Sunday, June 15, 2014

Model In the Tomb of Nefertari?

Taking another look at some images from the tomb of Queen Nefertari, wife of Ramesses II, I noticed something unusual.  In fact, the paintings of the face of the royal lady seemed innovative to me long ago as they evidence an attempt to create an  effect that would not be seen again in Egypt for centuries.  That would be in the Classic Era when  actual full-face portraits of the deceased were painted for their funerary trappings.  By then, Egyptian artists had learned to paint with highlights and shadows in order to make a face appear more than merely one-dimensional.

Even though the portraits in the tomb of Nefertari continued to follow the usual canon of representing the human face and form, something new was added--an attempt to use shadows for the reasons already stated.  Some time ago I watched a Masterpiece Theater version of Dickens' tale "Bleak House" with actress Gillian Anderson as Lady Deadlock.  Because the story was written in the 19th Century, some scenes were shot with minimal lighting in order to convey how dark rooms appeared then with only candles or such primitive illumination as was possible in those times.  This view of Gillian Anderson reminded me of Queen Nefertari as she appears in profile in her tomb.

The profile is of a very similar type, but more important is the shadow on the cheek of the actress, which is very like that which the tomb's master artist painted on the cheek of Nefertari. as you can see below.   What is interesting is that the effect in both the cases of the photograph and the wall painting are the result of muted illumination that cast those shadows on the profile.  Would the Egyptian artist have recollected how that appeared from his own experience in the likewise dimly-lit chambers of his time--or did he have an actual model posing for him right there in the tomb, saved from darkness only by some oil lamps?  We don't normally think of the Egyptians using models for their tomb paintings as, mostly, the human faces are not executed in a "painterly" manner but just painted "flat", with only one color.  But that is not true of the face of Queen Nefertari.  If the artist used a model, it surely would not have been the queen, herself, but a woman who resembled her.  Perhaps the artist knew such a woman and this was his inspiration for asking her to pose.  And then he decided to paint her face as he saw it--shadows and all.  Note:  These are not my images.  I am using them for educational purposes only.


Ric Lotfinia said...

Having looked at Queen Nefertari noticing while gazing upon her figure, I have noticed the shadowing. Never realizing it as shadowing, or the application of makeup before. Thanks for the emphasis of it. I greatly appreciate it.

Marianne Luban said...

Hi, Ric, and thanks for your comment. I don't think it's makeup on the cheek because the same color is on the nose. Note there is a shadow on the nose of the actress, as well. I think the Egyptian artist meant to convey shadows, but did not quite dare to paint them a shadowy gray--so he painted them a darker pink. I think a lot of people have wondered about them.