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Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

ii2                         Egyptian Art
stress of military and political catastrophes, and, in the periods
of recovery which followed, old traditions had to be restored,
and bygone splendours used as inspiration. Egypt experienced
several 'Renaissances'. During the last of these, in the Sai'te era,
examples borrowed from the Memphite period returned to
favour. Artists of this time penetrated the vaults of the Pyramid
of Zoser at Saqqara and took copies of the early Third Dynasty
An historian who should confine his survey to a Greek original
of the fourth century B.C., a copy of Roman date, a work of the
Italian Renaissance, and an example of modern classical art
might easily be led to think that subject, technique, and material
had remained constant through all the centuries of Western
civilization. He would conclude that there had been no over-
throw of the ancient empires, no Romanesque or Gothic periods.
He would see nothing to hint at the characteristic movements
of modern times. The perspective has been similarly falsified
in the case of Egypt, partly owing to the illusion that its art was
static, and partly because of failure to remember the consider-
able expanses of time which separate the principal periods in the
history of the Pharaohs.
A closer study of the subject will dispel this idea. The artistic
revolution carried out by Amenhotep IV is now generally
recognized. In this El-Amarna art we are confronted with
an apparently unexpected burst of new tendencies, a desire to
throw off tradition and to lay particular stress on the play of
technique. These tendencies are strikingly echoed in our own
aesthetic conceptions to-day. How was this revolution brought
about? First and foremost, by a complete divorce between
artistic representation and the age-old customs which had
hitherto provided its chief reason for existence. Artists began
to speak a new tongue, just as *new Egyptian' finds a footing at
this time in the language of official inscriptions. The religious
and political reaction at the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty