"Chapter 3: Portrait-Painting in Ancient Egypt." by Amelia Ann Blanford Edwards (1831-1892)
THE oldest sculptures and the oldest paintings which have come down to our time are the work of ancient Egyptian artists who lived some four thousand years before the Christian era. This would look as though sculpture and painting were twins–twins born of the fruitful Nile, and therefore of parallel antiquity. But the art of painting implies first the art of drawing; and the art of drawing is infinitely more ancient than that of sculpture. It is more ancient than the immemorial civilization of Egypt. It is almost as old as man himself.
The child by the sea-shore tracing rude figures of men and animals upon the wet sands, and the cave-dweller in the ages before history outlining the forms of the mammoth and the mastodon on a fragment of polished bone, are obeying the same imitative bent, and that imitative bent is due to one of the primary instincts of our race. An incised outline upon bone is not sculpture. It is drawing–drawing with a point. It precedes the attempt to model in clay, or to carve images in wood or stone. In a word, it is the earliest form of fine art in the world.
From the prehistoric cave-dweller we pass at one step to [Page 71] the ancient Egyptian draughtsman. In the history of art, all is blank between them. We cannot measure the abyss of time which separates the one from the other. We only know that in the meanwhile there had been changes of many kinds–upheavals and subsidences of land and water; disappearances of certain forms of animal and vegetable life; and the like. We do not know–we cannot even guess–how long it had taken the ancient Egyptian to work his way up from primitive barbarism to that stage of advanced culture at which he had arrived when we first make his acquaintance on his native soil. This is about the time of the building of the Great Pyramid, or nearly six thousand years ago, counting to this year of grace, 1890. Already he was a consummate builder, geometrician, and mathematician. Already he was in possession of a religious literature of great antiquity. He was master of a highly complicated system of writing; he had carried the art of sculpture, in the most obdurate materials, to as high a degree of perfection as was possible with the tools at his command; and he drew the human figure better –far better–than he did in those later days when Herodotus and Plato and Strabo visited the Valley of the Nile.
The earliest Egyptian paintings to which it is possible to assign a date, are executed in tempera upon the walls of certain tombs made for the noble personages who were contemporary with King Khufu (better known as Cheops), the builder of the Great Pyramid. In these paintings we see herdsmen driving herds of goats, oxen, and asses; vintagers working the wine-press; scenes of ploughing, feasting, dancing, boating, and so forth. There is no attempt at scenery or background. The heads are given in profile, but the eyes are given as if seen frontwise.
The head being in profile, one would expect to see the body in profile; but this was not in accordance with ancient Egyptian notions. The artist desired to make as much of his sitter as possible–to give him full credit for the breadth of his chest and the width of his shoulders, and to show that he had the customary allowance of arms and legs; so he [Page 72] represented the body in front view. But he thus landed himself in a grave difficulty. To draw a pair of legs and feet in front view is by no means easy. It requires a knowledge of foreshortening, and the Egyptian artist was as ignorant of foreshortening as of perspective. He, however, met this difficulty by boldly returning to the point from which he first started, and drawing the legs and feet in profile, like the face. Nor was this all. Having no idea of perspective, he placed every part of his subject on the same plane; that is to say, a man walking or standing has the one foot planted so exactly in front of the other that a line drawn from the middle toe of the front foot would precisely intersect the soles of both. I have sometimes wondered whether it ever occurred to an ancient Egyptian artist to try to place himself in the attitude in which he elected to represent his fellow-creatures–namely, with his body at a right angle to his legs and his profile. He would have found it extremely uncomfortable, not to say impossible. Yet in this preposterous fashion he depicted princes and peasants, priests and kings, and even armies on the march. Strange to say, the effect is neither so ugly nor so ridiculous as it sounds. The outline is drawn with such freedom, and the forms, taken separately, are so graceful that, despite our better judgment, we accept the conventional deformity, and even forget that it is deformity.
When the ancient Egyptian artist had drawn the face and figure of his sitter, he proceeded to fill up the outline with color. If it were the portrait of a man, he covered the face, body, arms, and legs with a flat wash of dark, reddish-brown; if it were the portrait of a woman, he substituted a yellowish-buff. Not that the men were in reality red-brown or the women yellow, but because these were the conventional tints employed to distinguish the complexions of the two sexes. He next indicated the eyebrow by a black line of uniform thickness; and for the eye, he painted a black disk on a white ground. The garments and the border-patterns of the garments, the necklaces, the bracelets, the rich belts, the elab- [Page 73] orate head-dresses, were all treated with exquisite minuteness, and in the same flat tints.
Such being his system of color, it was of course impossible for our Egyptian to represent light and shadow, or the texture of stuffs, or the flow of drapery. His art, in fact, cannot be described as painting, in our sense of the term. He did not paint; he illuminated. (17) Inasmuch, therefore, as he excelled in the methods of illumination, he was a singularly skilful craftsman; but inasmuch as he has never been surpassed for purity and precision and sweep of outline, or for the fidelity with which here produced the racial characteristics of foreign nations, or for the truth and spirit with which he depicted all varieties of animal life, he was undoubtedly and unquestionably an artist. Drawing only in profile, and painting only in flat washes, he could not, and did not, attempt to show the changing expression of the human face in joy or grief or anger. The widow wailing over the mummy of her husband, the Pharaoh slaying his thousands on the field of battle, looks out into space with the smiling serenity of a cherub on a tombstone. But let Rameses return to Thebes after a victorious campaign in Ethiopia or Asia Minor, bringing a string of foreign captives bound to his chariot-wheels, and see then what our Egyptian artist can do! With nothing but his reed-pen and his whole-colored washes, he produces a series of portraits of Syrians, Libyans, negroes, and Asiatic Greeks which no English or French or American artist could surpass for living and speaking individuality, and which probably none of them could do half so well if compelled to employ the same methods.
There is, however, one point upon which it is necessary to insist in this connection. Among even those who care much and know much about art, there prevails an impression that the art of the Egyptians was phenomenally rigid and incorrect, and that Egyptian painters committed more glaring errors in their treatment of the "human form divine" than the early artists of other nations. This is a grave misconception. The beginnings of pictorial art in all nations, [Page 74] at all periods, are curiously alike. The archaic tyro tries his "'prentice hand" on the same subjects; he encounters the same difficulties; he meets those difficulties in the same way; he commits the same blunders. Egyptian, Assyrian, Etruscan, Greek, repeat one another. They all draw the face in profile, and the eye as if seen from the front. They all represent the feet planted on precisely the same line. They all color in flat tints, and are alike ignorant of light and shade, of foreshortening and perspective.
