Week 3 Blog Post (Melia)

A piece of Ancient Egyptian artwork that stood out to me was the painting of Nebamun hunting in the marshes. This painting was found in Thebes, Egypt around 1350 B.C. in the  late 18th dynasty and is made with paint on plaster. The central figure is Nebamun who was an Ancient Egyptian government official. He stands on a canoe along with his wife and daughter while they are surrounded by the birds and fish of the marsh. There are also some hieroglyphs in the top-right corner. Scenes like this were traditionally seen in tomb-chapel decoration. This image is actually a fragment of a larger painting on gypsum plaster which has been lost over time.

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Image Source 

This marsh appears to be a very vibrant, lively place. Nebamun and his wife and daughter are out on a canoe while Nebamun, who is the largest, hunts the birds. His pose is “conventional Egyptian” because his head and legs are in profile while his torso and eyes are frontal. There are five pieces of the painting that immediately stuck out: the fish, the birds, the cat, the sizes of the figures, and the hieroglyphs in the background. Each of these has a different purpose to give the painting its ultimate meaning.

The fish at the bottom of the painting are shaded by the artist which gives them volume and naturalism. I read in a SmartHistory article by The British Museum that fertile marshes, like the one seen in this image, are symbols of “rebirth and eroticism”. Since this painting would have been seen in a tomb in the Ancient Egyptian time, it would provide a hopeful image of a new life and biodiverse surroundings. As noted in the textbook, the birds have looser, more flexible forms than those of the human figures which show more of the naturalistic element found more in the New Kingdom than ever before (Adams, 2001, p. 59). Nebamun’s action of hunting the birds in the scene represents his superiority and victory over the forces of nature.

Nebamun is not the only hunter in this painting; there is a predatory cat in the middle of the image also participating in the bird-hunting. After doing some research, I found that this cat was not only a common house pet of the time, but also represented the Sun-God who hunted the enemies of light and order. Rank was an important element to be portrayed in Ancient Egyptian art, and we can see this in the painting where Nebamun is much larger than both his wife and his daughter. He is the largest figure in the painting, meaning he is most important. However, even though his wife and daughter are smaller, they appear more naturalistic which is part of the Old Kingdom tradition of “increasing naturalism for decreasing rank” (Adams, 2001, 59).

Even though this painting is fragmented and missing pieces of the scene, the balance and proportions place an emphasis on the main character: Nebamun. As already stated before, the naturalistic and curvier lines are used on those of lower rank, or the wife and daughter. Nebamun is created with more precise, straight lines. Going along with e naturalism theme, the artist included lots of texture in this painting from the feathers of the birds, to the scales of the fish, and to the fur of the cat. The blue color of the marsh plants, water, and birds complements the brown, earthy tones of the human figures’ skin and the other animals in the scene.

I enjoy looking at this painting because it is so full of life and texture. There are so many things to look at and many different pieces to interpret. Even though Nebamun is hunting the birds, I would not call this painting gory or dark. He is merely out in the marsh with his family doing something for fun. The scene would be a lot different if there was only one bird and he chose that one to kill, but since it is such a diverse area of life, his hunting seems to be more of a hobby than a harmful activity. It’s also very interesting to see the different species of birds and fish painted from so many years ago. I wish I could decipher the hieroglyphs in the background.

A topic from the reading that I found especially intriguing were the discoveries at Thera from Chapter 6. A Greek archaeologist named Spyridon Marinatos discovered an island (which is now known as Santorini, but was formerly known as Thera by the historical Greeks) that once was a home to an artistic culture before it got buried under the ashes of a volcanic eruption. It is said that this disaster took place in between 1500 and 1628 B.C. “at the height of Minoan civilization” (Adams, 72). Although many artifacts and pieces of art were found on this island, no human remains were found which means nobody survived or they all evacuated the island. I feel like this story would make a cool movie. Lots of evidence of previous human life has been found though, like interior baths, paved streets, houses, and mills. On the walls of public buildings and private homes, many frescoes have been discovered with a wide range of images like landscapes, animals, sports, rituals, boats, and battles. There were also many other large paintings found on Thera. I thought this discovery was very cool to read about because it just shows that there is always more to discover. Just because we’ve put together a complete, well-labeled map of the whole world doesn’t mean we’ve found every place that has ever existed. You never know when someone will find a whole city buried deep down under some very old dirt.

