Art History:  Grade 5 Lesson 1

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PYRAMIDS, PALACES & GREAT BIG WALLS - Egypt

MATERIALS

  1. Plan of Tomb of Khufu The Great Pyramid at Gizeh, Egypt, Graphic.
     As soon as a pharaoh of the Old Kingdom came to power, he began planning the pyramid that would be his tomb. The great bureaucracy of builders and architects was set in motion. Each village sent its quota of laborers to the quarries or the construction site, and royal storehouses issued tools and clothing. They faced a colossal chore. The Great Pyramid, built for Khufu at Gizeh was constructed of more than two million stone blocks, most weighing about two and a half tons. Despite the magnitude of the task, it was completed within the Pharaoh's 23 year reign in about 2600 BC, by men working with the simplest of implements, without draught animals or even the wheel.

    Khufu's architects, planning their Pharaoh's enormous pyramid had first to chose an appropriate site in the desert. As a rough substructure for the tomb, they chose a rocky knoll rising above the surrounding desert floor. Surveyors then marked out the site so that the pyramid's base would form a perfect square.

       With that accomplished, the architects directed work gangs to cut step like terraces into the irregular sides of the hill. These terraces, which would serve as the foundation on which all the stone blocks were laid, had to be absolutely level if the entire structure was not to be askew,. To assure this level foundation, the pyramid builders erected an extensive system of water-felled trenches about its base. Then, using the water level as a standard, they were able to lay out the 13 acre site so evenly that experts using modern instruments have found that the southeast corner of the pyramid stands only an inch higher than the northwest corner.

       The Great Pyramid's size challenges the imagination. Its peak towers as high as a present-day skyscraper of 40 stories. Its base covers an area large enough to hold 8 football fields.

    For its outward size alone, the Great Pyramid was called one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. But the interior, with its corridors, passageways, air shafts, Grand Gallery and King's Chamber, is no less an architectural marvel. The Egyptians demonstrated outstanding engineering skill in designing these interior structures to withstand the massive weight of the stone above them. The Grand Gallery for example, was built with a tiered, braced ceiling; the King's Chamber was designed with six roofs to displace the weight of overhead blocks. The Grand Gallery, a sloping room 153 ft long and 28 ft high, was built with stone sealing plugs already inside. When workmen on the side ramp removed restraining crossbeams the plugs slid down to seal the Ascending Corridor. Once this was sealed, workmen blocked the other passages (including the tomb's entrance) with stone slabs. These extraordinary measures foiled even the most ingenious tomb robbers for at least 400 years. Finally however, the pyramid was broken into and the mummy and funerary treasures were stolen.

     

  2. The Great Temple at Abu Simbel, 1838, David Roberts, Scot (1796-1864) c.330 x 480mm, tinted lithograph illustration ("Egypt & Nubia Vol. 1, London 1849), Metropolitan Museum Library, NY Reproduction Print

     

    bulletsee also Grade 6 Lesson 2
    Ramses II, called "the Great", earned that accolade by doing things on a grand scale and with enormous gusto. In an opulent 67 year reign he waged an extravagant war against a coalition of Asian states led by the Hittites; sired more than 100 children; and erected Egypt's biggest and most flamboyant buildings. Among his monuments were two huge temples cut into the cliffs at Abu Simbel.

    Recently these structures were involved in a project vast enough to delight the king himself; to save them from sinking beneath the lake created by the Aswan High Dam, both were cut apart and re-assembled on higher ground.

     

    Tutankhamun 1361-1352 BC

    The British archaeologist, Howard Carter was nearly alone in his belief that Tutankhamun's tomb could be found. Privately financed and armed only with a few scraps of evidence, among them some seals of the "boy king", Carter dug endless trenches in the Royal Valley, cleared rubble and searched in dumps. It was only after six years of digging that he finally unearthed the door of the tomb. "Twice before," he said, "I had come within two yards of that first stone step." Three weeks after the first step was found, Carter made the first opening in the wall that blocked the burial rooms. Holding a candle through it, he peered into the darkness. "Can you see anything?" he was asked. "Yes," he replied. "Wonderful things." He later described seeing "strange animals, statues, and gold - everywhere the glint of gold."

     

  3. The First Room of the Tomb, Black & White Reproduction photograph
     It took three weeks to clear the rubble from the 25' corridor leading to this first room of the tomb. There were four in all, containing more than 2,000 articles.

     

  4. The Innermost Room, Black & White Reproduction photograph
     This room housed an immense gilded wooden chest (at the far end) containing the dead king's viscera. In front, a jackal-god, Anubis, sits on a gilt chest full of jewels and sacred objects such as scarabs and amulets.

    About 10 years after Tutankhamun's death, thieves broke into his tomb and ransacked the antechamber, but the tomb, resealed, and eventually covered by rubble, was not touched again until modern times - although by 1000 BC every other sepulcher in the Valley had been robbed. Few sites in the ancient world held as much wealth as the Royal Valley, and nearby villagers made a profession of robbing the tombs almost before the doors were sealed. The laborers who built the tombs, and even the high officials shared in the plunder. In a vain attempt to safeguard the royal burial chambers, architects sank the crypts deep into secret recesses and sealed tomb entrances. Despite armies of guards, the tombs were violated. Thieves stole anything they could move, even statues of the gods they worshipped.

     

  5. Small Container in the shape of a Double Cartouche, Reproduction photograph
    Like many of the vessels in the tomb, this container held some type of unguent, judging from the residue that still remained inside.

    The double gold containers rest on a silver platform around a border on which the hieroglyphs for "life" and "dominion" are incised. The larger inlays consist of colored glass, while the smaller ones are stone. Within the cartouches on each side is an image of Tutankhamun seated on a basket. Above the solar disk from which project hooded cobras wearing ankhs around their necks. On the side illustrated here the king wears the side lock of youth, which may be an indication of his age or status. The hieroglyphs written in a cartouche should spell the name of a king. Here, however, they are written indirectly in a cryptogram. In actuality, the double cartouches each have the throne name of the king, "Ra is the Lord of Manifestations." 

     

  6. Painted Wooden Chest,  Reproduction print
    One of the most intricately decorated objects in the tomb, this wooden chest, found in the Antechamber, illustrates the innovation of the frenzied battle. A fierce confrontation takes place on both sides of the box; pictures here is the king in his chariot fighting against the Asiatics. On the other side the king battles against the Nubians. Scenes such as these were the apparent influence for the artists who composed the military reliefs for the Pharaohs of the Nineteenth Dynasty, where the enemy is also frequently depicted as a confused mass without the traditional registers. The absence of these ground lines make possible the chaotic disarray of the enemy. Chaos and disorder were anathema the the Ancient Egyptian, since they represented the opposites of maat, the balance and harmony upon which the entire culture was based. These battle scenes, therefore, appear to have symbolic significance.

    The curved lid is divided into two sections, each of which has a horizontal panel portraying the king pursuing wild animals. The smaller sides each have two representations of Tutankhamun as a Sphinx, treading upon his enemies.

    On the long horizontal panel here, the king shoots his arrows into the fray. Behind him are three registers of subordinate personnel.

     

  7. Golden Death mask - Tutankhamun, 1352 BC, Exhibit  Poster
     
  8. Hieroglyphic Alphabet, 2500 BC, Poster

     

  9. The Land of Tutankhamun,  Poster
     
     
  10. Rameses Exhibit Poster
     

See also "The Search for Immortality" Treasures of Ancient Egypt

Interactive tour at National Gallery of Art (includes photos of exhibits, guides and video)

 
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