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Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

H4                          Egyptian Art
surpassed. By the study of such objects one arrives gradually
at a truer appreciation of the aesthetic sensibility shown by the
Egyptians. It would be idle to discuss who, or what, played the
principal part in this aesthetic development. Was it the in-
genuity of workmen employed in the studios attached to the
residences of kings or nobles ? Or the wayward imagination of
some patron, tortured with the desire for new modes of utter-
ance, like that essayist of the Middle Kingdom who wished, we
are told, to 'express' from his body words which were not in
existence ? We know, from the evidence of a Karnak relief, that
certain rare vases were fashioned according to the personal
ideas of Tuthmosis III himself. One must also take into account
the influence of one workshop upon another, desiring to rival
its products, and the longings of fashionable women to possess
objects more beautiful or more ingenious than those of their
friends. We must not imagine that the springs of human feeling
were any less strong in Ancient Egypt than in civilized circles
nearer to our own days. The ancients developed, even in early
times, a refinement of technique which they employed for the
satisfaction of all their needs. Is it a mistake to suppose that
the desire for beauty, elegance, and luxury seemed essential to
them ? No sooner is one's attention drawn to this point than
one discovers in every museum objects, often minute, in great
number and variety, which prove that from the earliest period
onwards the aesthetic quality was stressed, almost to the point
of disregarding actual utility.
It is idle to object that the Egyptian language contains a very
small artistic vocabulary, and that the words for cgood', 'beauti-
ful', 'brilliant', and 'useful' seem strangely interchangeable. We
must be careful, as Hilaire Belloc warns us, not to read history
backwards; we cannot claim that the ancients, in order to attain
artistic sensibility, must have discussed aesthetics, like ourselves.
Chambers's exhaustive volumes on the history of taste should
undeceive us on this point; he reminds us that the Greeks