Greek painting–the whole body of Greek painting, from its earliest to its latest phase, with the one exception of the art of painted vases–is irrecoverably lost. Of the masterpieces of Greek sculpture, some few priceless relics have survived the general wreck; but of the famous creations of the great Greek painters there remains but an echo in the pages of Pausanias and Pliny. The walls enriched with their immortal frescos, the panels on which they painted their incomparable easel pictures, have long since become dust. But, like the glow that streams up from the west after the sun has gone down, the splendor of their fame yet lights the horizon and is reflected on the hills of Athens.
Strange to say, despite the ruin which has overtaken their works, we know almost as much about those dead and gone painters of between two and three thousand years ago as we know about the artists of our own day. We have elaborate descriptions of their pictures, notes on their methods, criticisms on their styles, and abundance of anecdotes of their sayings and doings. We know that Polygnotus, who excelled in battle-pieces, was called the "most ethical of painters;" that Xeuxis carried realism to the point of actual illusion; that Protogenes (an earlier Albert Dürer) finished his pictures with microscopic minuteness; and that Apelles excelled all the rest in ideal beauty and grace.
The prices which these artists received for their pictures were by no means contemptible. Nikias, it is said, refused to sell one of his works to Ptolemy Lagus for sixty talents, a sum equivalent to sixty thousand dollars, or twelve thousand [Page 75] pounds sterling. Aristides, when commissioned to paint a battle-piece containing one hundred figures, bargained for two hundred dollars, or forty pounds sterling, per figure; and Alexander, for his own portrait in the character of Zeus hurling a thunder-bolt, gave Apelles no less than twenty talents of gold–that is to say, fifty thousand pounds sterling, or two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. As for the painters who commanded these extraordinary prices, they rivalled each other in ostentation and vanity. They robed themselves in the purple of royalty; they wore golden wreaths upon their heads and golden clasps upon their sandals; and they squandered their wealth with both hands. (18)
Yet the art which rose to this height of renown started from beginnings more humble than anything which has come down to us in the shape of ancient Egyptian painting. The paintings of the Greeks, as I have said, are lost, and only their vase-paintings remain. But as the vase-paintings of the finest period reflect the art of the finest period, so the vase-paintings of the archaic period reflect the art of the archaic period; and they show with what a childish hand the first attempts of the Greek draughtsman were traced. Nothing in the way of drawing which has yet been discovered in Egypt is so ludicrously feeble as the drawing upon the so-called Proto-Homeric vases found at Athens. These vases are supposed to date from the tenth century before our era and are therefore contemporaneous with the Twentieth Egyptian Dynasty–the dynasty of Rameses III. and his successors.
But the Twentieth Egyptian Dynasty, if it registers the beginnings of art in the very core of Hellas, marks its old age and decadence in Egypt. Pliny laughed the Egyptians to scorn, when they claimed their priority as painters.
"Concerning the first origin of the painter's art," he says, "I am not ignorant that the Egyptians do vaunt thereof, avouching that it was devised by them, and practiced sixe hundred years before there was any talke or knowledge thereof in Greece, a vaine brag and ostentation of theirs, as all the world may see." (19) But the incredulity of Pliny was [Page 76] the incredulity of ignorance. Himself living in an age when the Egyptians spoke only Coptic or Greek, and when the secret of the old Egyptian writing was lost, neither he nor his contemporaries, nor the Coptic Egyptians themselves, had any standard left by which to measure the history of the great African province. It was not a priority of six hundred years that the Egyptians should have claimed in this controversy, but a priority of more than three thousand. The painted tombs of the Pyramid plateau were already close upon four thousand years old in the time of Pliny.
But there is yet another fact bearing on this question–a fact which none of us suspected till the mysterious records sculptured on stone and written on papyrus were deciphered–namely, that the so-called Pelasgic Greeks, the very early Greeks of the Archipelago and the coast of Asia Minor, had been known to the Egyptians, and fought by them, and vanquished by them, and brought as captives to Thebes, as early as the time of King Sankhara of the Eleventh Dynasty. Of this king it is recorded in a contemporary rock-cut inscription in the Valley of Hamamat, that "he broke down the power of the Hanebu." As I explain in Chapter V. of this volume, "Hanebu" is the name by which the Greeks were first known to the Egyptians. Later on, in inscriptions of the time of Thothmes III. of the Eighteenth Dynasty, we meet with them as the Danæans; and later still, under the Pharaohs of the three following dynasties, they appear with their distinctive names as Achæans, Lycians, Dardanians, Mycians, Teucrians, Ionians, and Carians.
It has, however, been supposed up to the present time that these early Greeks knew Egypt only as miserable captives toiling in the mines and quarries, and that the land of the Pharaohs was jealously closed against them until they settled at Daphnæ as a military colony under Psammetichus I., and at Naukratis as a trading colony under Amasis II. But so recently as the spring-time of 1889 a strange new light dawned upon the horizon eastward of Hellas. In two little ruined towns situate within a few miles of each other [Page 77] on the borders of the Fayûm, Mr. Petrie discovered traces of two separate colonies of foreigners, the one colony dating from the reign of Usertesen II. of the Twelfth Dynasty, about three thousand years before our era; and the other dating from the reign of Thothmes III. of the Eighteenth Dynasty, about fifteen hundred years later. The earlier mound is locally known as Tell Kahun, and the more recent as Tell Gurob. In both have been found innumerable fragments of pottery of Cypriote and archaic Greek styles; and hundreds of these potsherds are inscribed with characters, some of which may be Phoenician, or that earliest derivative of Phoenician known as Cadmæan Greek; while others belong to the Cypriote, Græco-Asiatic, and Italic alphabets. Nor is this all. The cemetery belonging to one of these towns has given up its dead, who prove to have been a fair and golden-haired race, like the "Golden-tressed Achæans " of Homer.
The ancient settlers who lived and died at Tell Gurob were mummified like the native Egyptians, having apparently adopted the religion of the country; and on the mummy-case of one, we read that its occupant's name was An-Tursha, and that he was "Governor of the Palace." Now, in its etymology, An-Tursha is a very remarkable name–for the man who bore it must have belonged to a foreign people called the Tursha, who allied themselves with the Libyans and Sardinians in an attack upon Egypt during the reign of Seti I., and were signally defeated. About a century later, in the reign of Rameses III. of the Twentieth Dynasty, they again ventured across the sea in their "hollow ships," allied this time with the Danæans, Sicilians, Lycians, and others. Descending upon the Egyptian coast near Pelusium, they were encountered by the whole naval and military force of Rameses III., and wellnigh annihilated. Who, then, were these Tursha that come before us first in company with the Sardinians, and next with the Sardinians and Sicilians–both nations from the northern waters of the Mediterranean? The Tursha are none other than the primitive rulers of [Page 78] Latium, the mysterious Etruscans, whose identification has been convincingly established by Francois Lenormant.(20) And it was on the potsherds of Tell Gurob, a settlement which was inhabited by the fair-haired foreigners precisely during the reign of Seti I. and his immediate successors (the settlement in which the man An-Tursha lived and died) that those especial signs were found which are unquestionably identical with certain letters of the Etruscan alphabet. Without venturing to draw any conclusion from these facts, I desire to call attention very particularly to the sequel in which they follow each other.
