African Leadership Art

African Art Essay

Jun 5, 2020 at Other Free Essays

Overview of the Pieces of Art

In the first half of the 2nd millennium BC, the basis of the monumental style of Egyptian art was established. The pictorial canons, which were kept firmly over the centuries, were developed. Their persistence is accounted for the peculiarities of the development of African society and the fact that at the same time, the Egyptian people were an integral part of worship and funeral ritual. Egyptians were all African people (ARTH 127A: Analysis of Egyptian Art 2016). Therefore, they contributed to the development of African conventions of representations as a whole. Their pieces of art involve common characteristic features of the period and culture. This paper will examine two pieces of art (the sculpture of Pharaoh Menkaure flanked by Hathor and wife Khamerernebty and the Great Sphinx) within the context of African leadership art.

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Pharaoh Menkaure flanked by Hathor and wife Khamerernebty

The sculpture of Pharaoh Menkaure flanked by Hathor and wife Khamerernebty is kept in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the USA. It is the piece of art of the Old Kingdom created during the reign of the Fourth dynasty of Ancient Egypt. The sculpture is made of slate. This sculptural group is otherwise called the Triad of Menkaure Pharaoh. It dates back to the IV Dynasty (Old Kingdom). The sculpture was found in the mortuary temple of Pharaoh Menkaure in Giza.

Menkaure is depicted in a standing pose. The left leg is slightly put forward; arms are directed exactly vertically with fists clutching cylindrically shaped objects. His appearance demonstrates absolute power and assertiveness. Menkaure represents an ideal of masculine beauty of the Old Kingdom period in Egypt. His face looks aristocratic and seems idealized. Pharaoh's head is adorned with a crown in the form of pins which is a symbol of Upper Egypt that is a traditional headdress for members of the royal dynasty. The presence of the ceremonial beard evidences the Pharaoh.

Beside him, there is a sculpture of a woman who is identified as the queen Khamerernebty II. Her body is covered with the linen garments almost to the ankle. Later, this style was borrowed by ancient Greeks. In ancient times, these art forms were used in representing the cult of Hathor, as well as women of lower rank. Hathor or Cow-goddess is depicted as a woman with the characteristic attributes overhead - horns curl to the middle.

The Great Sphinx

The famous Great Sphinx - a fantastic creature with the body of a lion and the head of the king - takes an exclusive place not only among the Egyptian sculptures but also in general in African as a whole. It is located near the monumental gates and a covered passage of the pyramid of Khafre in Giza. Its base is a natural limestone rock, which by its whole shape resembles a figure of a reclining lion. The rock has been processed as a colossal sphinx; meanwhile, the missing parts that were added were made of hewn limestone blocks. The dimensions of the Sphinx are huge. Its height is 20 m, the length is 57 m, the face has 5 m in height, and the nose - 1.70 m. Sphinx is wearing a royal striped scarf of his head, which is called Nemes; on the forehead, uraeus is carved (sacred snake, which protects the pharaohs and gods according to the beliefs of the Egyptians); under the chin, there is artificial beard worn by the Egyptian kings and nobility. His face was painted in brick red, with blue and red stripes.

Role of Leadership Art in African Cultures

In the history of the art of the ancient civilization, the statues of the royal personalities were striking examples of the hierarchical gradation of Egyptian society. During this period in African culture, in order to reinforce the importance of the supreme authority in the creation of the nation, sculptures of living rulers of Egypt dedicated to the gods were installed in front of temples and inside of them. The personality of the Pharaoh was exalting with the greatest clarity that reached unprecedented proportions during the New Kingdom. This resulted in a gain of individually-realistic start while maintaining the fundamental canons of artistic practice.

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The art of the Old Kingdom became a model for subsequent periods of Egyptian history. In their view, it was a time when the order designed by the gods reigned. They established the huge statues of gods and pharaohs personifying their power and authority. The main was principles of monumentality and static embodying the idea of the immutability of the social order and superhuman greatness of Pharaoh.

For the image of persons with divine dignity, well-defined methods were used. The portraits of the Pharaohs embody solemnity, monumentality, and grandeur. Pharaoh could be depicted sitting or standing. The statue of Pharaoh Menkaure flanked by Hathor and wife Khamerernebty presents the common type of royal statues of "walking" Pharaoh, with the leg extended forward. In the standing model, Pharaoh's body is fully extended, with its volume being evenly distributed on both sides of the vertical axis of symmetry. As a rule, arms are extended along the body of the pharaoh, his fists are clenched, and his left leg is exposed forward as if Pharaoh takes a step. As a rule, the pharaohs were depicted bare-chested, dressed in a pleated skirt, with the head covered with a crown, which is white and has the form of pins (symbol of Upper Egypt) or cylindrical red, with a high rounded protrusion at the rear (a symbol of Lower Egypt). The attributes of the pharaoh also included the rod and the whip - symbols of power; klaft - a striped scarf with the tips descending on the shoulders; Nemes. Thus, the statue of a Pharaoh Menkaure with the goddess Hathor and the wife founded in Giza can serve an example of the classical pharaoh standing model, which is characteristic of African Art.

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A special type of realization of the idea of the superhuman nature of the pharaoh was the image of a sphinx. In ancient times, this huge monster with the face of the pharaoh was to leave an unforgettable impression representing the idea of inscrutability and power of the rulers of Egypt. Underlining the high social position of the image of the leader was extremely important for the royal statues since the main task was to create the image of the pharaoh as an unlimited lord and son of God.

