The Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus and The Narmer Palette
Case Study: The Narmer Palette
Created as a large ceremonial palette for the preparation of the eye make-up used by Egyptians, the Narmer Palette is a relief and is also an early Egyptian historical record. The palette is created in the classic Egyptian style and is rich in symbolism.
The Predynastic, Egyptian Narmer Palette is a finely carved ceremonial palette designed for the preparation of the eye makeup used by the Egyptians to protect their eyes from the sun. According to Fred Kleiner in Art through the Ages, the palette has low-relief registers subdivide the palette to form an organized pictorial narrative that depicts the unification of Lower and Upper Egypt (Kleiner, p.42).
The images on the palette are very symbolic in nature. The overall message of the palette is one of celebration of uniting the “two culturally and politically distinct regions of Egypt” (Friedman). On the front, Narmer wears the cone-shaped White Crown of Upper Egypt and a bull’s tail and a false beard that were worn only by the king. On the other side, the king is wearing the same false beard and tail, but the crown is the Red Crown of Lower Egypt. This has often been assumed to represent the unification of Egypt in about 3,100 B.C.E. (Kleiner, p42). To further cement the theme, the middle register on the palette's front shows two men restraining the intertwined necks of two, part leopard and part snake, animals. The taming of these two wild and linked animals symbolizes the fusing and taming of Upper and Lower Egypt. The symbolism continues on the back of the palette in the second register with the exaggerated size of the king. “Narmer was portrayed double the size of his sandal bearer and prime minister. The standard bearers are half the size of the sandal bearer and prime minister. The scale of any one person was based on his or her importance in society rather than actual size.” (Arts & Humanities, p276). Also, on the back of the palette is the image of a falcon perched upon the 6 reeds growing out of a personified marshland. The symbol of the king, the falcon, is pulling the breath of life from the mouth of the marshland, symbolizing the king’s victory over the wet marshland of the Nile Delta of Lower Egypt. Finally, on the bottom front of the palette the king is shown in the form of a bull trampling the enemy and destroying fortified walls, showing the king’s strength against those who tried to stand against him (Friedman).
The figures on the palette were carved in the usual Egyptian style, showing multiple perspectives per figure. The head, torso, legs, and feet are shown in profile, but the eye and shoulders are carved as if seen from the front. The goal of the artist is not realism but to present the concept of a person. “Thus Egyptian style is described as conceptual rather than visual because it meant to convey a concept or an idea rather than an image.” (Art & Humanities, p275)
Originally found at Hierakonpolis, Upper Egypt by J.P. Quibell, the palette currently resides at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
Narmer, also known as Menes, was king of ancient Egypt during the first dynasty. He was the first Pharaoh with remaining historical records. “According to tradition, he seems to have united the southern and northern kingdoms and to have settled on a new capital, later known as Memphis.” (Menes). The pallet was created in celebration of Upper and Lower Egypt becoming a united country under the pharaoh, Narmer. The palette shows “the unification of the two lands after a bloody battle won by Narmer, who marched forth from his capital of Hierakonpolis in about 3100 B.C.” (Friedman), but it is now known that the process of unification was a gradual centuries long process. Historians know little about who were the acting conquerors but most scholars believe the conquest was led by King Narmer from Upper Egypt” The unification of Upper and Lower Egypt was the beginning of the First Dynasty and the transition from the prehistorical to the historical period.
This owl plaque is a very good example of High relief. The beak and eyes stand out from the base enough to cast shadows on itself. To be considered high relief the form must extend at least half its’ own depth from the background.
Relief plaque with face of an owl
10.3 x 11.1 x 2.5 cm
Like the Narmer Palette, this temple fragment is a low relief. A low relief projects slightly from the background.
Tomb of the Overseer of Priests and Keeper of the sacred Cattle
ca. 2100–2030 B.C.
50 cm x. 44 cm
The delicate branches and leaves show the Egyptian outline style of reliefs. (The grapes were created as a sunk relief.) Outline reliefs are created by carving only the outline of the image into the stone. It is a style that is often used with paint.
ca. 1353–1336 B.C
23 cm x 42 cm
This is an example of Egyptian sunk relief. To create this style of relief the artist cuts the outlines of the figures into the surface. This type of relief was often used on the outside of buildings, where the sunlight would cast shadows to emphasize the outlines.
