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Karnak and the Memnonium are executed in this manner. The reliefs were little raised above the level of the wall; they had generally a flat surface, with the edges softly rounded off, far surpassing the intaglio in effect; and it is to be regretted that the best epoch of art, when design and execution were in their zenith, should have abandoned a style so superior, which, too, would have improved in proportion to the advancement of that period.
Intaglio continued to be generally employed until the accession of the 26th dynasty, when the low relief was again introduced; and in the monuments of Psammitichus and Amasis are numerous instances of the revival of the ancient style. This was afterwards universally adopted, and a return to intaglio on large monuments was only occasionally attempted, in the Ptolemaic and Roman periods.
The intaglio introduced by Remeses may perhaps be denominated intaglio rilievato, or relieved intaglio. The sides of the incavo, which are perpendicular, are cut to a considerable depth, and from that part to the centre of the figure (or whatever is represented) is a gradual swell, the centre being frequently on a level with the surface of the wall. On this all the parts of dress, features, or devices are delineated and painted, and even the perpendicular sides are ornamented in a corresponding manner, by continuing upon them the adjoining details.
In the reign of Remeses III. a change was made in the mode of sculpturing the intaglios, which consisted in carving the lower side to a great depth, while the upper face inclined gradually from the surface of the wall till it reached the innermost part of the intaglio; its principal use was for the hieroglyphics, in order to enable a person standing immediately beneath, and close to the wall on which they were sculptured, to distinguish and read them; and the details upon the perpendicular sides, above mentioned, had the same effect.
It was a peculiarity of style not generally imitated by the successors of Remeses III., and hieroglyphics bearing this character may serve to fix the date of monuments, wherever they are
found, to the age of that monarch. After his reign no great encouragement appears to have been given to the arts; the subjects represented on the few monuments of the epoch intervening between his death and the accession of the 26th dynasty are principally confined to sacred subjects, in which no display of talent is shown; and the records of Sheshonk's victories at Karnak are far from partaking of the vigour of former times, either in style, or in the mode of treating the subject.
After the accession of the 26th dynasty some attempt was made to revive the arts, which had been long neglected; and, independent of the patronage of government, the wealth of private individuals was liberally employed in their encouragement. Public buildings were erected in many parts of Egypt, and beautified with rich sculpture; the city of Saïs, the royal residence of the Pharaohs of that dynasty, was adorned with the utmost magnificence; and extensive additions were made to the temples of Memphis, and even to those of the distant Thebes.
The fresh impulse thus given to art was not without effect; the sculptures of that period exhibit an elegance and beauty which might even induce some to consider them equal to the productions of an earlier age; and in the tombs of the Assaseef, at Thebes, are many admirable specimens of Egyptian art. To those, however, who understand the true feeling of this peculiar school, it is evident, that though in minuteness and finish they are deserving of the highest commendation, yet in grandeur of conception and in boldness of execution they fall far short of the sculptures of Sethos and the second Remeses.
The skill of the Egyptian artists in drawing bold and clear outlines is, perhaps, more worthy of admiration than anything connected with this branch of art; and in no place is the freedom of their drawing more conspicuous than in the figures in the unfinished part of Belzoni's tomb at Thebes. It was in the drawing alone that they excelled, being totally ignorant of the correct mode of colouring a figure; and their painting was not an imitation of nature, but merely the harmonious combination of certain hues, which they well understood. Indeed, to this day the harmony of positive colours is thoroughly felt in Egypt and the East; and it is strange to find the little perception of
it in Northern Europe, where theories take upon themselves to explain to the mind what the eye has not yet learnt, as if a grammar could be written before the language is understood.
Drawing was always a principal point in ancient art. The Greeks made it their great study, knowing how it improved the accuracy of the eye and the management of the hand, as well as the perception of the beautiful; and the most extraordinary correctness must have been acquired to enable Apelles to draw the line within that of Protogenes.
The neglect that drawing has experienced in England is now, we may hope, in a fair way of being remedied; for to many a real line has been almost unknown; and while the French have persevered so successfully in drawing, we have seldom been alive to its importance, occasionally excusing ourselves from the trouble by some such subterfuge as "there is no outline in nature." How often, indeed, is a line made up of a few dotted strokes; and many a youth, as yet unacquainted with the proper use of a pencil, thinks that the brush will at once enable him to acquire excellence in art!
Of the quality of the pencils used by the Egyptians for drawing and painting, it is difficult to form any opinion. Those generally employed for writing were a reed or rush, many of which have been found with the tablets or inkstands belonging to the scribes; and with these, too, they probably sketched the figures in red and black upon the stone or stucco of the walls. To put in the colour, we may suppose that brushes of some kind were used; but the minute scale on which the painters are represented in the sculptures prevents our deciding the question.
Habits among men of similar occupations are frequently alike, even in the most distant countries; and we find it was not unusual for an Egyptian artist, or scribe, to put his reed pencil behind his ear, when engaged in examining the effect of his painting, or listening to a person on business, like a clerk in the counting-house of an European town.
Painters and scribes deposited their writing implements in a box with a pendent leather top, which was tied up with a loop or thong; and a handle or strap was fastened to the side, to en
able them to carry it more conveniently. Their ordinary wooden inkstand was furnished with two or more cavities for holding the colours, and a tube in the centre for the pens or reeds;
445. A scribe writing on a tablet. c and d are two cases for carrying writing materials. Thebes.
446. Scribe with his inkstand upon the table. One pen is put behind his ear, and he is writing with another.
and certain memoranda were frequently written on the back of it, when a large piece of papyrus, or the wooden slab, was not at hand. An idle moment was often occupied in making rough sketches on a piece of stone or on some other common material; and subjects of greater size were drawn in a happy mood of fancy upon a papyrus: for the Egyptians (as I have already said) were addicted to caricature, and some papyri in the British and other museums show that even religious subjects were not exempt from it; and one in the Turin collection presents a severe libel on the taste and conduct of women.
Of painting, apart from sculpture, and of the excellence to
which it attained in Egypt, we can form no accurate opinion, nothing having come down to us of a Pharaonic period, or of that epoch when the arts were at their zenith in Egypt; but that, already, in the time of Osirtasen, they painted on panel, is shown by one of the subjects at Beni Hassan, where two artists are engaged in a picture representing a calf, and an antelope overtaken by a dog. The painter holds his brush in one hand, and
his palette or saucer of colour in the other; but, though the boards stand upright, there is no indication of a contrivance to steady or support the hand. The Greeks drew and painted in the same manner without that help.
Mention is made of an Egyptian painting by Herodotus, who tells us that Amasis sent a portrait of himself to Cyrene, probably on wood, and in profile; for the full face is rarely repre sented either in their paintings or bas-reliefs. The faces of the kings in the tombs and temples of Egypt are unquestionably portraits, but they are always in profile; and the only ones in full face are on wood, and of late time. Two of these are preserved in the British Museum, but they are evidently Greek, and date, perhaps, even after the conquest of Egypt by the Romans. It is therefore vain to speculate on the nature of their painting, or their skill in this branch of art; and, though some of the portraits taken from the mummies may prove that encaustic painting with wax and naphtha was adopted in Egypt,