Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Stuccowork And The Romans?

Different forms of stucco have been used throughout the Mediterranian for centuries. It was mainly comprised of a crushed or burned gypsum or lime that was mixed with water and sand. It had the ability to be easily molded into decorations, figurines and was even used in architectural work, such as ceilings, walls and floors. Some people even used it to make molds for metal accent pieces, using bronze.

What eventually would be called Roman Stuccowork, evolved during the Hellenistic Period and combined Greek and Egyptian methods. The Egyptians used stucco for sculptures, tombs and many other items, while the Greeks mainly used it for architectural reasons.

The Romans used more of the Greek's method when it came to mixing up their recipe by implementing a white lime type of plaster, which was very pliable and fairly lightweight. This was also the type of mix that was used in fresco paintings and is even mentioned by a few infamous authors of the period.

As the popularity of brick and cement construction grew, so did the interest for stuccowork. It was used in many different interior spaces, floors and sculptures in and around Europe.

paintings and stuccowork
Many artists that work in Italy created vast spaces in and around citizen's homes, in tombs of the dead, public buildings in the area and especially in bathrooms.

They oftentimes used paintings and stuccowork together to form a 3d model that would look as if it popped out of the painting. This is much more different than today's modern stucco uses.

The decorative pieces that were mounted high above the ground were often times secured with metal nails or rods. Some of these pieces were formed prior to the installation and others were applied directly to the wall and sculpted right on the spot. Sometimes they would stamp patterns into the walls that resembled the egg and dart look, which was something that was all too common in Roman wall paintings.

 Vaulted arches, ceilings and lunettes, were also made by the Romans using basic stuccowork principles. This type of look was inspired by Hellenistic buildings that were constructed from wood, stone or both. They were able to achieve this by using premade panels that had a specific design imprinted within it.

Some of these panels would have animals, vegetal artwork
and mythological creatures to name a few. 

Some examples can be seen like the ones at the Metropolitan Museum, which are small pieces of what made up a larger, more intricate arch that gives us insight on what these details really looked like.

If you look closely, you will notice the 3-D effect of the figurine. It was added to the background afterwards, when it was dry enough to add more material to. Most stuccowork like this was left white, but was occasionally painted.

There are so many more extraordinary examples of this type of artwork all around the world. This is one of my favorites architectural subjects, what about you?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Ancient Egyptian Artwork, What It Means

The Egyptians are known to have loved earthly life so much that they only wanted to take all that they could when the time comes for them to cross over to the afterlife. This civilization had a strong belief that the rich & powerful had the means to take the pleasures of life with them. They built the 

Pyramids and monumental tombs that could house all the goods they were willing to bring with them. All the dynasties of the Ancient Egypt designed the works that they left behind—the paintings, architecture, sculpture, tombs and monuments in a manner that will enable them to bring the worldly pleasures that they treasure to the after world.

The Role of Art

Valuable items such as jewelry as well as beloved animals (e.g. cats), essential tools, and even food items were placed inside the tombs—the house of the dead. When King Tut’s tomb was discovered,
ancient egyptian artwork
the Western world became familiar with many things about this ancient Egyptian practice which was being followed by generations of Egyptians for hundreds of years.

In Ancient Egypt most of the artworks and paintings were commissioned for the dead. There was an alternative for those who were not into stockpiling valuables in tombs. In order to ensure a pleasurable afterlife and save labor and expenses, they considered paintings that depicted treasures and which could replace actual sculptures, carvings, and other treasures.

Paintings were not just limited to the tombs but were also quite prominent as interior d├ęcor in many Egyptian homes. Well-to-do Egyptians commissioned huge murals which were richly textured. Although some of the finest artworks from ancient Egypt are found in the tombs.

Examples of Ancient Egyptian Art

"Geese of Medum" (2530 BC)

This is the most significant tomb paintings ever found. This painting features 3 majestic birds. “Geese of Medum” was found in the tomb of the 1st pharaoh of 4th dynasty, Nefermaat, the son of Sneferu. This work of art is primarily a frieze detail, but it’s an amazing representation of the power of the art forms of Ancient Egypt. 

Geese of Medum

 "Lamenting Women" (1370 BC)

This painting was found inside the tomb of Ramose. Ramose was a minister in the 18th dynasty who served under two pharaohs. The painting showcases a scene from an ancient Egyptian funeral procession. The women may appear flat but the expression of anguish on their faces is very emotive.