Akhenaten Sacrificing a Duck
ca. 1353–1336 B.C
H. 24.5 cm; w. 54.5 cm
Case Study: The Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus
An exceptionally large sarcophagus, the front of the Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus is a relief of the violent battle, rich in history, between the Romans and the barbarians. The battle scene is created in the style typical to Late Antiquity and is an early example of the break with the classical style.
Created for Hernnius, son of Emperor Decius, the battle between the Romans and the barbarians is documented as a relief sculpture on the Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus. The image depicts a young and bold general fighting without helmet or weapon. His head is marked with the symbol of Mithras, the Persian god of truth, light and victory. The Romans fight against a barbaric foe, most likely the Goths. (Kleiner,200). The barbarians are differentiated by the clothing, beards, and hairstyles that stand in contrast to the clean shaven Romans. The young warrior is believed to be the image of Hernnius as he fought in the battle in which both he and his father died, becoming the first Roman emperors to die in battle against a foreign foe. It was made around 250-260 CE.
The young general stands boldly surveying the battle without a helmet or weapon symbolizing the general's confidence in his ability to win the battle. The symbol of Mithras, an oriental mystery religion is carved on the forehead of the main figure lets the viewer know that the confidence and security the general has comes from his trust in his god to provide victory (Kleiner, pg 200).
Spotlight on Symbolism: Mithras
The worship of Mithras was one of the many oriental mystery religions embraced by the Romans in the first century. The Persian god Mithras was the "god of light, truth and victory over death" (Kleiner pg 200). While popular with Roman legionaries, imperial slaves, and ex-slaves, Mithraists could also be found in the imperial households. According to Claudia Moser of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, since there is very little Mithraic writing all "evidence of the cult, its rituals, and customs comes from archaeological finds and depictions of the god" (Moser).
Mithraism was a very secretive male only cult. The cult members met in a mithraeum, "an underground vaulted grotto with complex astronomical and planetary symbolism." (Moser) The cult practiced in small groups, with only ten to twelve members. "Initiates into this secret cult immediately entered a priestly hierarchy, an order of seven grades, each with specific planets, costumes, rituals, and disciplines aimed at self-advancement" (Moser). The story of Mithra's capture and sacrifice of a sacred bull which created all the good things of the earth was the model for the cult's practice of ritualistic sacrifice of a bull and the eating of its flesh. (Mithra)
The battle scene of the Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus is an early example of the style used during the late antiquity period. Fred Kleiner, in Art through the Ages, describes “the spread of writhing and highly emotive figures evenly across the entire relief, with no illusion of space behind” (Kleiner, pg200) as an “extreme rejection of Classical perspective” (Kleiner, pg 200). The placement of the main figure as front and center is also common of Late Antiquity style. These frontal poses were inspired by Middle Eastern art.
Sculptures in Late Antiquity moved away from the beauty, movement and idealized realism of the classical period and became iconic and attempted to show the essence of the actual subject. “Naturalism in sculpture was in full retreat in the third century” (Arts 428). As the classical standard of realism and naturalism in art gave way to a more religious and iconic style, the art from late antiquity was the transitional period of the classical perspective into the more iconic style of the medieval period.
Spotlight on Style: From Classical to Late Antiquity
Created to Honor Antoninus Pius during the High Empire, this relief is done in the Classical tradition.
Single Ground line
Use of Naturalism
Early break with the classical
Part of the same column of Antoninus Pius as the previous example, the Decursio relief is an early break with the classical perspective.
Floating ground lines
The ground is the entire backdrop of the relief.
Return to the Iconic
The Tetrarchs are portrayed together as equal partners. The artist breaks with the classical style, returning to an iconic view of the individuals.
The Tetrarchs are:
The Tetrarchs lack:
The Junius Bassus Sarcophagus created in Late Antiquity has many characteristic of the style that emerged after the classical style.
