Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Gender representation in Ancient Egyptian tomb art

Examiner (Kim Jackson)

One approach to understanding Egyptian art would be to question its raison d’etre. We already know that its major purpose was to serve the needs of the elite, especially the Pharaoh and his retainers, both in this life and the next. We could definitely say that many scenes can be interpreted by not only what they depict, but also as a way of sending a message to those whose support the king required.

The representation of males and females in New Kingdom Egyptian tombs is a clear case where the artist conveys a message other than visual reality. In the typical New Kingdom tomb painting, relief, or statue, males are dressed in a Shendyt with perhaps a shirt, while women wear tight-fitting sheath dresses, probably made from a single piece of cloth wrapped around the body. However, archaeological examples of ancient Egyptian clothing demonstrate that the most common garment was a bag tunic... a linen bag with sleeves that fit very loosely. Both men and women wore it. In art, however, men wear an outfit that suggests freedom of movement while a woman’s garment suggests restricted movement. Even without archaeological evidence, the typical female garment depicted in art could never match reality. The dresses are so impossibly tight that a woman could not move, sit, or walk. The real intention behind this representation is to reveal the woman’s body. These dresses clearly reveal the overall female form and the pubic triangle. Since the difference between everyday Egyptian reality and artistic presentation is so radical, there must have been a reason for the difference.

Men are generally active in tomb representations.

See the above page for the full story.

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