Saturday, April 6, 2013

Icons of Power – Revelations though ancient Egyptian art

Press Release: University of Auckland
5 April 2013

Icons of Power – Revelations though ancient Egyptian art

Ancient Egyptians depicted races from other lands as ‘alien’; weaker enemies as inferior, and more respected ones elevated in portrayals, according to a recent book Icons of power by Anthony Spalinger, University of Auckland Professor of Ancient History.

Published by Charles University in Prague the 228 page study explores the Egyptian narrative art and the ancient Egyptian concept of foreigners as ‘other.’

Icons of Power is a major contribution to Art History as well as Egyptology, with presentation and discussion of the ancient art and techniques used in wall reliefs from the Egyptian New Kingdom during the Empire Period (18th to 20th Dynasties). It promises to hold wide appeal for Egyptologists, scholars, historians and those interested in ancient art.

Content covers the entire stone wall reliefs of the temples found in Thebes, the Egyptian religious capital of the New Kingdom period, and the centre of worship of Amun-Ra, the Egyptian Sun god. It includes original colour photographs and extensive diagrams.

“The wall reliefs are arranged in registers, which are sequences of scenes very much like a series of photos. These registers are created in rows. Viewing them is almost like walking with a tour guide. All scenes are idealised images – They didn’t need to be real, but they did need to show the power of the Pharoah,” says Professor Spalinger.

Common in theme, these reliefs depicted idealised images of the King setting out for battle and returning. They showed how the Egyptians viewed races from other lands as alien. Each group of people were depicted differently, from their clothing and weaponry to their actions.

“Asiatic peoples from the North, Nubians from the South and Libyans from the West were each presented in a unique way reflecting the Egyptian experience and perspective of each race.

“Those perceived as weaker were depicted inferior. The more respected enemies were elevated in depictions. For example, the Nubians were seen as primitive; They were leaderless with no settled society, they didn’t have technology, and lacked distinguishing factors as a group – As such they were never depicted with chariots or weapons. Libyans were always shown as surrendering through their chief, while Nubians were always shown fleeing a scene,” says Professor Spalinger.

There is a dramatic aspect to the stories – Each has a climax and tells a tale of defeat. The King is always shown leaving from the Temple, taking the victory, and returning to the temple victorious.

Anthony Spalinger is Professor in Ancient History, specializing in Egyptology. His interest is the interconnections in the ancient world; diplomacy, trade, technology, arts and literature, and the way these interact, all of which are brought to bear in Icons of Power.

Professor Spalinger received his PhD from Yale University in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. He came to Auckland University in 1981 and has remained in the Department of Classics & Ancient History specialising in pharaonic Egypt (Egypt before Alexander the Great). He has taught extensively in his area of speciality and has published over eight monographs and 125 articles/chapters.


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