About 3000 B.C. Sankhara subdues the tribes of the Greek Archipelago. Some three generations later, in the reign of Usertesen II., a colony of foreign workmen, who were probably employed in transporting the stone of which that Pharaoh's pyramid was built, settle close beside it, on the edge of the desert. They decorate their domestic pottery with patterns unknown to Egyptian potters, and they inscribe them with characters closely resembling the archaic alphabets of Phoenicia and Cyprus. Is it not allowable to ask whether these foreigners might not be descendants of the captives brought home by Sankhara?
Fifteen hundred years later, Thothmes III. celebrates his victories over the Dardani–Dardani being here used, as by Homer, to designate the Asiatic Greeks generally. And it is in the reign of Thothmes III. that another alien colony is established, perhaps not altogether by chance, within a few miles of the deserted site occupied fifteen centuries before by the earlier settlers. The new town, Tell Gurob, continues to be inhabited for nearly one hundred years, and is then deserted, like its predecessor. In the course of that century Egypt is again and again attacked, not only by the Greeks of Asia Minor and the Ægean, but by the coast-folk and islanders of the Tyrrhene Sea. It is significant that the signs inscribed on the potsherds of the new colony comprise letters belonging to the archaic alphabets of those very tribes which hurled themselves in vain against the trained [Page 79] battalions of Seti I and Rameses II.; namely, the Leku, or Lycians; the Aiuna, or Ionians; the Akaiusha, or Achæans; and the Tursha or Etruscans.(21) It is to this later colony that the man An-Tursha belonged. It is on the pottery of this colony that we find the Etruscan letters; and it is in the cemetery belonging to this colony that the yellow-haired mummies have been found.
Now, these facts, take them from what point of view we may, are most extraordinary. Mr. Petrie has brought to light the earliest Greek alphabetical signs yet discovered; for the most ancient specimens of Greek writing previously known are the rock-cut and lava-cut inscriptions found in the very ancient cemeteries of Santorin and Thera, and the famous Greek inscription cut upon the leg of one of the colossi at Abû-Simbel. The Abû-Simbel inscription is contemporaneous with the Forty-seventh Olympiad, and Lenormant attributes the oldest of the Theran inscriptions to the ninth century before Christ. But the potsherds found by Mr. Petrie in the Fayûm carry back the history of the alphabet to a period earlier than the date of the Exodus, and six centuries earlier than any Greek inscriptions known.
But if they throw a new and surprising light upon the history of writing and of language, they throw no less valuable a light upon the history of art. By revealing the astonishing fact that Egypt contained settlements of early Greek and Italian tribes at a date long anterior to the earliest date at which those people had any history or monuments of their own, they show in what school of art those nations studied. And thus the marked Egyptian character of the archaic painting and sculpture of Greece and Etruria is at once explained.
It is not, however, to be for one moment supposed that it was the settlers in those two little towns in the Fayûm who handed on the arts of Egypt to their barbarian brethren over the sea. The results of the excavation of these sites are samples–mere samples–of what the minor mounds of Egypt hold in store for the explorer. There are probably [Page 80] hundreds of such sites in Egypt–sites so insignificant in appearance that no one supposes them to be worth the trouble of excavation. The Pharaohs drafted immense numbers of prisoners into Egypt. They needed men for their gigantic public works, which could only be carried on by means of a reckless sacrifice of human life. It was for this purpose, quite as much as for mere booty, that they made their incessant raids upon Ethiopia and Syria. When, therefore, the barbarian hordes of southern Europe and Asia Minor attacked Egypt by land or sea, they rushed, not merely upon defeat and death, but upon slavery. There must have been tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of these foreigners in Egypt during the Nineteenth and Twentieth dynasties; for again and again during the reigns of Rameses II. and Rameses III., they came upon the same desperate errand, and with the same result. Vast numbers were sent to the mines and the quarries, and, like the Children of Israel, to the brick-fields. But to such as were skilled in handicrafts, a less intolerable lot would be assigned. These would be employed as artisans rather than as beasts of burden. The Greek characters traced on the backs of certain encaustic tiles found in the ruins of a building erected by Rameses III. at Tell el-Yahudieh may well be the work of some of these prisoners of war. The foreigners would naturally herd together close against the pyramid or temple or canal where the task-masters kept them at work; and it is in the little nameless, unnoticed mounds scattered up and down the Nile Valley that relics of their presence will be found.
This discovery of Mr. Petrie's throws an entirely new light upon the synchronous history of Egypt, Cyprus, Asia Minor, and Etruria. It carries back the literary history of these nations to a date hitherto undreamed of by the classic historians or by ourselves, and it promises to clear up a host of very obscure problems concerning the origin and development of Greek and Etruscan art.(22)
And now it will be interesting to examine in detail the [Page 81] principles upon which the human figure was drawn by the artists of ancient Egypt; to note the skill with which they seized upon and delineated the ethnic characteristics of foreign nations; and to trace the influence of Egypt upon the schools of Assyria, Etruria, and Greece.
Also called Tumu and Atmu. He wears the "pschent," or double crown, signifying his domination over Upper and Lower Egypt. The hieroglyphic inscription recounts his name and titles: "Tumu, Lord of the Two Lands, Great God of On, Divine Ruler of the Substance of the Gods."
THE TYPICAL SYRIAN OF EGYPTIAN ART.
From a photograph by Mr. W. M. Flinders Petrie.
This spirited head of a Syrian chief was photographed by Mr. Petrie from a wall-painting in the tomb of Rameses III. It dates, therefore, from about 1100 B.C. The wall is damaged and the plaster has scaled off in places, but the head is fortunately uninjured. The Asiatic type is admirably caught. This man was probably a Canaanite. He has all the ethnic characteristics of the race. The eye, as usual, is falsely drawn, but it is set at the Semitic angle, and the face has a [Page 83] vivid look that speaks of actual portraiture. He wears a head-gear of some spotted material, bound with the Syrian fillet yet in use. The fringed and patterned robe, the cap and fillet, are all true to the Syrian- costume of three thousand years ago.(24)
THE TYPICAL LIBYAN OF EGYPTIAN ART.
From a photograph by Mr. W. M. Flinders Petrie.
