The ideas/ concepts of the essay is from the book "The Art of Ancient Egypt" by Gay Robins

Ancient Egyptian Art

The ideas/ concepts of the essay is from the book “The Art of Ancient Egypt” by Gay Robins

For your first essay assignment, you will be asked to choose a single piece from a museum’s Egyptian collection and write a brief essay discussing the ways in which it exemplifies the concepts and characteristics associated with Egyptian art.

You may choose pieces of Egyptian art for this assignment from either the Brooklyn Museum’s Egyptian collection or the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  It is strongly recommended, however, that you use the Brooklyn Museum for this assignment, as the next assignment must be the other museum, and tends to benefit from the greater number of pieces at the Metropolitan Museum.

Looking at the actual, original piece (rather than just photographs) is an essential part of this assignment.  For this reason, excellent as they are, the framed facsimile paintings of Egyptian tomb paintings at the Metropolitan Museum are excluded from this assignment.  For obvious reasons, no pieces that are discussed in detail on the museums’ web sites or on labels or in your course books can be used in this assignment.  I have also embargoed the statues of Senenmut and of Pepi II and his mother at Brooklyn.  Moreover, to show that you have examined the original piece in order to write your paper, you must turn in a dated receipt or tag for admission to the museum from which the piece comes with your name written on the back by the 22nd.  This is part of the assignment:  with no proof of a visit to the museum, the paper will not count.

Choosing what to write about.  Your paper will describe how the piece you have chosen illustrates the principles of Egyptian art that we have studied.  It is therefore important to choose a work that exemplifies these principles.  The work may be a piece of sculpture, relief art, or painting.  Be certain, before leaving the museum, that you have chosen a piece that you have something to say about.  Simply choosing a piece that you find beautiful will not necessarily give you material for a good essay.  (Remember that the pieces that appeal most to a Western eye are often those that have the fewest distinctively Egyptian features.)  I would strongly advise choosing one of the more obscure pieces, since it will be possible to say something original that I haven’t read or thought of before—a key component for an A paper.  Make all the necessary notes on the piece—but don’t copy label or visitor’s guide information word for word, since that leads to unintentional plagiarism (see below).  If you want to discuss something on the text of the label or the museum website, however, note where you got it and cite it as “(website)” or “(label),” so I won’t wonder how you know.  The point here, however, is your own observations and interpretations, not collecting the interpretations of others.

Contents of the Essay:  Your essay should briefly describe the piece   The description should be entirely your own, excepting only translations of inscriptions from the label or website.  Then discuss the way the piece embodies some of the theories of Egyptian representation that we have discussed.  These may include concepts such as the multiplicity of approaches and nesting of variant ideas; the expression of the tension between existence and the undifferentiated chaos of non-existence; the integration of art with hieroglyphic writing, patterns in orientation; the magical reality of the word and image; indications of comparative status, decorum, and any other concepts you have come across in your reading.  You may also discuss the way the piece embodies the principles of representation we have discussed, including questions of frontality rectangularity, and verticality; idealization versus portraiture; the aspective approach to two-dimensional representations, the interactions of raised and sunk relief, and the way the status of the person represented affects the representation. You may also discuss the techniques and materials used, but there is no need to go into technical detail.  Nor is it appropriate to include long explanations of the principles of Egyptian art without a clear reference to the piece you are discussing.

Obviously, you will not be able to do all of this, since not every piece exhibits all these characteristics; select the points you want to talk about, based on the nature of the piece you have chosen.  Note that just naming or describing an aspect of the piece and then citing the characteristic or principle you think it exemplifies does not really do this.  The point of the assignment is to explain how the piece corresponds to the conventions of Egyptian artistic representation.  Make sure your essay makes it clear what it is that marks the piece as Egyptian,   and how you think it exemplifies the constraints of Egyptian art.


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