Art Is an Expression

Art History 6A 19 November 2011 Triumph! Art is an expression that we as humans do as a way to express and communicate with others. Through art every painting/sculpture has an intended purpose and message/story to convey. No matter what race, gender, or class, one can understand what message is being shared or find an entirely opposite interpretation other than what the artist intended. It can relate to the individual on a personal level, and that’s the beauty of art. In this essay I will be writing about two pieces of art that have been around for thousands of years.
I will be comparing and contrasting the Palette of King Narmer (back) and the painting “Ti watching a hippopotamus hunt. ” Both murals contain symbolism, as well as concepts of life and death. Each in their individual way conveys a message of importance and triumph. The Palette of King Narmer dates back to the first Egyptian dynasty, from Hierakonpolis, c. 3000 B. C, it is flat in appearance and double-sided with engravings on both sides, each individual side separated into 3 distinctive sections by horizontal lines with the middle being the biggest.
It stands approximately 25” inches (63. 5cm) in height and tapers down to a point. The structure of the piece is very similar to the outline of a shield. It is composed of a dark color slate, common rock found in Egypt. Unlike the Palette the painting of “Ti Watching a Hippopotamus Hunt” is much bigger almost double in size, standing 4 feet tall. It was created during the fifth dynasty, Saqqara, c. 2400 B. C. and is composed of painted limestone. Prior to the creation of the Palette of King Narmer, art was divided throughout Egypt.

Egypt was divided geographically and politically into Upper and Lower Egypt. Society had an emphasis on becoming unified and the palate marks the unification of these two lands. King Narmer is famously known as the first king to rule these lands. The palettes’ historical importance marks the transition from pre-historical to historical period in Egypt and serves as the foundation for generations of art glorifying kings. During the time of “Ti Watching a Hippopotamus Hunt” Egyptians had a very strong belief and emphasis in death and the afterlife.
Death was rarely filled with a sense of fear, but instead embraced with open arms and seen as a necessary transition one must make to live in the afterlife. Egyptians constructed mastabas for the dead. For this reason there was a plethora of funerary offerings including statues, carvings, and paintings made and placed into mastabas. The Egyptians built their mastabas very similar to homes for the dead so when they entered the afterlife they would have all the necessities and luxuries they once had during their lifetime.
Narmers palette was an object commonly used in the preparation of eye make up, used by the Egyptians mostly to block and shield out the sun. The palette is most likely a votive or gift to the gods. Whereas the painting of “Ti Watching a Hippopotamus Hunt” was a funerary gift made to honor loved ones who have passed and entered their next chapter in life. In both works of art, animals are portrayed but only in the palette do animals have true symbolic meaning. On the Back of the palette the upmost section portrays two cow heads one on each side, which appear to have human faces.
This representation depicts a variety of interpretations: the goddess Hathor, or the goddess bat, or just a symbolism for the Kings power and strength, which is a common symbolism of a bull throughout Egyptian art. The true meaning of these symbolic bulls is unknown till this day due to the uncommon frontal portrayal of the bulls. Also in the back of the palette there stands a falcon, symbolizing the god Horus- protector of kings. The falcon is placed on top of a head sitting on papyrus representing Lower Egypt. This signifies the triumph and power Upper Egypt had over Lower Egypt.
In the painting of “Ti Watching a Hippopotamus Hunt” animals individually serve no significant value, but as a whole in Egyptian art a successful hunt is a metaphor for triumph over evil. In the palette of King Narmer there are a series of hieroglyphics used to signify the powerful King Narmer making Narmers palette the earliest existing labeled piece of art. In between the bullheads are hieroglyphics of a catfish (nar) and a chisel (mer) within a frame representing the royal palace. The fish also pays tribute to the Nile River since Egypt strived and lived off the river for all its resources such as food and water.
In the painting of “Ti Watching a Hippopotamus Hunt” there are no hieroglyphics used because it was intended for the dead. Its purpose served to represent and honor the loved ones passed. In “Ti Watching a Hippopotamus Hunt” the artist incorporates a unique series of lines/patterns to bring structure and organization to the piece. This is portrayed in the water beneath the boats by a pattern of wavy lines that embody fish and hippopotami. In the uppermost of the painting the artist uses a series of fine grooves that lead into a commotion of birds and foxes resembling papyrus flowers.
Similarly lines play a Important role in the Palette of Narmer. A series of Horizontal lines are used to break the palette into 3 distinctive sections. Without the use of lines, the palette would have no organization and would become chaotic. The portrayal of the body when referencing both Narmer and Ti is very similar. Showing the influence Narmers palette had in art. In both pictures the eye and upper body is in frontal view while the head and legs/feet are in profile view, one in front of the other, which was a very common depiction of important figures.
It was believed that by showing the Egyptians in this way all the body parts needed in the afterlife would be properly expressed and available to the deceased when needed. Slaves and animals were painted more natural and relaxed, and with a smaller scale in drawings to show there limited importance. In both pictures the artists illustrate both Narmer and Ti being the dominating and largest figure (which is called hierarchical scale). In the palette of King Narmer, Narmer is significantly larger in his ceremonial beard wearing a bowling pin shape crown, which represents Upper Egypt.
Attached to the end of his kilt is a bulls tail indicating the power and strength of Narmer. Behind King Narmer is a much smaller servant, most likely of high rank, carrying his sandals making Narmer barefoot. Throughout Egyptian art being barefoot symbolizes the person is on holy ground. In Narmers right hand he holds a club, ready to strike a kneeling warrior he holds by the head with his left hand. This once again signifies the power and strength of Narmer over his enemies. Below this scene are two bearded men most likely enemies of the king lying dead symbolic of how lethal and victorious of a ruler he is.
In the mastaba of a Ti the painting “Ti Watching a Hippopotamus Hunt” Ti is similarly portrayed. Ti is shown much larger and out of scale compared to his slaves depicted, representing his importance and social status. In Egypt a successful hunt was a metaphor for triumph over evil. Ti and his slaves are roaming through marshes, hunting hippopotami and birds. Ti unlike Narmer is distant away from the hunt, not engaging in the action of killing the hippopotami but yet he is still present over looking his slaves during the hunt.
He is a neutral observer of life, resembling his Ka being at peace. Both murals use a variety of lines, symbols, and details not only to focus on the importance and triumph of Narmer and Ti but also make a structured organized piece of art. The palette of Narmer represents this triumph over evil more straightforward being that Narmer has already killed two of his foes about to kill another, holding in the palm of his hand the power to give life or death. On the other hand the painting “Ti Watching a Hippopotamus Hunt” is metaphorically representing victory and triumph through the hunt.

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New York University
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