Lamenting Women

"Fowling Scene" (1400 BC)

This fresco secco painting is from the tomb of a nobleman in Thebes. In order to make this painting, the artist applied tempera paint to the dry plaster. This particular painting echoes the significance of nature in the ancient Egyptian culture.

Fowling Scene

The Significance of Art

The Ancient Egyptians highly valued the “eternal essence” and the unchanging reality which they tried to convey through visual art. For them, the main purpose of art was to manifest constancy rather than reflecting the changes that characterize reality. The ancient Egyptian artists observed nature keenly and were fascinated by it. However, the subject of their artworks and their art were produced based on the rigid standards of symbols and forms.

This point of view is not a reflection of "Primativism." The forms of Egyptian art which we see today were all created as a direct outcome of the decisions which sought to fulfill certain ideals. The outputs of ancient Egyptian artists clearly show that their level of technical skill was quite advanced. Their artworks also reveal how astute their understanding of nature was.

One of the most distinguishing features of Ancient Egyptian art is the way that each subject has been illustrated. They are always presented such that they are seen from an angle that will most clearly identify them based on a ranking founded on social hierarchy. Therefore, their appearance is almost diagram-like and highly patterned. To modern viewers it would look like Ancient Egyptian art is flat and severely lacking in perspective. This was due to the conscious choice of the artist.

All the subjects are presented very clearly. Human subjects presented in the art are revealed in profile all the time while both eyes are directed to the front. The figures are similarly presented and their size (small to large) is based upon their ranking in the social hierarchy. For instance, kids are represented as small adults.

Rules of Representation in the Ancient Egyptian art

Full-length figures follow the rule of proportion which involves a geometric grid that gives the artist the capability to present the artistic ideal. They divided the body into 18 equal units in reference to a grid system. This system was followed by Ancient Egyptian artists. The grid would be created before the figure is drawn and this is most evident in the painting, "Pharaoh Tuthmose III" (1450 BC).

A Break from Tradition

Egyptians also painted sculpture aside from tombs. This is evident in the work "Head of Nefertitti" from 1360 BC. This was a portrait of Pharaoh Akhenaten’s wife. This is an unusual artwork because it breaks from the familiar conventions and instead presents grace, originality and wistfulness. This break from tradition didn’t last because subtleness, realism, and naturalism had no place in Ancient Egypt.

What Is Wrong With The Queen Of Punt?
Picture: Relief number CN1146 can be found at the Egyptian Museum’s New Kingdom segment. This piece was recovered from the Hatchepsut's Temple (Deir el-Bahari in Thebes). 

It shows Chief Parihou along with his wife Ati, from the land of Punt handing over the gifts to Hatchepsut from the 18th Egyptian Dynasty. (According to some researchers, Punt is modern-day Somalia.)

The queen of Punt is believed to suffer from a pathological obesity which has become the subject of interest for endocrinologists, geneticists & pathologists. They believe it’s a unique kind of obesity.

The Queen has a rugged face and has been illustrated with femoral and gluteal obesity.

She also has symmetrical fat deposits on the thighs, limbs & trunk. Besides, the queen even has hyperlordosis and suffers from dermatologic conditions. (Neurofibromatosis, X linked dominant hypophosphatemic rickets, Launois Bensaude’ Lipomatosis, Achondroplasia, Dercum disease, Proteus syndrome Lipodystrophy & Familial obesity).

Here are some of these medical conditions to be considered:

Achondroplasia, commonly known as dwarfism, is an autosomal dominant genetic disorder. Since her height is within normal range for the women of her race, dwarfism can be called out. This is also evident based on the heights of the other people with her.

Dercum disease is a medical condition that is similar to lipomatosis. These are fatty growths which don’t disappear with weight loss and could be painless to painful. The Queen’s ample bottom could not be explained by this condition.

Lipomatosis is a condition wherein there are multiple lipomas that can be found in the body. It is not fully certain that the lipomas on the queen’s skin are high concentrations of fat & cellulite.

Launois Bensaude syndrome is a disorder wherein there are diffused fat deposits under the skin of the neck, the arms, legs, and upper trunk. Because this, the queen may be purely obese (severe type) rather than affected with a syndrome or serious medical condition.

Lipodystrophy is an illness related to adipose tissue that is attributed to metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance.

Neurofibromatosis is a disorder that is inherited. This genetic condition involves growth of nerve tissue tumors.

Proteus Syndrome is a condition with the following symptoms: tumors on more than half of the body, skin overgrowth, and an unusual development of bone. The Queen’s face is symmetric and therefore this is probably not what she suffers from. The reason behind the abnormal size of her upper skull cannot be determined. We can’t say for sure what is under her hairstyle.

