Why is Egyptian art always sideways

Animated Portraits - The Private Sculpture

or natural decay; they are therefore also called reserve or replacement heads; 2. Replacement for the grave statue; 3. Preservation of the appearance, even if the mummy disintegrates (the technique of mummification was not very effective at that time), both for the survival after death and for the freely moving component of the ego ("soul") the identification of the body. According to a new theory, which has found little acceptance, they serve a magical practice that is supposed to prevent the dead from coming back and harming the bereaved. In addition, there are even theses that see objects in them that the grave owner used as a sculptural model for his portrait or as a living room decoration during his lifetime.

In any case, the installation site shows that the heads do not have the function of a cult statue, that is, they do not serve to enable the dead to accept the victims. So their only achievement can be to preserve the individuality and the appearance of the deceased.


Stylization, realism, portrait character


What was depicted was subject to a fundamental stylization that realized the image of man in a constitution that was suitable for perpetuation. This idealization concerns first of all the existentially human. In principle, the buried are shown safe and sound. The reproduction takes place according to a fixed, ideal canon of proportions, which regulates the relationship between the parts of the body. The people appear - with a few exceptions - at an almost neutral age, neither young nor old, showing both maturity and vitality. The bodies are powerful and athletic, the posture is upright, the gaze is fixed and straight. The mood is similarly neutral: neither happy nor sad, not attached to a specific moment. People are not involved in a specific activity, nor do they belong to a specific ambience. Overall, the playback is completely static.

Idealization also has a social aspect in that it expresses belonging to the right class, to a place in society. This is done by choosing appropriate clothing, including hairstyle and jewelry (jewelry originally had a magical protective function, as "beautiful" means "good" and "useful" in many cultures). But it can also be expressed in posture and attributes, such as sitting on the chair, which is linked to the thought of refinement. Similarly, portrayal as a scribe characterizes the man as belonging to the elite. In addition, a purely artistic idealization is to be applied. Sculpture is not realistic, it does not exactly reproduce the plastic surface of the human being in form and proportion, but seeks and finds stylistic devices and conventions in order to create an appearance that is accepted by society and evokes what is intended in the viewer, be it through the spontaneous visual impression, be it through knowledge of iconic conventions. Above all, it is simplified, for details such as the hairstyle, or it is plastically overdrawn - such as the raised reproduction of the browbones and eyelid lines. The plasticity, especially of the face, is made larger, geometrized as it were.

It should be noted, however, that these stylizations can vary in degree. In certain periods - for example in the early 4th dynasty - works appear that overcome these conventions, that make the plasticity of the face realistic, that reflect a more mature age, or even physical deviations from the ideal, such as obesity or dwarfism. Realism is kept in check by the need for idealization. On the other hand, that requires



104 "replacement head"
Gisa; 4th Dynasty, around 2590 BC Chr .; Limestone; H. 27.7 cm; Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, ÄS 7787.
The function of the substitute heads must have been different from that of serving the dead as a substitute body for the acceptance of the cult of the dead. Stylistically, they are extremely interesting, as there are only few private sculptures from the first half of the 4th Dynasty, when the development towards a naturalistic style reached its peak. It is fascinating to compare the individual works to observe the tension between idealization and realism. In the most developed pieces, such as the Viennese head from the Gisa necropolis, the individualization is striking, and the portrait character is probably also pronounced. The plasticity of the facial surfaces, however, is summarized, the sculpture appears to be geometrized, so to speak. Idealization also lies in the fact that the person is shown in a neutral state of emotionlessness and agelessness, as a claim to perpetuation requires.


The cultic purpose of the works is the individual identification of representation and what is represented. For this purpose, a non-artistic means is used first, namely the lettering. The indication of the name and the title results in a clear assignment. In addition, there is the artistic means of visual individualization or the portrait. Individualization without the character of a portrait is somewhat comparable to an unskilled caricature: characteristic details are reproduced without creating a portrait character. The mind says: a person with such physical peculiarities must NN. be. In the case of a portrait, however, the viewer identifies spontaneously. Realistic style suits the portrait, but portrait is also possible in a non-realistic style. There are expressionist, cubist, etc. portraits in modern art that fully deserve this designation. Likewise, many of the Egyptian sculptures considered here certainly have the character of portraits despite their ideal style, even if we cannot prove this directly.