Tag Archives: art history

Pendants and Papyri

“I arrive as a dweller on earth-I do what is right”

– the coffin of Hor, incense priest of Amun, Late New Kingdom (22nd Dynasty, circa 850 BCE)

 

First, props to the ancient Egyptian scribes. Papyrus is not easy to paint on.

Ancient Egyptian scribes started young, probably around age 9. They had an intricate language to learn!  

Egyptian hieroglyphics consisted of several hundred symbols, most of which could be used phonetically or as more of an ideogram, depending on their context and nearby modifying symbols. Hieroglyphics is used to refer to the most formal written form of their language, the version represented on public buildings and funerary art. It could run right to left, left to right, or top to bottom.

There was a cursive version called hieratic that scribes used for contracts, records and letters. In later times another variant called demotic appeared. It was probably a descendant of the hieratic styles of northern Egypt and became more common once the Greeks conquered Egypt.

So by the late period a scribe would have to know at least three written versions of his native tongue plus Greek. (Hieroglyphics were still used for public buildings and religious regalia.)

A scribe’s basic materials were simple: a wooden palette with a few holes for different colors of ink (made from soot or ground minerals plus beeswax) and reed pens.

The ancient Egyptians were the first to write on paper. They created theirs from the papyrus plant, a tall reed with a thick triangular body. The outer layers were peeled off, then the pith was cut into strips. Those strips would be placed in two layers, one horizontal and the other vertical. They’d be covered in linen and pressed. The fibers would adhere together with their own sap to form a durable paper.

My papyrus was in the form of a notebook I was given as a gift years ago. (Ah, modern comforts!)

This piece is, oddly enough, based on one of my favorite t-shirts. I bought it at the British Museum when I was there years ago. I loved the saying, but almost never wear t-shirts anymore. So somewhere along the line of sealing images behind glass to wire wrap, my brain went well you have that papyrus that you never used…

I made a few attempts to scale down the hieroglyphics. Based on a t-shirt. Based on the painting on a coffin. So it’s at least once again removed from the original. If anyone has a proper image of this inscription I’d love to see it! I found the exhibit information listed on the British Museum’s website, but they didn’t have images of the right portion of the coffin.

(I’m sure it’s somewhere along the perimeter of the wooden coffin, that’s where the styles match up…)

I wasn’t sure what colors to use. The shirt wasn’t terribly close to the original colors and the coffin was paint on wood rather than ink on papyrus. So I chose copper, green, blue and brown metallic paints since those colors crop up in Ancient Egyptian art fairly often, and I thought the metallic colors were pretty and might be a nod to their jewelry. I outline the hieroglyphs in black to try to preserve their shape.

(Given the texture of the papyrus I’m thinking a stiffer brush might be worth trying the next time, though I suspect paint texture has a lot to do with how well it would flow.)

Then I sealed the papyrus behind glass and waterproofed the papyrus from behind as well. I usually paint the back before sealing it, but I wanted to keep the texture of the papyrus. You can see the two directions of the stems and I was afraid that painting the back would lessen that effect.

Once it was dry I wrapped it in silver coated copper, bronze and blue colored copper. I topped it off with a blue lapis bead, because, really, it was that or carnelian for classic Egyptian jewelry gems, and carnelian didn’t match!

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The Impression that I get

Impressionism is almost a cliché by now- it’s on address books and calendars and dorm room walls.

But I still find it a great inspiration. I feel like I grew up with the French Impressionists. My mother was a fan, and I read Cristin Bjork’s Linnea in Monet’s Garden as a little girl.

Like the girl in the book, I had decided to test this up close dots and splotches and far away sunlit garden effect in person, moving closer and further to watch the magic happen. (Rather to the concern of the security guards and my parents!)

Impressionism as a movement dates from the late 19th century. It was a snide term tossed out in a review of a group show upon seeing Claude Monet’s Impression, Sunrise. (A painting that is famous for giving the movement it’s name, but not so much for being an excellent example of its intent…)

Impression, Sunrise

Impression, Sunrise

Though they’re considered establishment today, in their day the Impressionists were (admittedly briefly) the radicals of the art world. They ignored centuries of received wisdom about color and composition, and the value of detail and precision. Instead they focused on capturing light, finding a way to show the passage of time in the feel of the lighting. They emphasized brush strokes, and by playing with the effects of adjacent colors seen from a distance.

The French Impressionists also tended to take a more human view of the world. Their landscapes had ordinary people, bathers on the coast or people eating lunch. Monet’s famous flowers were from his garden, not plucked out of nature untamed.

They used the world around them, and its people, as their subjects.

Many also took advantage of modern technology, not looking towards an idealized past, but taking in the world around them.

Gritty and dirty and terribly useful, train stations could serve both as models and as the transport that allowed city living artists to get to the countryside in a timely fashion for painting in the open air. Progress in chemistry created new paints which allowed for new shades, and much more affordable variants of the classic ones.

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Magritte’s Peridot

Peridot Flower ArrangementEarlier this summer I went to the World Association of Flower Arrangers Show. I thought it was a regular flower show, so it was not the photography nirvana that I’d been hoping for. The lighting was abysmal, but there were some really clever category challenges.

My favorite was ‘mineral’. The challenge was based on composing a monochrome composition evocative of a mineral. Not all minerals are monochrome, of course… Some pieces really shone, though plenty skipped the mineral inspiration and stuck to color alone.

There was a great arrangement based on peridot. The clean shape and lines combined with such a perfect green were a nice nod to both August’s birthstone (and perhaps unintentionally) to the Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte.

Son of Man by Rene Magritte

Son of Man by Rene Magritte

Magritte is probably best known for his 1964 portrait, The Son of Man. His paintings are often crisp, with sharp lines and a clear demarcation of color. His idealized yet realistic style underscored the unreliability of images.

The classic example is his Ceci n’est pas une pipe. It’s a painting of a pipe with a line underneath it stating ‘this is not a pipe.’ Which is true, it is an image of a pipe. As the artist himself pointed out, try putting tobacco in it. He revisits this same point in the lesser known Ceci n’est pas une pomme, which came to my mind along with The Son of Man when I saw the peridot arrangement at the show.

Peridot is a pale to middling green gemstone. It’s reasonably durable so suitable for rings. Unlike emeralds, which range from pure to blue tinted green, peridot is normally on the yellow shades of green. (It is also known as olivine for it’s tendency towards olive greens.)

What’s interesting is that it is one of the few gemstones that is almost never treated, so the richness of color you see is truly natural. Also interesting is that peridot has been found in meteorites. I got to see a sample at a gem show last week. They weren’t the most beautiful stones, but it was fascinating to see them growing with the so very foreign metal.

Large stones of the purer green color are unusual and becoming harder to come by. That’s part of the reason I mostly use peridot in my tree of life pendants, stones large enough to wire wrap are few and far between. In chips and cabochons peridot tends to have great dept of color, but it also takes faceting well and paler green ones can sparkle brilliantly.

Like most gems that have been known since ancient times, peridot is surrounded by myths and metaphysical attributions. My favorite is that it is supposed to neutralize jealousy and envious thoughts, and so aid in friendships.

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