Caius Messius Quintus Decius was born in 201ce. He was the Roman emperor from 249 until his death in 251. He was sent by Philip the Arabian to quell a mutiny, but returned leading the munity and killed Philip near Verona, and accepted the title of emperor. When Emperor Decius took control of the Roman Empire in the third century he inherited a severe economic depression. “There is much evidence to show that the economic structure of the Empire was crumbling. Very soon the outlying territories of the Empire were overrun by barbarians, trade collapsed, and brigandage and piracy reappeared on a large scale. All of this was accompanied by a rapid rise in the prices of the commodities of life” (Oborn, 67). In an attempt to rebuild the state and reestablish the state religion he persecuted, exiled, and martyred the Christians.
The sarcophagus is believed to have been made for Emperor Decius’s son and heir, Hernnius Etruscus. Both Decius and Hernnius were killed, defending against invading Goths who were attacking in Dobruja (Decius). The battle depicted on the sarcophagus is between the Romans and their enemy the barbarians, most likely the Goths. The term barbarian is a Greco-Roman term for all who did not speak Greek. “Barbarians were a collectivity only when seen from a Greco-Roman or Mediterranean perspective.”(Goffart) The barbarians included the Irish, the Persians, the Berbers, the Sarmatians and many more. “In most narratives, the barbarians of the invasion period are identified as the Germanic peoples.”(Goffart) The Romans had centuries of experience battling these northern foes.
The Narmer Palette and the Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus both have a great deal in common. Over 3,000 years separate the two historical battles commemorated in these works of the art, yet they both depict the battles with similar imagery. Both battle scenes highlight the commander of the warriors as an integral part of the bloody and violent battle. The casualties of war are included in both with the images of piled bodies.
Even though both are reliefs that depict a violent battle, the artists chose very different ways to present the narrative. While the Narmer Palette has an organized space, with the use of lines to break the narrative into registers and provide a ground line for the figures, the battle scene of the Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus is chaotic with overlapping, writhing bodies with no “illusion of space behind them.” (Kleiner, 200)
Both pieces were created at the beginning of an era. The Narmer Palette was created as Egypt moved into the historical period and the 1st dynasty and set the standard for Egyptian historical reliefs for generations to come. The Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus was created at emergence of the Late Antiquity style, when artists were becoming disenchanted with the classical style and looking for other forms of expression in art.
Both pieces are utilitarian, created with a purpose other than just artistic. The Narmer Palette was created for ceremonial make-up preparation, one of the rare pieces of Egyptian art not related to their funerary practices. It was common practice for the Egyptians to use a dark make-up to outline their eyes. This was done for more than aesthetic purposes. It was worn as protection against irritation and the glare of the sun. According to an article in Review of Optometry, the Egyptians used two non-natural lead chlorides in the make-up. The Egyptians believed these compounds provided magical protection against ocular disease and skin infection and did, in fact, boost the immune system and help prevent the “eye infections caused by bacteria that were likely prevalent in the Nile River Valley following floods” (How). Palettes, like the Narmer Palette, were used to prepare the kohl for application to the eyes. The Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus was created for the emerging funeral customs of the Romans. Up until the second century the Romans cremated their dead. According to Heather Awan, of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the “Sarcophagi had been used for centuries by the Etruscans and the Greeks; when the Romans eventually adopted inhumation as their primary funerary practice, both of these cultures had an impact on the development of Roman sarcophagi” (Awan). The lid was often a full-length sculptural of the deceased reclining as if on a banquet couch much like the earlier Etruscan sarcophagi. Narrative scenes from Greek mythology were often carved on the sarcophagi as well as battle and hunting scenes.
These two works commemorating bloody battles in history were created thousands of years apart, by different cultures, but both are an important part of art history.
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Some other useful sources
Arts & Humanities Through The Eras. Thmson/Gale, 2005. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 30 May 2012. http://ehis.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.umuc.edu/eds/ebo...
Awan, Heather T. "Roman Sarcophagi". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. Web. 6 June 2012. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/rsar/hd_rsar.htm
"Decius." (n.d.): Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia. Web. 23 June 2012. http://ehis.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.umuc.edu/eds/det... a7b6be433397d649%40sessionmgr110&vid=15&hid=121&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxp dmUmc2NvcGU9c2l0ZQ%3d%3d#db=funk&AN=DE023900
Friedman, Renee. "City Of The Hawk." Archaeology 56.6 (2003): 50. Academic Search Complete. Web. 30 May 2012. http://ehis.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.umuc.edu/eds
Goffart, Walter. "Rome, Constantinople, and the Barbarians." The American Historical Review. Vol. 86, No. 2 (Apr., 1981), pp. 275-306. Web. 12 June 2012. http://ehis.ebscohost.com.
