Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Comparing Egyptian and Minoan works of art

            When we compare the an example of Minoan culture, “Bull Leaping” on fresco, and an example of Egyptian art, “Ti Watching a Hippopotamus Hunt”, they both show the unique styles associated with their respective cultures.  They also show similarities in some of their perspectives and painting styles, which could suggest the possible influence of Egyptian culture Minoan art.

            “Ti Watching a Hippotamus Hunt” is a painted relief found in the tomb of a government official, c. 2450 – 2325 BCE.  The relief depicts Ti watching a hippopotamus hunt while servants are posed in different action shots.  There are different depictions of stylized animals and papyrus that are at the bottom and at the top of the picture.  The fresco of the Minoan “Bull Leaping” depicts two stylized women and an acrobat leaping over a bull and there is a decorative border of abstract shapes surrounding the subjects, c. 1550 – 1450 BCE.

            The stylization of the people and animals are seen in both the fresco and the relief carving.  In the Egyptian relief we can see that the main figure of Ti is rendered following the Egyptian conventional composite pose for people in the upper levels of societal status.  His head is in profile view, along with his feet and arms, while his eye, torso and shoulders are in frontal view.  Hieratical status is shown by the fact that Ti seems to looms larger in size compared to all the other figures in the relief.  The hunters in the scene follow a more naturalistic and realistic viewpoint, which is similar in style to the Minoan figures in the “Bull Leaping” fresco.  The Minoan painters also depicted their figures in profile poses, but they kept the figures with a more naturalistic pose by keeping the rest of the body in profile as well. An unnatural stylizing that is a characteristic of Minoan art is the narrowing and tapering of the waists.  The bull’s legs are also tapered unrealistically.  The Minoan fresco also has a decorative border of geometric shapes.

            The Egyptian relief shows a confusing array of perspectives, while the Minoan fresco shows a lack of grounding of the subjects.  Along with the different perspectives that make up the Egyptian conventional composite pose, we can also see changes in perspective with the water and the animals in the water and in the papyrus.  The artistic depicted the waves in a surface view of the water, and a profile view of the animals within the water.  The animals within the water are all depicted in profile view, but the birds among the papyrus flowers and stalks are portrayed in different naturalistic poses and follows more closely to a natural perspective.  The Minoan fresco doesn’t have the confusing array of perspectives of the Egyptians, but the subjects (the people and the bull) show a lack of any grounding, since there doesn’t appear to be any ground that is represented.  It appears that the subjects are just floating in the air.

            The Egyptian relief was done in limestone.  In relief the picture is drawn and the background is then carved away from the subject matter.  This helps to give emphasis on the subjects, and on the relief of Ti, it gives a repeating pattern in the background that draws the eye to the people in the boat and the animals in the water and connects to the animals in the papyrus above them.  The Minoan fresco is painted on plaster and has a very 2-dimensional feel compared to the Egyptian relief.  The painting style for both the relief and the fresco are very similar.  Both the Egyptian and Minoan artists filled in contours of their work with solid color and without use of shading.  They used a repetition of line work, either painted or carved, to show details, such as the lines of hair on the Minoan bull and the geometric shapes framing the subject matter, and the repeating lines used for the stalks of papyrus in the Egyptian relief.

            The subject matters both show important events occurring and have symbols of power.  In the bull fresco, the bull is a symbol of strength, virility, and fertility and also connected to religion.  The strength of the bull is depicted in its large shoulders and strong neck and the sense of power and movement seen in the pose of the body.   The scene with the woman and the man leaping over the bull could be a depiction of a rite of passage or of an initiation or it could just be showing a form of entertainment. The repetition of the geometric forms on the border could represent the lunar calendar as well.  The Egyptian relief also have symbols of power.  By making Ti the largest form in the picture we see his power over everything in the picture and it symbolizes the power of Ti.  It is more a form of propaganda Ti’s representation of his own power and importance.  The hippopotamus symbolizes the god Seth who represents chaos, so by showing Ti hunting and killing the hippopotami, he is reigning in chaos and restoring order.

            Both works of art, the relief and the fresco show similarities and differences but they both have unique characteristics that separate them from each other and other cultural pieces of art.  The Egyptian and Minoan artists both shared similar painting styles, the technique of filling in contours with solid color and the use of profiles views when depicting the people.  The use of the conventional composite view, hieratical scale, and the use of conventional measurement and proportions for the body are unique to Egyptian art and can be seen in their art for thousands of years.  The Minoans style can be seen in the narrowing and the tapering of the waists, the tapering of the legs on the bull, and the flying gallop pose with the bull and which shows up on other pieces of work.

1 comment:

  1. At first when I saw the two pieces of art you chose to compare, I assumed that you would mostly write about their differences. They are two very different paintings and had no idea they had so much in common! I especially liked the part where you talked about how even though the Ti hunting painting was relief and the Bull Fresco was 2-dimensional, they both still were similar in the painting style, where solid colors, lack of shading, and line repetition. Great work!