Kemetian art, while it did undergo changes throughout the Dynastic era, featured codes that crosscut Dynasties, to which artists adhered. A good example of this, is the famous left leg "a-step-forward" body posture, accompanied by fist-like hand gestures to the body side(s). This body posture can be seen in the aforementioned Menkaure statue, and below, we have some more examples:
Below, several sculptures of Kushitic leaders maintain a similar body posture:
Another interesting artistic convention that crosscuts various Dynasties, is the relative positions of the male and female figures, particularly of royalty and deity, as exemplified in this determinative for "people" in hieroglyphics:
The male figure usually precedes that of the female.
We see this theme in many wall-murals, as seen as follows:
The positioning of males first and then females appears to be just a convention; in actuality though, these renderings are supposed to generally imply the side-by-side accompaniment of the couples at hand, rather than one partner standing or sitting ahead of the other. On that note, we now visit yet another artwork standard, specifically in regards to sculptures of royalty or elite couples. It is generally a rule that the couple is carved out from a single rock piece, or at least joined together to one large slab, as we shall see below:
|On the left, is a sculpture of an unspecified date of an unspecified official or couple. On the right, naturally, is the well-known sculpture of Akhenaten and his wife, Nefertiti.|
|Remnants of Sennefer's head and portions of his wife, Meryt (aka Senet-nay/Senet-nefert/Senet...), ca. 1427-1401 BC, during Amenhotep II's reign|
|Peculiar representation of Ra-Hotep on the left, and his wife, Nofret, on the right.|
In each case, the male figure is accompanied by his female companion on a single slab. This appears to have been the case, regardless of what Dynasty is at hand. In this regard, only the Ra-Hotep/Nofret sculpture are an interesting oddity, which visibly violates the trend just described. Not only is Ra-Hotep's person not shaven clean, as is usually the case, but also more importantly, the couple are placed on two separate slabs, almost as if they were not a close couple, or yet perhaps an estranged couple, torn apart from another. It is safe though to assume that this was likely not the intention of the artist, since otherwise, only the more significant figure, likely Ra-Hotep, would have been celebrated, rather than the couple. As if that peculiarity was not enough, unlike the other examples shown here, the individual separate slabs of Ra-Hotep and Nofret have inscriptions on their top portions on either side of the figures' heads, respectively. The hand gestures of Ra-Hotep and Nofret respectively deviate from the hands-on-thighs norm, which appears to be so in most cases unless the figure is specifically holding something in one hand. The mustache on Ra-Hoteps noticeably also departs from the generally shaven faces of royal male figures, that is, when said figures are not given a pseudo "divine" goatee. Ra-Hotep interestingly, contra to neck-gear type seen on Nofret, has a simple necklace or string-like ornamentation around his neck; in most cases, however, the neck ornamentation is in the form of an elaborate, if not fairly decorative, collar-like gear. Naturally, this case of an aberration has stirred suspicion in academia about the authenticity of the sculptures.
In summation, Kemetian art cannot summarily be dismissed as primarily idealistic, and therefore, of little bio-anthropological value, where human and other organic subjects go; rather, as demonstrated here, there was a general trend of capturing empirical observations in art. Nor was Dynastic Egyptian art chronically conservative and rigid in form. It was visibly dynamic, while at the same time, featuring certain traditions or codes in specialized areas that withstood the test of time for duration of the Dynastic era, especially concerning commemorative material celebrating figures of the ruling class.
*This post may be subject to modification or updates at any time.
—The majority of the material comes from personal notes from March, June & October 2005, with the rest from 2009 and 2010.
—Appreciations to the likes of British Museum, Louvre Museum and Metropolitan Museum for making images of relics available.