"Goths." (n.d.): Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia. Web. 12 June 2012. http://ehis.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.umuc.edu/eds/det... 54e0-4216-b24c-cf9fb66c801f%40sessionmgr114&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmUmc
"How The Pharaohs Fought Ocular Infection." Review Of Optometry 147.2 (2010): 12. Academic Search Complete. Web. 14 June 2012. http://ehis.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.umuc
Kleiner, Fred S. Gardner's Art through the Ages. Boston: Clark Baxter, 2010. Print
Moser, Claudia. "Eastern Religions in the Roman World". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York:
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 200. Web. 6 June 2012. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/errw/hd_errw.htm
"Menes." Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6Th Edition (2011): 1. Academic Search Complete. Web. 14 June 2012. http://ehis.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.umuc.edu/eds/det...
"Mithra." Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6Th Edition (2011): 1. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 23 May 2012. http://ehis.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.umuc.edu/eds/det... 4bdb-828c-445d71aea52b%40sessionmgr10&vid=13&hid=5&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRz
Oborn, George Thomas. "Why Did Decius and Valerian Proscribe Christianity?" Church History. Vol. 2, No. 2 (Jun., 1933), pp. 67-77. Web. 23 June 2012. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3691999
Map of Ancient Egypt. Map of upper and lower Egypt, including Hierakonpolis. Web. 27 June 2012. http://www.bible-history.com/geography/maps/map_ph...
Unknown Artist. Mithras sacrificing the Bull. Relief. Web. 12 June 2012. http://aramis.obspm.fr/~heydari/divers/marianne-en...
Unknown Egyptian Artist. Palette of King Narmer. 3000 B.C. Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Web. 25 May 2012. http://www.oneonta.edu/faculty/farberas/arth/arth1...
Unknown Egyptian Artist. Tomb of the Overseer of Priests and Keeper of the sacred Cattle. ca. 1353- 1336 B.C. Relief. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Web. 26 May 2012. www.metmuseum.org
Unknown Egyptian Artist. Relief plaque with face of an owl. 400-30 B.C. High Relief. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Web. 26 May 2012. www.metmuseum.org
Unknown Egyptian Artist. Akhenaten Sacrificing a Duck. ca. 1353-1336 B.C. Relief. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Web. 26 May 2012. www.metmuseum.org
Unknown Egyptian Artist . Grapevine. ca. 1353-1336 B.C. Relief. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Web. 26 May 2012. www.metmuseum.org
Unknown Roman Artists. Apotheosis of Antoninus Pius and Faustina. 161 CE. Relief. Musei Vaticani, Rome. Web. 6 June 2012. http://www.museumsyndicate.com/item.php?item=36615
Unknown Roman Artist. Battle Scene of Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus. 252 CE. Relief. Museo Nazionale Romano Unknown Roman Artist. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Grande_Ludovisi_...
Unknown Roman Artist. Detail of a replica of the Ludovisi Sarcophagus. RÃ¶misch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum. Web. 28 June 2012. http://www.livius.org/de- dh/decius/hostilianus.html
Unknown Roman Artist. Decursio Relief on pedestal of the Column of Antoninus Pius. 161 CE. Relief.
Rome, Italy. Web. 6 June 2012. http://www.dartmouth.edu/~rogerulrich/ant_pius_col...
Unknown Roman Artist. Portraits of the Four Tetrarchs. 305 CE. Sculpture. Saint Marks, Venice. Web. 6 June 2012. http://www.livius.org/cn-cs/constantinople/constan...
Unknown Roman Artist. Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus. 359 CE. Relief. Vatican, Grottoes of St. Peter. Web. 6 June 2012. http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/sarcophagus-of... bassus.html?q=sarcophagus-of-junius-bassus.html
Other Works Consulted
Museum of Antiquities. University of Saskatchewan. "Narmer Palette." 2009. Web. 31 May 2012. /www.usask.ca/antiquities/collection/egyptian/narmer.html>