Very different in type is the typical Egyptian as we see him represented in the portraits of Ra-hotep, Khufu-Ankh, Semnefer, and Ra-em-ka.* The flesh-tints of Egyptians are rendered of a reddish-brown, and the hair coal-black. The facial angle is quite different from the facial angle of the Asiatics. It is the facial angle of the European races, and it has therefore a certain affinity with that of the typical Libyan. Now, the typical Libyans of ancient Egyptian art were a fair-skinned, red-haired, and blue-eyed race, whose descendants survive to this day eastward of Algeria. We [Page 84] find them to be invariably distinguished by the massive side-lock shown in the illustration. A piece of the wall-plaster has unfortunately been knocked out of the cheek, but otherwise the face is perfect. It is a very interesting face, gentle and intelligent, and drawn, one would say, from the life. These fair Libyans were doubtless emigrants from Europe or Asia, and were most probably of Pelasgic origin. The side-lock was a fashion peculiar to the Libyans and Mashuasha outside Egypt; and it is stated by Herodotus that the Maxyans (who are in all probability identical with the Mashuasha of Egyptian inscriptions), allowed their hair to grow in a long lock on the right side of the head, but shaved it on the left. (25) The side-lock was also a special fashion observed by Egyptian princes in childhood and youth, and it is worn to this day by little boys in Egypt and Nubia.
The "blameless Ethiopian" was a very familiar figure in the land of the Pharaohs, and it is therefore no wonder that Egyptian artists excelled in depicting his homely characteristics. The illustration on page 85 is from Mr. Petrie's series of photographs of wall-paintings in the tomb of a Theban noble named Hui, who was governor of Ethiopia under one of the Pharaohs of the Eighteenth Dynasty. The painted tombs of Egypt have suffered deplorably at the hands of tourists and Arabs, and the tomb of Hui has not escaped injury. Yet, when it is possible, illustrations direct from damaged originals are preferable to copies made fifty or sixty years ago, when the paintings were comparatively perfect. The copy, though more pleasing, may err; but the photograph is a faithful witness. In the present subject, we see a procession of Ethiopian chiefs, one of whom is accompanied by his wife and children. The negro types are admirably given, but it must be admitted that the dark lady who brings up the rear is not beautiful. She wears a richly patterned garment of many colors, and she carries her youngest child in a funnel-shaped bag over her shoulder.
Last in the procession (for which we have not space here, as it covers a large wall-space in the tomb) comes the Ethio- [Page 85] pian queen herself, in a chariot drawn by spotted oxen. Her face is wofully damaged, and the head of the groom-boy who stands before the oxen has been cut out from the wall by some unscrupulous traveller; but her Majesty's charioteer and her attendant chiefs are in excellent preservation. The Queen's arms are loaded with bracelets, and round her neck she wears a splendid necklace, consisting of many rows of beads and pendants. Her head-dress is a stupendous work of art, consisting of a framework decorated with ostrich plumes mounted on a golden crown. Plumed negroes carrying trays piled with gold rings and bags of gold dust, and others bearing tribute of elephant tusks, logs of ebony, and other products of the Soudan, bring up the rear. *
PROCESSION OF NEGROES.
From a wall-painting in the tomb of Hui at El Kab, reproduced from a photograph by Mr. W. M. Flinders Petrie.
THE SARDINIAN OF EGYPTIAN ART.
The ethnic characteristics of these ancient Sardinians are very unlike those of the Sardinians of to-day. The type is almost that of the modern Englishman, a resemblance which is heightened by the neatly trimmed whiskers of the royal body-guard. Curiously enough, however, the Sardinian chieftain represented on the pavilion pylon of Rameses III. at Medinet-Habû is of a distinctly Semitic type. This would look as though Sardinia, in the time of the Twentieth Dynasty, had fallen under the rule of foreign conquerors; or as [Page 87] if the native Sardinian troops were officered at that time by Semites. In the foregoing head, as in the heads of all the Sardinian body-guard of Rameses II. in the great Abû-Simbel tableau, we have, at all events, a purely European type; and this type, it is to be remembered, dates from about eighty years earlier than the sculptures of Medinet-Habû.
From a "pre-Homeric" vase.
We will now pass on to Greece. As it has already been said, the only specimens of the graphic arts of Greece which time has spared are found on painted vases, the earliest being the so-called "pre-Homeric" vases of Athens, which cannot be less ancient than 1000 B.C., and may be yet older. The designs are absurdly archaic; but they at all events show us how barbarous were the beginnings of Greek art when isolated from foreign influences.
Here we have an example of the earliest Greek draughtsmanship which has come down to our time. The subject is taken from a "pre-Homeric" vase figured in Woltmann's History of Painting, vol. i. The subject is a charioteer driving a pair of animals, which may be horses, or giraffes, or both. The early Greek had, of course, no notion of perspective; therefore the chariot-wheels, though intended to be one on each side of the chariot, are placed in line. Neither have the chariot-pole and wheels any connection with the body of the chariot. As for the expressive countenance and classic draperies of the noble Athenian, it need scarcely be pointed out that they are immeasurably inferior to the poorest known specimens of Egyptian figure-drawing, being paralleled only by the dot-and-line performances of our childhood.
The following funerary scene is also from a vase of pre-Homeric type, of which an illustration is given in Collignon's Archéologie Grecque. In the figure-drawing of this [Page 88] fragment there is a marked improvement, which would seem to be traceable to the study of Egyptian models. These personages have faces, or, at all events, noses and chins; also, they have legs which are very substantially developed. As in Egyptian paintings, their bodies, from the waist upward, are shown frontwise, and their legs and faces in profile. The feet also are placed in line. The central object is a bier, upon which lies the body of a dead hero, covered with a pall. Two mourners strew it with palm branches; the rest clasp their hands above their heads in token of grief. The women sit on the floor beside the bier, in attitudes of lamentation. Of perspective, the artist had not the faintest perception. The bier stands on four stout legs, which are placed in a row like ninepins. The figures stand on a single line. It is a scene from a world of but two dimensions, in which all things have length and breadth, but no thickness.
OBSEQUIES OF A HERO.
A fragment of archaic painted ware found by Mr. Petrie in the ruins of the palace-fort of Psammetichus I. at Daphnæ, in the Eastern Delta, is decorated with the following figure of a Greek dancing-girl. Now, Daphnæ was founded by this Pharaoh for the accommodation of his Carian and Ionian mercenary troops about the middle of the seventh century before our era, and the place was abandoned ninety years later, in the reign of Amasis II. We have [Page 89] therefore a sufficiently accurate date for this design of a dancing-woman; that is to say, we may take it for granted that the Greek colonists who settled in the neighborhood of the camp would scarcely have built their town, and developed their trades as potters and goldsmiths, until at least a decade had elapsed. Consequently, this product of their industry would fall within the strict limit of eighty years. Our Greeks had by this time much improved in their treatment of the human figure. But for the old false drawing of the frontwise eye in the profile face, the features are naturally given. And it is a thoroughly Greek face, which is very interesting. The fillet, the ear-ring, and the long side-curl are all characteristic of archaic Greek costume. The figure has, however, all the Egyptian conventionalities grossly exaggerated, the body being shown frontwise to the waist, while the legs and feet are placed sidewise, the breadth of the shoulders and the length of the arms being ludicrously out of proportion.
From a fragment of an archaic Greek vase found at Daphnæ.
