I chose to do my artwork analysis of a painting found in The Book of the Dead of Hunefer from the 19thDynasty (1295-1186 BC). This painting is of the Opening of the Mouth ceremony in ancient Egypt and is found in the British Museum in London, England (Adams, 2011, p.63). The Opening of the Mouth ceremony was the ritual where Egyptians would “open the mouth” of the deceased mummy so that they were able to breath, speak, understand, etc. (p.62). This ritual is depicted on papyrus painted with ground plants such as lapis lazuli, malachite, and orpiment.
This depiction is of a scribe’s deceased body going through the ceremony. There are three priests to the left of the painting that are leading the process. Hunched over and below the scribe’s mummified body are two women. Behind the body and holding it up is Anubis, the jackal-headed god of embalmers. Next to them is a stele depicting the scribe, Hunefer, going before a god as well as a depiction of a pyramid/tomb. There is a break below this painting where there seems to be a lower section with two servants leading two cows. They are headed in the direction of what appears to be a table with ceremonial items for embalming.
The artist of this painting uses mostly long, thin lines to create the bodies of the scribe, priests, god, and women. Hunefer’s mummified body is almost at a perfect vertical alignment creating the most central part of the painting. All other faces and bodies are turned towards him, showing that he is the focal point and creating emphasis. The artist uses simple lines when creating the bodies, but also uses curved lines when decorating them. For example, the leopard skin that is draped over one of the priest is drawn using curved lines to show some amount of movement. Overall, the artist uses lines to create pronounced angles that create shapes of triangles and rectangles.
The color of this painting is also interesting. The priests are painted with a darker red color whereas the women are a light shade of orange. Hunefer and Anubis are painted with a color in-between that of the priests and the women. They are also the only ones to have other colors on them. Hunefer’s body is decorated with blue around his head and Anubis has blue on his head and green around his waist. This shows the class distinctions and honor that these two are receiving over the priests and the women. The table that is holding the ceremonial materials is also painted with green. This is probably to signify the holiness in preparing the body and the spiritual act that is taking place by Anubis and the priests.
Spatially, we can also see the difference in status and class. The women are bowing below the scribe and their bodies are more curved than the priests’. The bodies of the priests are more regal and stiff where Anubis’ body is the most rigid. In the Old Kingdom of Egypt, the more rigid and stiff the depiction of the body, the higher the status. This is shown in this painting. Proportionally, the women are smaller than the men to show their lower status. They are not only physically lower, but lower in the hierarchy as well. They are also seen in the painting as covering their faces from Hunefer’s body. The priests and women have their bodies in a side-view with their profiles being seen. This is different than Anubis who has his bottom half in side-view, his torso facing straight, and his face in a side profile. This was common practice in Ancient Egypt.
There is some motion and action shown in this painting. Movement itself is stopped because of the hard, straight lines, but the action of the ceremony is shown through the priests holding various tools and instruments. The women show the most movement because of the curved lines forming their arms and torsos. This adds to their emotion as they are mourning for the loss of Hunefer.
The simplistic decoration of the priests and women show their lower class and draw attention away from them. They are dressed in white with smooth textures and little pattern. The priest on the far left is more ornate with a leopard skin that is heavily patterned to depict texture. Anubis and the scribe have more pattern and texture to show that they are what the viewer should be looking at. Diagonal lines create hatching on Anubis’ cloth and rectangles and cross-hatching create texture on Hunefer.
I think this painting is really beautiful in how it depicts a piece of Ancient Egyptian culture. The use of color to emphasize the spiritual importance of this ceremony is interesting and fascinating. Typically, colors were used for royalty because they were expensive. I think that this is shown in the use of color in this painting. Overall, the alignment of the bodies and the use of texture creates the importance of hierarchy and structure in the Egyptian culture. The artist was trying to convey this ancient ritual through their use of lines, color, texture, and position. I think it is fascinating to understand these ancient cultures through their artwork because for many of them, art is all that we have.
From the chapters we read and the lecture, I found the Amarna Period very interesting. Amenhotep was a pharaoh who shifted the whole culture of Egypt. He worshiped the Aten and wanted to change Egypt into a monotheistic culture. As this happened, the artwork of Egypt changed as well. They became more naturalistic in their sculptures and paintings through depicting people with rounder stomachs, egg-shaped heads, and more movement in their bodies. What I found the most fascinating about this period was how it changed back to the Old Kingdom after Amenhotep had died. Amenhotep shifted a nation’s culture and art, but it did not last as long as he had hoped. I think this shows how hard it is to shift and change a culture.
Adams, L. S. (2011). A History of Western Art (5th Edition ed.). New York , New York: McGraw Hill.