X- linked dominant hypophosphatemic rickets is a rare disease that is hereditary and there’s excessive phosphate loss via the urine. This results to bones that are poorly formed, pain & tooth abscess as well. 

Though, medical specialists call it as the ‘syndrome of the queen of Punt', in reality queen Ati suffers from obesity.


This refers to the curvature of the lower part of the Queen’s vertebral column. Her bad posture is
EXCESSIVE LORDOSISmade worse by osteoarthritis, obesity 
(visceral fat), and pregnancy.

The Queen is believed to be 30 years old at that time. The life expectancy in her time was 40 years.

The Queen’s remains have not been found and so there is no means by which we can ascertain this.


Obesity is an obvious issue. The body of the queen is covered with excess fat and she has a
African woman with Steatopygia
African woman with Steatopygia
characteristic pear-shaped figure. The fat accumulation is more pronounced at the trunk, the belly, and the limbs.

During her time, obesity in women was perceived as a sign of fertility and wealth. Queen Ati was perceived to be a great beauty while she was reigning. The Queen presents with steatopygia, wherein the fat sticks out of her buttocks. This is usually accompanied by large labia. This is probably one reason why in Punt, obesity was tied closely to fertility. There are certain tribes in Africa where women show traits of steatopygia.


Obese people usually suffer from osteoarthritis which is the degradation of joints. There are many factors that influence the development of obesity (developmental, hereditary, metabolic and mechanical). In the Queen’s case, her excessive weight definitely factored in her joint problems. Her joints seem swollen & stiff. Her left arm & hand in particular are static, with the limitation of movement probably because of arthritic pain.


Take a note of the Queen’s bracelets. We can infer that the queen could be wearing magnetic bands to get relief from arthritic pain. In Ancient Egypt, lodestones (magnets) were popularly used for medical and therapeutic (magical, too) purposes. This practice must have crossed over to other territories. The Queen’s headband may also be worn as an amulet or for therapeutic purposes.

lodestones (magnets)

I believe that you may have found my views useful enough. In fact, they are without doubt a good way to know how deformity was illustrated by ancient Egyptian art: 'Freakish, but with a royal magnificence'. It’s for sure that the deformed individuals weren’t expelled from the society (even in the higher aristocracy) and hence, they weren’t excluded from the art.

The above post is my personal thought regarding the medical condition of the queen of Punt. However, it doesn’t target particular individuals or a group of people.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Citizens Of Ancient Egypt

The Egyptian people were smart, very socially active, physical and peaceful at heart.  No matter how many problems their civilization faced, they always seemed to maintain their level of pride and positive attitude towards life in general.  The three main things that their lives revolved around were their families, their work and their gods.  There really is no other civilization that celebrated life and prepared for death like the Egyptians did.

Image Courtesy Of:

Due to the fact that life in Egypt was rough, the average man or woman only lived to be around 35 years old. This was really only true for the lower classes, as many of the upper class citizens had access to a much better diet and avoided the strenuous labor that was common in those times.
Their were five main classes of citizens that were divided up based on their individual professions.

This created a hierarchy type of social status that marked the individual based on their skills.

The elite class of citizens were all of the royalty, which were born into the lifestyle, so one could not control who was elected for these positions, it was decided on a heir of the present king and queen at the time.

The second class was made up of religious figures, such as the Vizier, high priests and the noble citizens. The third was primarily made up of government officials, doctors, engineers and priests. Skilled workers like craftsmen, merchants, soldiers and laborers made up the majority of the fourth class. The lowest class had no real skills and was comprised of fishermen and unskilled laborers. Slaves were at the bottom of the list and were brought into the country from foreign regions. If people were captured during war, then they were often sold as slaves later on.

It was also possible for citizens to sell themselves into slavery, at a later date they could also buy themselves out of slavery.  Slaves in these times were treated quite well and were compensated for their services.  They would perceive food and housing, in addition to various provisions like oils and linens.  A select few even owned their land outright.

Someone who was in the poorest class could actually rise in the ranks of society, with adequate education, training and the right amount of determination.  Talent was recognized in these times and was rewarded, the matter what class a citizen belonged to.

The percentage of literate citizens was quite high, considering that writing was a fairly new invention.  The estimated numbers were somewhere between 1 and 5%.  A lot of the common people at the time were semi literate as well.  Literacy expanded and continued to develop through-out Egypt.