On another fragment of the same date and from the same place, we have next a stock subject of the Greek vase-painters; namely, Oedipus and the Sphinx. It is probably the earliest example of the subject extant. This, again, is better drawn than the last design. But for the portentous length of his hair and the amazing curve of his beard, Oedipus is a very respectable-looking personage. The Egyptian element is here unmistakable. The sphinx is a purely Egyptian monster and of immemorial antiquity, the Great Sphinx of Ghizeh being probably the oldest monument in Egypt. [Page 90]
OEDIPUS AND THE SPHINX.
From a fragment of an archaic Greek vase found at Daphnæ.
A great advance in freedom of drawing characterizes our next subject, a fine painted plate discovered by Mr. Petrie in the ruins of Naukratis. This is really a plaque-painting, two small holes pierced through the rim of the plate showing that it was intended for suspension on the wall. The lotus ornament at the bottom is, like the sphinx, borrowed from Egyptian models. The work of the vase-painter is executed with singular delicacy and freedom, only four colors being employed, namely, yellow, brown, purple, and white–the typical four colors of the earliest school of Greek painting. These were the four [Page 91] colors of the palette of Polygnotus and his contemporaries; and from the harmony with which they are used in this charming plaque-painting, which has been aptly compared (26) with the panel-painting of the early Greek artists, we may form some idea of the style and treatment of the earliest masters. As an example of the technique of a lost school of art, this Naukratis plate is invaluable. It is certainly not later than 500 B.C., and it is more probably as early as 600 B. C. *
PAINTED PLATE WITH WINGED SPHINX, FOUND AT NAUKRATIS.
Having considered these few examples of the dominant Egyptian influence in early Greek painting, we will next observe how that influence affected the arts of Etruria.
The Etrurians are the most mysterious people of antiquity. [Page 92] We meet with them in the sculptured chronicles of ancient Egypt as the Tursha, and in the pages of the earliest Greek writers as the Tyrrhenes, or Turseni. (27) According to ancient tradition, they came from Lydia in prehistoric times, and colonized Latium. Certain details of their costumes and customs appear to be identical with those of Lydia, and the legend is probably based upon fact. But until the inscriptions of Etruria can be read, we are not likely to solve this problem. The Etruscan characters closely resemble the archaic alphabets of Asia Minor; but no scholar has yet succeeded in identifying more than proper names and the names of deities.
The rock-cut sepulchres of Etruria are singularly Egyptian in style, and the wall-paintings with which they are decorated bear the unmistakable impress of Egyptian teaching. A very interesting series of Etruscan paintings on terra-cotta slabs, from a tomb discovered at Cervetri, were purchased by the British Museum in 1889. Two of these slabs are painted with fantastic sphinxes, winged like those of Daphnæ and Naukratis, and purely decorative. These sphinx slabs were placed apparently on either side of the entrance of the tomb. The others contain figures walking, as it would seem, in a funerary procession. Some carry lotus plants with drooping lotus buds, and one bears a kind of covered vase, or perfume-jar. The women wear buskins and the men greaves, and both are long-haired. The eyes are set, as in the Egyptian paintings, frontwise in the profile face; and the feet, as usual, are placed the one precisely in advance of the other.
The accompanying example is reproduced from a chromolithographed plate in the Journal of Helenic Studies, 1890.
The men are colored red, as in the Egyptian school, and they wear pointed beards, like the Oedipus of the Daphnæ potsherd. The flesh-tints of the woman are white. The bull-crested standard borne by the middle figure is purely Egyptian, and we have numberless examples of the type in Egyptian paintings and bas-reliefs from the Eighteenth Dynasty [Page 93] downward. This Etruscan tomb was evidently the tomb of a hero. The woman carries his spear and wreath of victory; the first man, who wears a white tunic, carries his standard or sceptre; the second man, who seems to be in the act of declaiming, has a palm branch to lay upon the bier. The Egyptian influence in this whole series of painted slabs is quite unmistakable.
ETRUSCAN PAINTED SLAB, FOUND AT CERVETRI.
The Egyptian military standard was generally surmounted by the figure of a lion in gilded bronze, the lion being sometimes surmounted by a fan-shaped ornament. Now, if the Etruscans borrowed their military insignia from Egypt, the Romans, we know, borrowed their insignia of triumph and of [Page 94] royalty from Etruria, an ivory standard, or long-stemmed sceptre surmounted by an eagle, being invariably carried in their triumphal processions. Thus, the eagles borrowed by the first Napoleon from the classic Caesars, are to this day the lineal representatives of the insignia of Rome, of Etruria, and of ancient Egypt.
We have now cast a rapid glance at some few examples of the three earliest schools of painting–the Egyptian, the Greek, and the Etruscan; we have traced the influence of Egyptian teaching upon the two younger nations; and we have seen how the pupils began by reproducing and even exaggerating the conventional errors of their masters. Unlike the Egyptians, however, they did not go on perpetuating those errors from age to age, from cycle to cycle. They learned to look at nature with their own eyes, and to paint not what they had been taught, but what they actually saw. They discovered, for instance, that objects diminish with distance; that grass in sunshine is not the same color as grass in shadow; that a man's nose, because it projects, catches the light. They discovered that it was possible, merely by imitating the natural effects of light and shadow, to obtain a semblance of relief upon a perfectly flat surface. In a word, they discovered the laws of chiaroscuro, and with them the art of foreshortening, which is, in fact, perspective applied to the human figure.
Greek tradition ascribes these great discoveries to an Athenian named Apollodorus, (28) who flourished about four hundred and thirty years before our era; and it is from this date that the true art of painting may be said to begin. How rapidly the great Greek school developed, and to what a height of splendor it ultimately attained, we have already seen.
The Egyptians, meanwhile, went on in the old grooves for a few centuries longer. But even the Egyptians were converted at last; and the evidence of their conversion comes, strangely enough, from the cemetery of what was once a fifth-rate town in the Fayûm. The town occupied one corner of an immense quadrangular platform artificially raised [Page 95]
THE SITE OF THE LABYRINTH.
From a photograph by Mr. W. M. Flinders Petrie. In the foreground is seen the level sand of the desert and the vast platform of chips marking the position of the building. The brick foundations on the surface of the platform show the lines of the streets of the Græco-Roman town.
The town appears to have contained a mixed population consisting of Egyptians, Greeks, Syrians, and Romans, the Egyptians being for the most part small tradesfolk, artisans, servants, and slaves; whereas the naturalized foreigners–some of whom were resident Roman officials, and others the descendants of Ptolemaic Greeks–represented the aristocracy of the place. Such, at all events, is the story told by their graves; the rich mummy-cases covered with gilding being mainly inscribed with Greek and Roman names, as Artemidorus, Demetrius, Titus, and the like.
