HA 115 / Survey of Art I
Prof. Evan Neely
For this assignment I chose two pieces of work that belong to the Metropolitan Museum of Art; one relief from the Egyptian period: Dynasty 13, reign of Sebekhotep II (ca. 1745 B.C.); and the second one which is a Roman relief from the 3rd century A.D. The purpose of the paper is to discuss and compare the two works in relationship to the way bodily interaction is rendered by the carving and molding of the surfaces of the figures and by the general composition putting them in specific relations. It will also include a detail discussion of how, in the different cultures, the relationship of the bodies is depicted and how, in the specific case of these two pieces, the figures appear to interact between each other. To answer these questions it is of relevant importance to analyze how both cultures depicted the human figure and explain how their beliefs are present in each of the works by observing the carving and rendering of the figures themselves as well of the placement in space that they occupy. On the other hand, this last point will also be treated regarding how the location of the figures is important to the telling of the stories within the works.
After what has been stated above, the first element to be approached and discussed is the carving of the rocks to render the figures and the differences, as well as similarities, between the sculptures. For both works, we have presented a composition of human figures carved in stone that tell a complete story within the whole piece. On one side, the Egyptian’s subject matter is of the ultimate position of Raniseneb as director of the antechamber that led to the king’s audience hall and as a story it is told in three different registers that are read from top to bottom; the fact that indicates this, is that the ‘important” figures depicted (even though that Raniseneb is represented for a second time) are in a greater scale than the ones at the bottom and also, regarding the technique of the carving, those figures are the ones that present a deeper line of carving which creates a stronger sense of shadow. It is also important to mention that the figures throughout the relief are accompanied by hieroglyphics that, in a sort of way, explain what the story is about. On the other side, the figures are represented with the same characteristics of all the other Egyptian figures: profile of the head, legs and feet, and a frontal chest; looking in opposite directions to one another and with no sense of space, since Egyptian art does not really take great interest in a distinction between foreground and background but rather on the content of the work itself.
Now, in relationship to the Roman sarcophagus, the figures are rendered within a single register that tells a Mythological story between Selene, the moon goddess, and Endymion, who has been granted eternal youth. The fact that the work has been depicted in only one register helps the reading of the story as to be read in a continuous loop with no determined beginning or end since the figures continue to be composed all around the sarcophagus. Furthermore, the way the sculptor decided to give live to his work in a continuous piece, influences in the composition and space placement of the figures themselves within it; this is shown as the figures are placed all over the rock and because of the use of scale (with the position they take in the picture frame) the y start to create a sense of space and depth, indicating that some of them are on top, at the bottom or even further away or closer. Moreover, as the Roman culture emphasizes, the form of the figure starts to achieve more importance in art as well as the content of it, and the figures so the characters begin to take a more realistic appearance to a human being and expressions as well as gestures are taking into consideration when sculpting them. This