Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Books: You Call That Art? Volume 56 Number 3, May/June 2003
by Mark Rose

[image]An Old Kingdom limestone statue of a scribe named Kai, from his tomb at Saqqara, ca. 2450 B.C. (The Louvre) [LARGER IMAGE]

There are no words in ancient Egyptian that would translate easily as "art" or "artist," according to the Ashmolean Museum's Jaromir Malek in his new book Egypt: 4000 Years of Art (New York: Phaidon, 2003; $39.95). The Egyptians, he writes, did not share our modern understanding of artistic creativity but considered artists to be highly skilled craftsmen. Turn to any of the nearly four hundred artworks presented in this volume, however, and you'll see a masterpiece. Malek's text--a brief overview of Egyptian art--serves as a preface to this catalog, which combines exquisite photographs and short descriptions of objects (plus a few buildings) from ca. 4000 B.C. to A.D. 180. Lots of the objects are well known--there are old favorites from Tutankhamun's tomb and the bust of Nefertiti--but there are also many that are seen less often, such as an exceptional painted limestone statue of a scribe named Kai. The descriptions relate the individual pieces to some of the themes developed in the introduction, like the link between art and ideas about religion, social hierarchy, and the afterlife. As an introduction to the subject, Egypt: 4000 Years of Art is an impressive work.

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© 2003 by the Archaeological Institute of America