The town continued to be inhabited, and the cemetery to be used, for several generations, during which time the burial customs of these people underwent many alterations. They seem, in fact, to have changed their fashions for the dead almost as often as we change our fashions for the living. At one time they wrapped them in elaborate bandages, and enclosed their heads and feet in a kind of piece-armor of stiffened linen, stuccoed, painted, and gilded. This piece-armor consisted of a head-piece, breastplate, and foot-case, the head-piece having a carefully modelled face representing the features of the deceased. Later on, they gave up gilding the faces and substituted color, at the same time inserting artificial eyes, and even imitating the hair, as it was black or brown, wavy or curly. When realistic treatment in modelled stucco had been carried as far as it could be carried, the fashion changed again, and a portrait painted on flexible canvas was laid over the face of the mummy. A certain degree of actual relief was thus obtained by the prominence of the bandaged features beneath. [Page 97]
From the flexible canvas it was but one bold, last step to portraiture on a flat panel, the semblance of relief being given by light, shadow, and foreshortening. This bold, last step marks the first appearance of the art of true painting in Egypt. It signalizes the transition from the Eastern to the Western school; it signs the death-warrant of the old conventional Egyptian system; and it coincides in point of time with the Emperor Hadrian's visit to Egypt in the year A.D. 130. That visit brought Western culture and Western art to the very gates of Thebes. Thus, three hundred years after Apollodorus had, as Pliny said, "opened that door by which all the great Greek painters entered," Egypt–better late than never –crossed the magic threshold. Fettered as the Egyptians had been by the traditions of their schools, they would scarcely have recognized the properties of light and shadow, or the value of color in transition, unless their eyes had been opened by teachers from without. Greece, however, could well afford to pay this one instalment of her enormous debt to Egypt; and Egypt could afford to accept this gift from Greece, who owed her all the rest.
A few specimens of the Græco-Egyptian school of panel-portraiture have been found from time to time within the last quarter of a century, and those few have been classed among the choicest treasures of our European museums; but it was not until 1887 that any considerable number [Page 98] were brought to light. One series was discovered by Arab diggers at a place called Rubaiyat, in the Fayûm. These were purchased by Herr Graff, an Austrian gentleman, and have been made the subject of a pamphlet by Dr. Ebers. The other series was discovered about the same time by Mr. Petrie in the cemetery of this Græco-Roman town on the Labyrinth plateau.
The mummies adorned by these portraits were enclosed in fine cases solidly stuccoed and brilliantly painted, an oval space being left over the face of the mummy, in which the panel was inserted. In one instance the panel, instead of being laid over the dead face, was found enclosed in a frame of the modern "Oxford pattern," and deposited beside the mummy in his tomb. It had evidently hung in his house during the lifetime of the sitter, the cord by which it was anciently suspended being yet knotted round the corners.
The heads are painted of life size, on thin cedar panels measuring about seventeen inches by nine inches, and varying from one-sixteenth to a quarter of an inch in thickness. In the earliest specimens the panel is found to have been first covered with a thin coat of stucco, on which the portrait is painted in tempera; but this process was dry and brittle, and the color flaked off, which caused it soon to be abandoned in favor of a medium of melted beeswax. The colors, being in powder, mixed readily with the wax, and were laid on with a stiff reed-brush fuzzed out at the end, such as had been used by the old Egyptian painters from [Page 99] time immemorial. The panel was first covered with a priming of distemper. Then came the ground color, which was generally laid in of a leaden tint for the background, and of a flesh tint for the face and neck. The next step was to outline the features with the brush–this being generally done in a purple hue–and the last was to work in the surface color, or painting proper, the hot sun of Egypt sufficing to keep the wax in a creamy and manageable condition. This method, as practiced in Egypt, cannot have been identical with what is commonly called the "encaustic painting of the ancients." That was a difficult and laborious process the colors being fused on the picture by means of a red-hot implement described by Pliny as "a punching-iron." No artificial heat was needed in Egypt, and the colors were undoubtedly applied with the reed-brush, the fibres of which are clearly traceable in these Fayûm portraits. Also, the encaustic was a slow process, whereas these bold and sketchy heads evince the utmost rapidity of execution.
As for the pigments employed, it would have been impossible to analyze them without destroying a picture, but for the fortunate discovery of the grave of an artist, whose paint-saucers were laid beside his head–six in number, piled one upon the other. They prove to contain:
1. Dark red, made from oxide of iron, with a small admixture of sand, making a good sienna color. 2. Yellow, made from ochre and oxide of iron, and a little alumina. 3. White, made from sulphate of lime and gypsum. 4. Red, made from minium and oxide of lead, and apparently some [Page 100] alumina. 5. Blue, made of glass colored by copper, and ground to a blue powder. 6. Pink, made with sulphate of lime colored with some organic substance, which is almost certainly madder.
One question connected with these ancient and remarkable portraits can never be satisfactorily resolved; namely, to what extent they represent the work of native Egyptian artists. Some, and probably the best, will almost certainly have been executed by Greek and Roman painters settled in Egypt; others will be the work of Egyptians who had studied in the Greek schools. We may perhaps, with more or less accuracy, guess which are due to the alien, and which to the native hand; but such guessing is necessarily inconclusive. With far more certainty is it possible to trace the nationality of these various personages, some of whom are identified by the names inscribed on their bandages and mummy-cases, while others, who are anonymous, are as surely identified by their racial characteristics. Some are unmistakably Roman; others are unmistakably Greek; while in others again we recognize Egyptian, Nubian, and Semitic types.
Neither is it difficult to classify the paintings in something like chronological order. The costumes, the style of wearing the hair, and even the fashions of the jewellery as depicted in the likenesses of women, afford valuable data for comparison with the portrait-sculptures of the Romans, and with the wall-paintings of Latium and Campania. Coins have also been occasionally [Page 101]
DIOGENES THE FLUTE-PLAYER.
Some of the panel portraits found on these Hawara mummies are surrounded by a decorative border of gilt stucco, representing vine-tendrils and grapes. This bordering, as a rule, is modelled on the panel, though in some instances it is found to be moulded on a canvas ground and laid round the picture. The portraits thus decorated are among the earliest in date, beginning, that is to say, about 130 B.C. In our two first examples, a young Greek gentleman and a plebeian-looking boy (pp. 97, 98), in whose saucy eyes, open nostrils, thick lips, and swarthy skin I cannot [Page 103] but recognize the prototype of the native Egyptian donkey-boy of our own time,* we have excellent specimens of the Hawara school of portraiture at the beginning of its career. The light and shadow in the Greek head is very forcible, and the spirit and character conveyed in the other are quite remarkable. The Greek wears a white chiton with a purple stripe on the right shoulder, and the boy a yellow chiton with a narrow purple stripe, and a yellow himation over the left shoulder.
YOUNG GREEK WITH GILT OLIVE-WREATH.
