Museum Research Paper
During my trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I observed many interesting paintings, sculptures, and artifacts. The two exhibits I chose to do my report on were ?Anonymous Official?, from the thirteenth dynasty in Egypt, (1783 B.C.), and ?Head from a Herm? from the early Greek civilization, (first quarter of the fifth century). (The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide, Howard, pg. 306) I chose these two particular exhibits because of their faces. The way the human face is portrayed is an excellent way to figure out how humans were perceived in these specific time periods. You can compare the two different faces from the two different time periods, and compare and contrast the two time periods.
The Egyptian and the Greek time periods were, to me, the most interesting of all the others we have studied. Many of the philosophies and governmental policies that were used then, are still used today. The Greeks had first used democracy, and the Egyptians believed in monotheism, which is the belief that there is only one god, which many Americans believe today. While we may have adapted beliefs and governmental policies from these time periods, they were very different from each other. The way that the two civilizations classify their leaders is a good example.
The sculpture of ?Anonymous Official? is the upper torso of an Egyptian man. This man?s face has deep facial furrows and almond shaped eyes. The sculpture also has a straight nose and a narrow chin. These facial features are the way that Egyptians depicted normalcy. There was a second sculpture, identical to the first one that was believed to be a relative of the man because they were found together and they looked so very similar.
The Egyptians were a very isolated culture. They did not like foreigners to impede on their land. The Egyptian rule was broken down into three subdivisions of time. The first was the Old Kingdom (3000-2155 B.C.), followed by the Middle Kingdom (2134-1785 B.C.), and ending with the New Kingdom (1500-1162 B.C.). The sculpture of the ?Anonymous Official? was created in the Middle Kingdom time period. During the period of Egyptian rule a Pharaoh was considered to be the highest plateau that a man could reach. If you were a Pharaoh you were considered divine. This belief that the Egyptians had, of the Pharaoh, was reflected in their art. Sculptures of the Pharaohs were perfect figures. The figures had wide over expressed eyes, which were considered to be holy. This is why a sculpture of King Tutankhamun would have the wide expressed eyes. Unlike any sculptures of people outside the circle of Egyptian culture.
It is very rare to find an artifact from this time period. Many of the cities were raided and destroyed by the people from the West. It was because of these raids that Egyptians were hostile towards outsiders. The one part of the Egyptian culture that did survive, were the tombs. These tombs are where we get the majority of our information on the Middle Kingdom time period. These tombs are the link to the world of the dead.
The sculpture ?Head from a Herm? is believed to be depicted from the Greek god, Hermes. The head is also believed to have come from some sort of Greek sphinx. The face of this sculpture is very defined. The sculpture has hair on it, which seems to be the style of that time period. The way the face is defined conforms to the Greek push to be perfect. All poses of Greek art are marked by passion and violence. (The Art of Art History, Preziosi, pg.35)
During the Greek period, a great belief in mythology came about. All the stories of Zeus, Aphrodite, and Aries came from this Greek time period. This sculpture of a man?s head is one of the many dedicated to the Greek gods. All in all, the things that the Greeks made their highest priorities were life, religion, art, and the perfection of all of these.
If you were to compare and contrast the two sculptures, ?Anonymous Official? and ?Head from a Herm?, you could start by comparing their cultural backgrounds. Both the Egyptian and the Greek empires, at their prime, were very powerful and both are, to this day, very respected for what they had accomplished. For the most part, that is where the similarities end. Besides the different governments of the two civilizations, and their art, the Greeks and the Egyptians also differed in their architecture. The Egyptians had pyramids that were very bland on the outside, and had many rooms inside, while the Greeks showed off their talent on the outside of many of their buildings. Greek buildings had giant pillars and sculptures to decorate the outside. The inside of a Greek palace was one big open room, where people would gather to pray.
Another major difference between these civilizations was the way that each group perceived their rulers. The Greeks put their rulers on high pedestals, but in the Greek culture, areas started to develop called city-states. City-states were large, independently run provinces. Each of these city-states had their own ruler. This brought attention away from the rulers, and made the gods the highest form of life, hence the artwork. (Greece, God, and Art, Liberman, pg.89)
There were myths about people putting themselves on the same level of the gods and paying the price for it. Also, for the first time in history, the people began to depict their gods as human-like creatures, with human flaws such as jealousy and hatred. This differs from the Egyptian way of thinking that the ruler (pharaoh) was a divine creature. No Egyptian would disagree with the pharaoh, because he was the messenger of God. (Gods and Pharaohs from Egyptian Mythology, Harris, pg.151)
If you were to compare the actual formal elements of these two sculptures, you could come up with conclusions of what styles and life were like during these civilizations. The ?Anonymous Official? had very exaggerated features. The eyes were almond-shaped, and the face gave an impression that this person was unrealistic, or almost god-like. On the other hand, the Greek sculpture of the man?s head was much more realistic in the man?s features. His stare did not look absent, compared to the Egyptian work, and he was depicted as a normal man, and not as god-like. You can tell that this is a man and he was made to be stately. As far as the Egyptian sculpture, if you were not told, then you would never know that the sculpture was depicting an actual man. This is because of the lack of features in Egyptian art. (Howard, pg.155)
When you look at art, it is hard to get a true feeling of why the artist made the work a certain way. If you do not study the iconography, and the cultural background of the work, you have to hypothesize about its origins. In the past, I have gone to museums and looked at the art, and wondered to myself, ?What in the world is this?? It is not until now that I truly know a way to get inside the artist?s head. If there is one thing that will never change about art, it is the fact that it will always reflect its time period and civilization, good or bad.
Howard, Kathleen, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1994.
Stokstad, Marilyn, Art: A Brief History, Prentice Hall, New York, 2000.