This stelae was carved around 900 BCE during the Third Intermediate Period in Egypt. It depicts a priest performing an offering to the Egyptian god Ra-Horakhty-Atum.
Stelae, in Egyptian culture, were monuments of wood or stone, usually bearing inscriptions, reliefs, or paintings.[See Redford 2001, 319] Stelae served a variety of functions. They were often erected as tombstones to mark an offering place as well as to identify the tomb owner. In addition, they were used to commemorate special events, as well as to mark the boundaries of fields, estates, administrative districts, and even countries. [See Redford 2001, 319]
This stelae is funerary in nature. The painting depicts the priest, who would have been the owner of the tomb where this stelae was originally erected. The hieroglyphics on the bottom of the stelae also point towards its funerary nature as it is a formula offering to Osiris, the Egyptian god of the dead.
The Egyptian word, stelae, comes from the Latin word stela, which derives from the Greek word, stele, which means pillar of vertical tablet.
Stelae were carved out of a variety of wood or stone availible to the Egyptian people, who used stone and metal tools to shape and carve.
Painted wooden stelae were first recorded during the New Kingdom, but became much more frequent from the Third Intermediate Period on. [See Redford 2001, 320] Egyptian craftmen used any available timber that grew around Egypt, such as the Nile acacia, sycamore fig, sidder, nabk, and amarisk. Egypt eventually shipped large conifers such a cedar from Syria. [See Redford 2001, 516]
The tools to create stelae consisted of various types of saws used mainly to shape the overall slab of wood that would later be painted. The tools were advanced for their place and time due to the introduction of serrations along the blade which allowed for an easier cutting motion.
The next part of the process involved the creation of paint. The Egyptians gathered their pigments, to create color, from the land: they used charcoal or soot to create black, iron oxide for red, calcium sulphate for white, orpiment for yellow, copper carbonate for blue, and powdered malachite for green. These ingredients would then be ground into a powder and mixed with natural gum from the acacia tree to create the paint particles. [See Redford 2001, 1] Once the paint was ready, it was applied to the slab with a brush constructed of common Egyptian rush, palm ribs, or wood, which were cut, bruised into bristles, and bound together with a string. [See Redford 2001, 2]
Local Historical ContextEdit
The Third Intermediate Period saw a decrease in the power of the Pharoahs. The political spectrum shifted from the rulers of Egypt to the temple. It became the dominant sphere for political aspirations, social identification, and artistic production. "The importance of the temple sphere, obtained with more or less visibility, endured for the ensuing first millennium, throughout the rise and fall of 5 different dynasties." [See Allen 2000]
Art during this period focused mainly upon the creation of stylistic artistic forms depicting gods, kings, and most notably great temple officials. The temple gained riches and importance due to its new political status: Allen and Hill note, "Temple precints, with the sanctity and safety they offered, were favored burial sites for royal and nonroyal persons alike. Gold and silver royal burial equipment from Tanis shows the highest quality of craftsmanship. Nonroyal coffins and papyri bear elaborate scenes and texts that ensured the rebirth of the deceased." [See Allen 2000]
Being a people with such strong beliefs about the afterlife, this exemplifies the new power wielded by the temple. The Egyptian kings of the past built pyramids, huge constructs of time and labor, simply for their own singular burial site. Therefore the pyramids end up in comparison to the temple precints, as it is the chosen burial site for royalty in the Third Intermediate Period. That is including the fact that they shared such burial sites with with nonroyals.
The stelae, itself, was created during the 22nd Dynasty under the rule of Sheshonq I and his line. During this time Sheshonq I asserted his control of Upper Egypt by appointing his son, Iuput, as the high priest of Amun. In addition, his brother-in-law, Shedsunefertum, held the high priesthood in Memphis. It was not enough to simply be royalty, the power resided in the temple. [See Redford 2001, 390]
The stelae is a direct result of the Third Intermediate Period. As mentioned earlier, the painted wood stelae came about during this time as well as the stylized depictions of the gods as seen. A perfect example of this time and temple power, the stelae of a priest burning incense for Ra-Horakhty-Atum presents a funerary stelae for a person of the temple, who in this time period can comprable to royalty.
Stelaes, although prominent in Egyptian culture, were created throughout the world in many different civilizations.
The Greeks, like the Egyptians, created stelaes to use as grave markers though they were employed to issue decrees and edicts as well. [See Lyttleton in "Stele of the World"]
The Chinese version of the stelae, the bei, originally were used as wooden posts where horses could be tied up. It was later developed, during the reign of Qin Shi Huangdi, into memorial works. These "bei" were often inscribed with important historical documents, such as classic Confucian texts, and sources for the study of calligraphy. In addition, with the advance of Buddhism in China, votive stelae begin to be created depicting Buddha, the bodhisattvas, and other Buddhist images. [See Wiedehage in "Stele of the World"]
The Islamic peoples employed stelaes as tombstones to record the name and record of a man's life and subsequently his faith, as well as to teach "social and historical information about conversion, classes, titulature and sectarianism." [See Blair in "Stele of the World"]
Mesoamerica and South America, on the other hand, developed stelae purely as part of ceremony and ritual, much of which we know nothing about. The stelaes, that survived, show at least that they honored their gods and their rulers through them. [See Benson in "Stele of the World"]
Stelaes are seen throughout the world because they prove to be an effective means of providing information and art to the populations of the civilizations that bore them. Stelaes most importantly created a record, they enabled the people of the past to leave a mark on the world, something future generations could see. In the end, though individually each stelae may have not had any significance to the world, they have done their job and kept a record of the past that helps historians to capture a glimpse into the cultures and civilizations of humanity in the past.
Redford, Donald B., Edward Bleiberg, John L. Foster, Rita E. Freed, Gerald E. Kadish, Ronald J. Leprohon, and David P. Silverman. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Russman, Edna R., Eternal Egypt: Masterworks of Ancient Art from the British Museum. London: British Museum Press, 2001.
Michalowski, Kazimierz. Art of Ancient Egypt. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1969.
Shaw, Ian, and Paul Nicholson. Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press, 1995.
Wilkinson, Toby. The Thames & Hudson Dicitonary of Ancient Egypt. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, 2005.
"Priest Burning Incense to Ra-Horakhty-Atum" http://www.paris.com/paris_photo_tour/louvre_museum_art_collection_pictures/louvre_stele_priest_burning_incense_before_ra_horakhty_atum
Allen, James, and Marsha hill. "Egypt in the Third Intermediate Period (1070-712 B.C.)" In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/tipd/hd_tipd.htm
"Stele of the World in Oxford Art Online" http://www.oxfordartonline.com.proxy-remote.galib.uga.edu/subscriber/article/grove/art/T081249?q=stele&search=quick&pos=1&_start=1