The Greek lady on page 99 is very gayly attired in a scarlet chiton bordered by a broad band of black edged with gold, and she wears a black himation over the left shoulder. Her earrings consist of a large ball suspended from a smaller ball; the jewellery being modelled on the panel in stucco, and gilt with gold leaf. These ball earrings appear to have been especially fashionable about the time of Hadrian–that is to say, during the early period of the Hawara school of portraiture–and the ball or disk covered with small clustered balls, as in this portrait, is but a variation upon a more simple design. This lady is clearly a Greek. The nose and forehead are in one unbroken line, the eyes are well spaced and well opened, and the mouth is prettily drawn. She wears her hair in a style which is familiar to us in Roman [Page 104] portrait-busts of this age; and the bands of open-work which pass under the bodice of her dress and over each shoulder are very probably of knotted thread, like the caps and head-scarfs found by Mr. Petrie in many of these Hawara graves. (30)
For a lavish display of jewellery, however, and a curious variety of patterns, the native Egyptian lady reproduced on page 100 surpasses all her compeers. On her head, she wears a gold wreath fashioned in imitation of the victor's wreath of laurel leaves; in her ears, elaborate ear-rings consisting of a pearl drop, from which hangs a crossbar of gold with three pendant pearls; and round her neck, two necklaces– the upper one a string of alternate pearls and garnets, and the lower one a gold chain with a small crescent-shaped pendant. Her features are moulded in the unmistakable Egyptian type. The eyes are long and heavy-lidded, the nostrils wide, the lips full and prominent. The complexion is swarthy, with a dull reddish blush under the skin, and the whole expression of the face is that of Oriental languor. We may conclude that this lady belonged to one of the few wealthy native families yet remaining in the Fayûm. Unfortunately, there is no record of her name. The portrait is well but somewhat coarsely painted, and it looks as though it were a successful likeness.
Finer by far, as a work of art, is the portrait of a young man named Diogenes (p. 101). He was apparently a pro- [Page 105] fessional musician. A small wooden label found with the mummy-case calls him "Diogenes of the Flute of Arsinoe;" while a second inscription, written in ink upon one of the mummy-wrappings, describes him as "Diogenes who abode at the Harp when he was alive." From these it is evident that he was a flautist, born in the city of Arsinoe, and that when he came to live at Hawara, he lodged at the sign of the Harp. The panel, like too many others, is badly cracked; but the head is so characteristic, and the expression so fine, that not even this blemish mars its effect. There is a set look in the face, as of some solemn purpose to be fulfilled; and the eyes arrest us, like the eyes of a living man. The hair is very thick and curly, and the features are distinctly Jewish in type. That he should be a Jew would be quite in accordance with his profession for the gift of music has ever been an inheritance of the children of Israel.
Finer than even the Diogenes, though in a different way, is an admirable character-study of a shrewd-looking, hard-featured Roman (p. 102). The man is somewhat on the wrong side of fifty. His face is deeply furrowed, probably by business cares, and he looks straight out from the panel with the alert and resolute air of one who is intent on a profitable bargain. The artist has not flattered him. His nose is bent, as if from a blow, and about the lines of the mouth there is a hint of humor, grim and caustic, which has been caught with evident fidelity. Unlike the rest of the portraits, this head is a detached study thrown upon the upper part of the panel, [Page 106] with no attempt at drapery or finish. When Sir Frederick Burton, Director of the English National Gallery, saw this series of heads on exhibition at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, in 1888, a few weeks after they had been discovered, he pronounced our elderly Roman to be "worth all the rest put together"–not, of course, as "a thing of beauty," but for force, character, and mastery of the painter's craft. On hearing this verdict, the owner of the picture, who had intended it for his private collection, generously presented it, with two others, to the National Gallery.
There is not only individuality but spirit in the head of a young Greek reproduced on page 103. The eyes are bright and translucent; the nose is well shaped; the chin is disproportionately long. Dashed off in hot haste, the effect is brilliant but sketchy, as if done at one sitting. The hair is apparently unfinished; the background is flung upon the panel with a few strokes of a broad brush, every fibre of which is traceable: and the artist, content to get in the effect of the white chiton, has not even carried it down to the bottom of the picture. Our young Greek was probably somewhat of a petit-maitre, for the olive wreath on his head is gilded. This reminds us of the golden wreaths and golden sandal-clasps of Xeuxis, and other painter-princes of the golden age of Hellenic art, and it is interesting to find this special piece of dandyism surviving down to the time of Hadrian.
There is no lack of expression in the dejected countenance of the Roman lady who follows on page 104. Her [Page 107] features wear the stamp of long continued ill-health; her complexion is "sicklied o'er" with suffering; and her eyes are encircled by heavy purple rings. One would say that she knew but too well, while sitting for this portrait, that it would erelong be transferred from the picture-frame to her coffin. She wears her black hair in a curiously modern fashion, gathered up in a thick coil at the back, parted down the middle, and laid in plain bands. Her gown is purple, with a square-cut bodice trimmed with a broad black and gold braid; and over her shoulders is cast a purple himation. The necklace consists of large pale-green opaque stones, cut in the form of oblong parallelograms, connected by slender gold wires. Mr. Cecil Smith takes them for green beryls; but they are, I think, more probably intended to represent the so-called "mother-of-emerald," a stone which was popular in Egypt under the Romans, and has frequently been found in graves of this period.
In the head of the next lady (p. 105) it is impossible not to recognize a portrait which is not only a portrait but a likeness. She is probably of Romano-Egyptian parentage. The eyebrows and eyelashes are singularly thick and dark; the eves long, and of Oriental depth and blackness; and the swarthiness of the complexion is emphasized by the dark down on the upper lip. It is a passionate, intense-looking face–the face of a woman with a history. She wears her black hair cut in a short fringe round the brow, and laid in two long roll-curls, like the hair of the Greek. Her ear-rings consist [Page 108] of a single pearl from which is suspended a horizontal bar of gold, while from this bar hang two more pearls, each terminated by a pyramidal cluster of three small gold balls. The necklace is particularly interesting, being the only. representation of an elaborate Egyptian collarette in the whole series. It is three rows deep, the two upper rows being apparently of chain-work, while the lowest row consists of lotus-bud pendants, colored red to represent carnelian. Necklaces of these carnelian lotus-bud pendants are frequently found with mummies of the Roman period, and many fine specimens enrich the glass-cases of the principal European museums. The design is of remote antiquity, and the lotus pendant in glass and porcelain is found in graves of Pharaonic times in Upper Egypt. The Etruscans copied it at an early date, changing the lotus-bud, either intentionally or by mistake, into the amphora, which it resembles in form; and it is this very lotus-bud pendant of Egypt which we find reproduced in the delicate and elegant gold amphora necklaces of Etruria. Revived by Signor Castellani of Rome, this exquisite design again became popular during the later half of the present century.
The young Greek who comes next (p. 106) has a modern type of face, good features, and a grave preoccupied expression, such as might become a student of philosophy or science. The brows are slightly knitted, as if from habitual meditation; the head is well posed and well balanced; and the hair is remarkably free and well put in. He wears a dull green chiton with a purple stripe on the right shoulder, and a himation of the same color. The panel is slightly cracked in several places.
