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Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

82                            Egyptian Art
the Solar Disk. The point to be emphasized is that these build-
ings of the first half of the fourteenth century B.C., which owe
their existence to the orders and caprice of a revolutionary ruler,
are in fact, despite their novel appearance, only the full develop-
ment of a technique which had been practised for twenty cen-
turies previously. The perfection of the Amarna period was not
conceived in its entirety in the imaginative brain of Akhenaton.
He was only clothing in new forms a world which had long passed
its classical period. Two centuries later, we find a son of
Rameses II going over the Memphis cemeteries and restoring
on the pyramids of the Old Kingdom the names of kings which
had been effaced. Here lies the great mystery, the really
astonishing thing about the art of ancient Egypt; that it was
completed and brought to perfection so early, with its classical,
its revolutionary, and its romantic periods, reflecting, each in
its own way, the life of a people. A great art indeed, affording
the most complete and many-sided aesthetic enjoyment to those
who study it, an enjoyment tempered only by disappointment
that its origins should still be veiled in obscurity.
Any cultivated person who visits a large Egyptian collection
or who turns over the leaves of an illustrated book on Egyptian
art cannot fail to express some surprise at the perfection which
marks many of the works of the Dynastic period. How many
times have I not heard people say, when confronted with a real
masterpiece, 'Extraordinary—it doesn't look Egyptian at all I'
There are several excellent reasons for this attitude, and it is
worth while pausing for a moment to examine them.
Perhaps the chief reason has been an unfortunate extension
of modern theories of evolution. People imagine that they can
with impunity transfer these theories from the physical world
to the sphere of human phenomena. The inevitable result has
been that the art of classical Greece has been adopted as an
absolute standard of perfection, by which all earlier artistic