasts. I note, her lack of distinguishing facial features, in fact her entire head appears to be obscured, establishing her lack of identity outside of a fertility figure. Continuing with the concept of establishing identity, I note the fact that Te Rongo has his children impressed into his person serves as a sort of "ID" so that there can be no doubt whom the father figure is. Additionally, the fact that Te Rongo is seen with the children serves to provide him with a certain status, as opposed to Venus, who lacks a similar stature as her children are not present.
I also note a difference in that, as stated by MacDevitt's Podcast lesson 6, Te Rongo's progeny is linked to his sexuality because we can clearly see the results of his reproduction efforts while the Venus presents us with no clear evidence outside of her swollen stomach and breasts. Te Rongo also, due to the fact that he holds the children seems to be portrayed as carrier, nurturer, and caregiver of the children while the best I might infer about Venus is that she is carrier and nurturer of her children.
In conclusion, these two works differ in their portrayal of male and female fertility figures as well as the roles each plays in the reproduction and nurturing of the children. Yet, as Lazzari notes, each is similar as they are both "highly charged powerful images that create or perpetuate ideas about reproduction, fertility and personal worth" (171).
Lazzari, Margaret and Dona Schlesier. Exploring Art: A Global Thematic Approach. 3rd ed. California: Thomas Higher Education, 2008. Print.
MacDevitt, James. Reproduction Podcast Notes Lesson 6. The Learning Scholar. 07 March 2011. Web. 10 March 2011.
Art serves many functions often in accordance with the culture it is found in as the particular culture will advance, through their art, ideas and concepts regarding the mystical and divine. As Lazzari states, "every culture has strived to grasp the divine realm, communicate with it, understand it, be joined to it and even advance ideal values through it (201). Artists, as noted by Lazzari, "often attempt to symbolize the culture's idea of heaven and oneness" (202). This depiction of heaven and oneness is variant however, as evidenced in the featured images of Zeus/ Poseidon and Shiva.
The differences between Zeus/ Poseidon and Shiva can be discussed through a lens of cultural doctrine. For example, as stated by Lazzari, the Greeks "believed themselves to be superior to other religions that worshipped animalistic or naturalistic deities." Therefore, as Zeus/ Poseidon is representative of a deity, he is portrayed as the Greek ideal of humanistic perfection. Shiva, on the other hand, is an avatar from the Hindu religion that is believed to be the underlying unifying force behind life. The Hindus, as is stated by Lazzari, "also believe deities cannot be represented as "normal or knowable" as by virtue of their divinity, they are "pure and unnatural" (204). Thus, as stated by Podcast 8, Shiva is shown to have additional arms and a third eye which establishes the "superhuman strength and powers" of Shiva. Differences are also seen in that Zeus/ Poseidon, despite being "God of sky, storms and or sea," is simply one of many deities which the Greeks worship while Shiva, despite being known by other names, is the considered "the primary manifestation of the "Unbounded"" (Lazzari, 204). Correlating with this thought is the idea that the Greeks have assigned one specific power to their gods while Hindus believe Shiva personifies and balances all that is in existence in the universe. For example, as Zeus/Poseidon only exacts control over the sky, sea, and storms, Shiva stabilizes "good and evil, light and dark, male and female so that the universe is harmonized" (Lazzari, 204)
Further differences between Shiva and Zeus/Poseidon can be discussed through a technical standpoint. For example, we see in accordance with the Greek ideal of "perfection and beauty, the mature face of Zeus offset by his beard, curls of hair as well as the powerful oversized portrayal of the god which conveys action, vitality, grace and dignity (Lazzari, 204). Zeus / Poseidon stands upright, eyes focused, one arm cocked back as if to release either a lightning bolt or a trident, the other spotting his target, knees slightly bent and feet aligned symmetrically on the ground. Shiva, on the other hand, "is shown as supple, sleek, and graceful," his body aligned so that he easily stands on one foot, "one arm extended holding an hourglass to represent the passing of time, a flame cupped in the other hand symbolizing destruction, while his lifted foot represents release from the grounded earth and his other foot, rather than being planted on the ground, instead stamps on the 'baby of ignorance'" (Lazzari, 205).
Similarities between the two deities, although seemingly more difficult to analyze are seen in the fact that both are Supreme Gods. For example, as king of the sky, storm, and sea Zeus/ Poseidon is supreme over all other deities worshiped by the Greeks and Shiva is also a manifestation of a supreme being. A second similarity is seen in that both deities are represented as being armed with the weapons needed to restore balance as needed in their respective cultures. For example, we see Zeus/Poseidon at one time gripped either a lightning bolt or trident while, as stated by Podcast 8, Shiva grasps the "flame of destruction and is granted extra strength by virtue of his additional arms and eye." I also point to the similarities between design and form of the two deities. For example, it is stated by Podcast 8, "the Greek people, with their staunch reverence for humanism, represented their gods as being human," yet, the lecture, goes on to state, "Hindu gods are also humanized, despite their usual extra limbs." Additionally, it is seen that both figures are balanced, suggesting synchronization with the cultures they symbolize. For example, as stated by Lazzari, "Shiva is the embodiment of cosmic energy yet the balanced pose also contains the concept of eternal stillness" (205). Likewise, Zeus's "pose establishes within the observer a sense of action and energy while remaining poised and dignified" (Lazzari, 204).
In conclusion, as stated by Lazzari, "artists, when creating images of holy beings often craft the deities as idealized shapes of humans and often attributing to that deity, a particular sphere of influence" (241). Lazzari goes on to state, "brilliant colors, luminosity, additional limbs, and patterns help to convey the impression of transcendence." Within this framework, similarities between the two deities are seen in the humanization of their features, yet differences can be seen in that the Hindu god, Shiva, was further magnified in his divinity by "additional limbs, colored skin tones and a third eye" while the Greek god, Zeus/Poseidon, "was an idealized human man" (Podcast 8).
Lazzari, Margaret and Dona Schlesier. Exploring Art: A Global Thematic Approach. 3rd ed. California: Thomas Higher Education, 2008. Print.
MacDevitt, James. Reproduction Podcast Notes Lesson 8. The Learning Scholar. 07 March 2011. Web. 12 March 2011.