In going through this series of paintings, one curious and interesting question inevitably suggests itself; namely, the immediate object with which these portraits were executed. Were they painted for the pleasure of the sitter and his family, and for the adornment of private houses ? Or were they painted expressly for the decoration of mummy-cases, and in commemoration of the dead ? If the former, then they [Page 109] were, of course, done from the life; if the latter, is it possible that they were painted after death ?
YOUNG LADY IN PURPLE CHITON.
These are questions which have been discussed by several competent authorities, but which, from their nature, cannot be satisfactorily settled. The fact that one framed portrait was found laid up against the mummy-case in the grave, and that the cord by which it had once been suspended was yet knotted round the transverse bars at the corners of that frame, gives conclusive proof that the people of this town loved portraiture for itself, and hung their portraits in their rooms, as we do now. Such portraits, as a rule, would probably be copied on smaller panels for funerary purposes, and this would account for their bright and life-like expression. Where no previous portrait existed, it may reasonably be supposed that an artist would be summoned, and a sketchy likeness would be hastily painted on a panel of the required size, immediately after death. If we compare the heads reproduced in these pages, it is not difficult to conjecture which are studies from the life, and which are studies after death. Some of the least expressive faces may very possibly owe their passive vacuity to the fact that "life and thought had gone away " before the artist came with his saucers of powdered colors, his reed-brushes, and his pot of melted beeswax, to transfer their pallid features to that narrow panel which was destined to adorn the mummy-case when the prescribed seventy days of embalmment should have expired. In these portraits, and some others, the eyes [Page 110] are represented unnaturally large, and with a fixed stare, such as might be given by an artist who had never seen his subject while living, and who added the eyes from his imagination. The head of a coarse-featured, plebeian-looking Roman (p. 107), who should certainly be a prize-fighter or a gladiator, is a case in point. There is no "speculation" in his eyes, which are much too large; the whole effect being that of a rapid sketch after death. The head of Diogenes the flute-player (p. 101), the young Greek with the meditative brow (p. 98), the vivacious youth with the gilt olive wreath (p. 103), the intense-looking Romano-Egyptian dame with the dark eyebrows (p. 105), and one or two others, bear the direct impress of vitality, and cannot possibly be anything but studies, or copies of studies, from the living sitter.
So, too, I think, is the sweet and gracious portrait of a fair-skinned girl (p. 109), with chestnut hair, and soft brown eves, and a mouth every curve of which is drawn with exquisite delicacy and truth. Was she a Greek ? Or was she not, more probably, of Græco-Asiatic parentage ? Her complexion is of that creamy-olive tint which bespeaks a touch of Oriental blood; and in the crisp waviness of her hair, the languorous tenderness of her eyes, and the arched black eyebrows, I think I detect traces of her Cypriote or Lycian ancestry. Her purple chiton is gathered in classic folds across her bosom, and on her shoulders she wears a mantle of the same color. In her ears are hoop ear-rings, each set with three emeralds, and round her neck she wears two necklaces–the upper one of gold beads and emeralds alternately, the lower a string of garnets with a centre ornament of one large emerald and two pendant pearls. This is a charming portrait, well and carefully painted, and in excellent preservation. Equally well preserved, and perhaps even more interesting, is the beautiful and touching head of a young boy (p. 111) with which our little portrait-gallery ends. He, too, is of mixed descent–probably Græco-Egyptian, or Græco-Asiatic. The complexion is of a clear dark olive; the eyes are large, black, luminous, and informed by a [Page 111] gentle melancholy, as if he had some presentiment of early death. The hair is black, curling, and abundant, and on the upper lip we note the soft black down of an incipient mustache. The mouth repeats the sweet and delicate curves which are so charming in the mouth of the young girl just gone before. There is, in fact, a certain likeness between the two faces. Not only the mouths are alike, but the eyes, and the peculiar curvature of the dark eyebrows. The names of both are unknown to us, but the resemblance is just what we might expect to find between a sister and brother. The age of this boy was about twelve or thirteen, and the size of the mummy corresponds with the age indicated by the portrait–both portrait and mummy being now in the British Museum. The mummy is very beautifully and elaborately bandaged, five or six strips of saffron-colored linen being used in successive layers, and so disposed, layer above layer, as to form a diamond-shared, recessed pattern, sunken in the centre, and terminating in a kind of knob, or button, at the bottom.
These are but a few examples selected from Mr. Petrie's splendid series of funerary portraits; but they suffice to show that there was not only a school of art, but an art-market, in this obscure little provincial town during the second and third centuries of our era. The demand for portraiture being very considerable, the supply naturally varied in quality to suit the means of all comers. Hence the inequality of the painter's work. Those who could afford to pay for the best art commanded the best art, while those who were less wealthy, [Page 112] or more thrifty, patronized the sign-board school. Remembering the fabulous prices which Xeuxis and Apelles, and the rest, received for their pictures a few centuries earlier, one would like to know after what rate the Fayûm painters were paid; and it is always possible that among the hundreds of fragmentary papyri found by Mr. Petrie on this spot, some may prove to contain entries of payments made or received on account of one of these very portraits.
One very striking feature of the Fayûm portraits is the modern character of the heads. There is not a face in the whole series which we might not meet any day in the streets of London or New York. There is nothing to surprise us in this fact; and yet, so accustomed are we to think of the men and women of the far past as the dramatis personae of ancient history, and as belonging to another age, that it is with a shock of something like incredulous astonishment that we find them so precisely like ourselves. The truth probably is that as regards features, stature, and complexion, the ancient Egyptians differed very little, if at all, from the Copts of the present day; and that the Greeks and Romans of the classic period were actually more like the people of northern Europe than are their modern descendants. Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Verus, and many another noble Roman who yet lives in marble and bronze, far more nearly resembles the type of the modern Englishman than that of the modern Italian. Seneca, Germanicus, and Julius Caesar might pass for typical Americans. Past or present, we are in truth but members of one great family; and as we look through this ancient and interesting portrait-gallery, we cannot but recognize our kinship with these men and women, these youths and maidens, who lived and loved and died nearly two thousand years ago. Yet even these are but things of yesterday compared with the Ethiopian subjects in the tomb of Hui at El Kab, or with the paintings of the four races of men in the tombs of the kings at Thebes. And in these we see depicted racial types which survive unchanged to the present day in Nubia and Palestine.
* See illustrations to chap. iv.
* See Mr. Petrie's series of photographs of "Racial Types."
* See chap. v. on "Egypt the Birthplace of Greek Decorative Art."
* Neither of these mummies bore any indication of name or nationality. Mr. Cecil Smith conjecturally describes the boy as Roman, but it seems to me that his Egyptian type (of the plebeian class) is unmistakable.