The description and illustration are taken from Excavations At Giza V, (1933-1934) by Dr. Selim Hassan - Cairo 1944 (Excavations of the Faculty of Arts, Fouad I University. Published by Service des Antiquities de L'Egypte). The text may be found on p277.

Some Notes on the Decoration of the Mastaba of Tesen

Although the scenes represented upon the walls of the chapel of this tomb conform to the normal conventions of Old Kingdom art in the subject matter displayed, yet there is a subtle difference in the way the figures are arranged, an originality of detail and a surprising naturalism of drawing that is quite unusual in Egyptian Art, with the exception of the El-Amarna Age, and the period immediately following it. It is difficult to say what is the reason for the somewhat unorthodox treatment of these scenes but most probably Tesen was a man of an original turn of mind, and having sought and found an artist of considerable skill to decorate his tomb, and perhaps pointed out to him some artistic details which would make his tomb appear more or less individual in its representations, he gave him a free hand in the matter. If so, the results, even after the lapse of so many centuries, show that this confidence was not misplaced.

The first thing that would attract the attention of the general visitor is the accuracy with which the details of the scenes are rendered, as for instance, the perfection of the finger-nails, and the anatomical details of the legs and bodies of the large figures of Tesen.

It will be noticed, moreover, that the large, standing figures of Tesen on the thickness of the chapel doorway, as well as those on the outer jambs of the northern false-door, are represented as wearing their natural hair, which is skillfully modelled to represent sleek waves. Apart from the almost startling fact that we have here a portrait of a nobleman who dared to appear in such conspicuous places in his tomb without the covering of the conventional ceremonial wig, the treatment of the hair is entirely modern and naturalistic and could scarcely be improved upon.

Apparently, however, this detail was the only innovation that the artist ventured to indulge in with respect to the owner of the tomb, for the remainder of the figure, though well modelled, is strictly conventional in its attitude and treatment.

scene of fowling from tomb of Tesen
fowling scene from the mastaba of Tesen (fig. 123) - click image to zoom

The most noteworthy detail occurs in the fowling scene above the chapel doorway. As already noted, the head fowler is signalling with his hand, in place of the more usual cloth. This figure is a triumph of drawing, for although the perspective of the body conforms strictly to the traditions, yet the artist has managed to convey a strong sense of arrested movement that suggests a motion-picture photograph rather than an Old Kingdom relief.

Another hackneyed theme into which the artist has succeeded in infusing life is the scene which shows Tesen hunting in the marshes. Although the surface of the wall is somewhat damaged, the vigour of the pose is unmarred. Notice the tendon of the upraised arm holding the spear, the body leaning slightly backwards to give power to the thrust, the outflung left arm, with the hand clutching at the reeds for support, and the widely planted feet for the maintenance of balance.

Perhaps the greatest testimony to the skill of the artist is the slaughtering scene on the northern wall. Here, the figures of the butchers are worthy to rank with the finest specimens of Egyptian Art. With the exception of the eye, the extreme right-hand figure and the man who is cutting off the foreleg of a second ox, are drawn in true profile. The freedom and energy of the drawing, and the grace and strength of the body and limbs are beyond praise. Compare these splendid figures with the anatomical monstrosities represented in the tomb of Ti, at Sakkara and the superior skill of Tesen's artist is immediately evident.

Notice should also be made of the expression of the man in the left-hand group, who is engaged in cutting off the foreleg of the ox. The intent gaze and the grim set of the mouth are absolutely in keeping with the nature of the task he is performing.

In short, it may be said that the art displayed in this mastaba possesses all the grace and naturalism of the Amarna Age, combined with the virile strength so typical of the Old Kingdom school.


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