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Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

Egyptian Art                           85
Europe since the age of Augustus, we have necessarily to acquire
a detailed acquaintance with the background in order to realize
the significance of the great figures, from the first Roman
emperor to Charlemagne, from Charlemagne to St. Louis, and
then, by way of Louis XIV and Napoleon, to the personalities
of the present time. One may grant that attempts at a history
of Egyptian art are usually based on Manetho's Thirty Dynasties;
but the point is that these sections taken from Egyptian life are,
with few exceptions, illustrated by facts so inconsistent that we
are strongly tempted to form syntheses of far too summary a
kind, which obscure the true proportions of events when con-
sidered in relation to the others.
A Japanese critic, Masaharu Anesaki, has expressed very
lucidly an idea which is generally admitted but which is, none
the less, frequently lost sight of: 'Art is an inspiration, life is
a fact. The conception and the expression of artistic inspiration
are controlled, in great measure, by the conditions and circum-
stances of life.' -Which is the same thing as saying—if we alter
slightly the terms of reference—that, to appreciate accurately
the art of a bygone civilization, we must first be in a position
to reconstruct, in full detail, the life of the artists and of the
'consumers' of art in those far-off days.
Everyone knows that it is the ruins of tombs and temples
which have done most to bring back to us the civilization of
Ancient Egypt, and that the details of funeral cults have been
one of the most fruitful sources of information. This has led
people so far astray that they think of the Nile valley as a land
of the dead, and imagine this country, where the present-day
population impresses every visitor with its irresponsible gaiety,
as inhabited in the past by men bowed down with thoughts of
eternity. It is certainly true that the art of the tombs and of
the temples is the most obvious aspect of archaeological research
in Egypt; but if the delineation of the arts of life occupies such
an important place in the religion and cult of the dead, it is