Photographer's Note

Why is it that the depiction of the human form in two-dimensional Ancient Egyptian art appears so strange to modern eyes? At first glance, the artists of the time appear to have had only a limited grasp of human anatomy and their work seems to exhibit a lack of understanding of perspective. Neither observation is valid however, as is demonstrated by the artists’ ability to faithfully reproduce the human body accurately in three-dimensional statues.

The explanation for the apparent anomaly is that Egyptian artists had a well-defined convention concerning the representation of living beings in two dimensions. Each part of the body was painted in correct proportion to every other part, but the artist portrayed the view that most elegantly displayed each aspect of the body. When painting the face for example, the head was shown in profile with the forehead and brow clearly drawn and with the size and shape of the nose and chin well defined. The eye however was shown as if viewed from the front because the human eye is best viewed from that angle. This representation initially led to the idea that Ancient Egyptians may have had huge eyes on either side of their heads.

Following the same principle of showing each element of the body from the best angle, the upper torso from shoulder to waist was portrayed in front elevation, highlighting the breadth of the chest and the narrowness of the waist, but one nipple or one breast in the case of a female was shown in profile. This gave the impression that the individual carried a breast under her (or in the case of the Nile god Hapy, his) armpit. By turning the form through 90o at the waist, the hips, buttocks, legs and feet were shown in profile allowing the artist to either impart a sense of movement or the absence of it to the portrait. Hands were most often shown with all five digits in view and long fingers extended straight, even when by rights they should have been shown clasped. The twisted portrayal of the human form gave credence to the modern humorous characterisation of “walking like and Egyptian”.

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Photo taken in Neues Museum Berlin

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Additional Photos by Deniz Taskin (rigoletto) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 3085 W: 400 N: 6725] (34279)
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