Egyptian ostracons (part 1)
In the art of Ancient Egypt there are monuments that make up a special group. These are works of graphic art – drawings on brackons. The Greek word “ostrakon” literally means shard, a fragment of ceramics. However, in relation to the art of Ancient Egypt, it has a more capacious meaning. By this word, it is customary to understand drawings executed not only on fragments of ceramics, but mostly on chips of stone (usually limestone), less often wood, that is, on material that was always at hand with the masters who were engaged in the decorative design of the tombs of Theban necropolis – painting walls , the manufacture of statues and items of funerary inventory.
Most ostracons were found in the excavations of the settlement of Deir el Medina, where the craftsmen who served the royal necropolis in the Valley of the Kings lived. It was located on the west bank of the Nile opposite the capital’s Thebes. The ostracons found here belong to the end of the New Kingdom (1314–1085 BC), to the XIX – XX dynasties.
Even in ancient times, around the 4th millennium BC. e., in ancient Egypt there was a whole system of ideas about the afterlife. The funeral cult found expression in caring for the dead, who, according to the beliefs of the Egyptians, continued to exist in the other world. The tomb served as the habitat of the deceased, and therefore its design was attached great importance. The tombs and chapels in the temples were vividly painted.
The murals of the tombs of the kings and court nobles resembled a detailed scroll of papyrus, on which magical texts were written, designed to provide the deceased with eternal life in the afterlife. Such texts were illustrated by drawings with canonized plots.
In addition to traditional motifs, less common ones appear in the era of the New Kingdom. In the reliefs of the Temple of Amun in Karnak, one can see the acrobatic dance full of dynamics and expression and a peculiar landscape in the so-called Botanical Relief. Landscape motifs are also found in wall paintings and drawings on ostracons, the compositions of which were replete with new image techniques: trees with a lush, branchy crown began to be interpreted more beautifully, the contours of branches and trunk were either completely devoid of a conditional stroke, or it was very thin. The color becomes more refined, the colors more saturated. In landscape ostracons, date palms often appear with monkeys on the branches. Such plots allow us to speak about strengthening contacts with Nubia in the era of the New Kingdom, since the Egyptians associated monkeys and date palms with this country.
Egyptian craftsmen used natural dyes. The color palette of drawings on ostracons is more restrained in comparison with the murals. Most of them are made of brick-red or black paint, or in the traditional range of four colors: black (gray), ocher red, orange, yellow, brown, green (mostly light) and sometimes white. Blue paint was used less often.
The Egyptian master, as a rule, subordinated the variety of natural colorful combinations to the established color scheme, using the coloring technique. Artists compared colors, adhering to the principle of decorative contrast. They avoided gradation of shades, this could give the composition a spatial illusion. What the masters saw in reality, they knew how to organically translate in a conditional manner of image.
Already at an early stage in the development of ancient Egyptian art, the motif of a boat with the figure of a seated or standing rower floating among thickets of papyrus and lotus is spreading in reliefs and paintings. This plot, connected with the idea of the posthumous voyage of the deceased, was of a ritual character. The stems of papyrus served as the boundary between the earthly and the other worlds, and lotus flowers symbolized a rebirth to eternal life. The image of the rower corresponds to the accepted rules for transferring a figure on a plane with a combination of shaped and shaped elements.