Saturday, July 24, 2010

Imitation Is Pure Flattery

In the previous post I mentioned the kinds of ancient portraiture I use in my artistic reconstructions of the faces of the royal mummies. Now I am taking the opportunity to discuss one of them, perhaps the most fortuitous. For some reason it was the custom for the nobles and officials of Egypt to have themselves portrayed with the face of the current monarch--and their wives as well. The down side of this convention is that we have missed knowing what these ladies and gentlemen looked like, themselves. On the other hand, it would happen that the artisans who created these portraits often did not trouble to flatter [or perhaps idealize] the pharaoh as much as they did when executing his own likenesses. Therefore the statues, etc., of the nobles provide very helpful insight into how these kings really appeared. Also, it is often possible to date this art to a certain reign just by studying the features.

Those of us who have studied the faces of the pharaohs at length recognize them when we see them--even spot modern ringers for these defunct Egyptian kings. As you can see the face of Seti I, below, you might be interested in a dyad that I have assigned to his reign. Both husband and wife, while looking a bit different, serve to highlight various aspects of the king's face--his large eyes, flaring nostrils, full lips and rather full cheeks. Compare their faces to that of their master.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Forensic Method Reconstructions--Hate Them

It's a fad that has been going on for some time now--creating skulls from radiological images of Egyptian mummies, royal or common, and then making so-called "portraits" of these defunct people using the forensic method. This method has certain guidelines for how much "flesh" [be that clay or just while doing a virtual image] goes onto certain parts of the skull. It was always meant to be a "better than nothing" approximation of the appearance of a dead individual in hopes someone might be able to identify him or her from it. And the result always looks pretty lifeless, too, and only marginally accurate. From the forensic method, there is no way to know what the shape of the nose was [except perhaps how high the bridge] or that of the lips or eyes.

One needs only see the results some reconstructors got using the method from a manufactured skull of Tutankhamun without being told who the subject was. None of them looked alike and none resembled ancient portraits of the pharaoh.

I maintain that, without using ancient portraits for guidelines, these reconstructions are simply useless and to pass them off as how the person once looked a travesty. I have done artistic reconstructions of mummies utilizing large photos of the heads and tracing over them in order to obtain the correct dimensions. One of the best ones I have done is of King Seti I. But I also used likenesses of him executed by the artists of his reign. They were crucial in obtaining a pretty accurate and life-like portrait. Judge for yourself and compare my method to the forensic one. The perspective or angle of the face is the same as the photograph of the head of Seti I in the book, "The Royal Mummies" by Prof. Elliot Smith. Obviously, the photographer was crouched down and so the chin is closest to the camera. I didn't bother with royal headgear as the face is magnificent by itself. The head of the mummy is shaved.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Beauty of the Cairo Egyptian Museum


Click on images to enlarge them.

At left is one of the most wonderfully executed pieces of sculpture in the Cairo Egyptian Museum. What you see is the wife of Nakhtmin, part of a dyad with her husband, at right. The work was created during the reign of the pharaoh, Ay, and, as was the fashion, the faces of Nakhtmin and his spouse were carved as beautified versions of the features of Ay, himself. That is why, facially, Nakhtmin and the lady appear very much alike, although the face of the female is considerably destroyed. However, placing a sheet of transparent paper over a larger image of the ruined face, I was able to restore it to its former dimensions. The nose is nearly wholly missing, but I was able to realize how it had appeared from the general shape of the one of Nakhtmin. Had it been found intact, this dyad would have been one of the most breath-taking artistic masterpieces in the museum. Actually, it still is.