Sources:

Adams, L. S. (2001). A History of Western Art (3rd Edition ed.). New York , New York: McGraw Hill.

The British Museum. “Paintings from the Tomb-chapel of Nebamun”. Smarthistory. August 29, 2016. Accessed June 20, 2018. https://smarthistory.org/paintings-from-the-tomb-chapel-of-nebamun/.

Trustees of the British Museum. “Nebamun Hunting in the Marshes”. The British Museum. April 26, 2012. Accessed June 20, 2018. https://www.ancient.eu/image/503/

 

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mbents

Hi! My name is Melia and my passions include teaching, art, and adventure. In pursuit of my biggest dream, I moved to Japan in March, 2022 to teach English. I am currently teaching kindergarten, exploring new places, trying new foods, and learning new things! Check out my blog to read about my journey and experiences :-)

6 thoughts on “Week 3 Blog Post (Melia)”

  1. The piece you picked to analyze is beautiful. It is a shame that the rest of it has been lost over time. I love the bright colors used in the scene. It is interesting that the marshes stand for rebirth and eroticism. I didn’t know this before reading your post. The contrast of the looser structure of the birds and smaller frames his wife/daughter compared to Nebamun is something I did not noticed right away. These are definitely great examples of naturalism. The blue tones with the browns is a nice contrasting pair. I agree with you that it is not a gory scene. I like how it shows a leader and his family doing regular activities together. I wish we knew what the hieroglyphs say too. What do you think they say or what do you imagine them being about? If you don’t have an answer it is ok, I am just curious. I loved reading you blog post! Good job!

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    1. Thanks for your comments 🙂 I didn’t include this in my post because I wasn’t exactly sure how to cite it, but I read in an article that the hieroglyphic caption of the marsh painting says, “enjoying himself and seeing beauty”. I don’t know if this “caption” matches the hieroglyphs is the background, but maybe it’s the same thing? The article was kind of vague. I’d like to think the hieroglyphs tell a story about Nebamun or something cool like that…

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  2. I think it’s very interesting how much bigger Nebamun is compared to his wife and child. Even though they are all part of the family, the king is much bigger than the wife, and the child is even smaller compared to the wife. Even the cat is about the same size as the child. It’s quite interesting to see the stark differences in the portrayal of the royal family during Egyptian times, and now. Now, most documentation of world leaders are through photography, rather than drawing/painting.

    I agree with you that even though we have a map of a world, there are always new discoveries to be made! I think it’s so cool that all the artifacts were preserved underneath the ashes. The artwork is also so beautifully done. Looking on page 72, figure 6.9 do you think that the people who lived there used the Ship Fresco to evacuate? It would be so cool to find the ship/shipwreck sometime in the future!

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  3. Whoa I love your thought about the people evacuating on the Ship Fresco! I tried to do a small amount of research on that painting, but didn’t find anything about your hypothesis… it would make for a cool adventure story though! Thanks for your comments 🙂

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  4. The proportions of this is so interesting! I think about how scale has developed ovder time, and how hyperrealism is so valued in our culture right now. I know in middle school for me it was all about who could draw and eye “most accurate” in the upper corner of their school papers. Scale is so technical now, but I find it interesting how symbolis it is in ancient times like seen in this painting. The scale represents the hierarchal system of important figures. I would love to see how this progressed over time!

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  5. I like the piece you chose. The marsh depicted does indeed seem lively. Other than near the Nile river, Egypt is almost completely desert. This painting may not feature a lot of contrast, but it is contrast in and of itself. The average Egyptian did not experience these vibrant, lively place on a normal basis, and thus, they were worth capturing.
    Really good job!

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