Pharaohs were usually portrayed with superhuman powerful bodies and impassive faces retaining some doubt portrait features but at the same time obviously idealized. The sphinxes are examples of such images. They were the first royal statues standing outside temples and, therefore, available on view for masses to give the impression of a supernatural and, therefore, irresistible force.

The Sphinx presents an image of the human king's head on the body of a lion symbolizing strength and power that was controlled by the mind of Pharaoh - the guardian of the world order. Despite the huge size, the face of the Sphinx still conveys the main features of the pharaoh Khafre portrait. It can be seen by comparing Sphinx with other statues of the king. Such symbolism lasted two and a half millennia and was present in the visual arts of the African civilization.

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Leadership art glorifies the Pharaoh as the son of God and the mighty destroyer of all enemies of Egypt. In the form of a sphinx, he tramples enemies. However, sometimes, the idea of the divinity of the pharaoh was achieved by purely external means. The king was depicted with the gods as equal to them, or the sacred falcon overshadowed him with his wings sitting on the back of his throne.

Characteristic Features of African Art

All pieces of African art of this period are characterized by certain artistic techniques. Firstly, the figures are constructed with strict observance of frontality and symmetry. The figures are inseparably linked with the block, from which they are cut emphasizing the preservation of this block in the background. Egyptian masters never fully released the figures from the stone, from which they were carved. In addition, they are always more or less immersed in it. For example, the spacing between the legs, between the arms and torso, or between two adjacent figures is always partly filled. Egyptian statues do not have thigh gaps. In this sense, they do not belong to a volume sculpture in the full sense. In fact, they are the limiting case of it. The symmetry of volumetric masses is perfect.

Secondly, the main character is a solemn monumentality and rigorous mind. An Egyptian statue always demonstrates tranquility. The head is placed straight; the gaze of their eyes is soft aspiring into the distance. In contrast to other cultures of the Ancient East, in the images, the Egyptians emphasized not scary, horrible traits of the gods but their grandeur and solemnity. Meanwhile, Pharaohs (Kings) were revered as living gods; their statues are turned to Eternity. Everything random and secondary has been expelled from them. Strict symmetry, immobility, conciseness, and generalized forms intensified the feeling of monumentality, the immutability, and the solemn grandeur.

Thirdly, the most striking feature of both the above-mentioned monuments is the enormous scale combined with the public monumental volumes that are characteristic features of African art in this place and period. It involves the ancient traditions of Egyptian art: heroic solemn monumental style, the overwhelming grandeur of buildings, asserting the greatness of God-Pharaoh. The whole sculptures have obtained gigantomachia form when the external exceeds the interior.

As all Egyptian sculptures, regardless of their size, the sculpture of Pharaoh Menkaure flanked by Hathor and wife Khamerernebty represents the same visual laws. The main principles include two provisions. First, every sculpture is created to be contemplated only from the front. Second, the basic volume of the sculpture should be distributed symmetrically in relation to a vertical axis.

Head and face of Sphinx also undoubtedly reflect the style that distinguishes the Art of Egypt, in particular, the 4th dynasty: wide face shape with round cheeks, a headdress Nemes covering the head, the presence of the king grey, as well as the location of the eyes and lips. Sculptural portraits of the pharaohs Djedefre, Khafre and Menkaure, and other kings of the Old Kingdom have the same features as the Sphinx.

African Conventions of Representations

The sculpture of Pharaoh Menkaure flanked by Hathor and wife Khamerernebty as well as Great Sphinx are the samples, in which the main points of the development of African art are reflected most clearly. Sculpture in Africa has appeared in connection with the religious requirements and developed depending on them. Religious requirements led to the emergence of the type of statues, their iconography, and the place of installation.

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A distinctive feature of the African Fine Arts is its canonical nature. Designed characteristic features of graphic shapes and composite solutions are mandatory for all future works of a particular genre, whether it is a portrait sculpture, relief, or painting. At the same time, African art is undergoing an evolution because artistic true creativity responds to the changes that are taking place in the spiritual culture of society.

The art of Africa within the period of Ancient Egypt was closely connected with religion and mythology. All the works of art were created by strict rules - the canons. The grandiose temples were established in honor of the gods. In sculpture and painting, they were depicted in human form. At the same time, statutory images are stunningly lifelike. It is explained by the relationship of the sculpture to a mortuary cult that required portrait likeness. Thus, according to common laws for all sculpted statues of Egypt, a small but significant touch should be added. a statue should depict portrait features in the face. Therefore, Pharaoh Menkaure is presented with a haughty face, a small but energetic and hard mouth, and properly rigorous and dispassionate features. Individualization is completing with canonical features of careful treatment of plastic of the body. However, with the presence of a certain likeness, the images of Pharaohs are idealized. Pharaoh’s statue appears younger, with a strong perfect physical fit. The same can be noted regarding the Great Sphinx that embodies the portrait feature of the Pharaoh.


Sculpture of Ancient Egypt is one of the most original and strictly canonical developed areas of the art of ancient Africa. The sculpture was created and developed to represent the ancient Egyptian gods, pharaohs, kings, and queens in a physical form. All the sculptures were created according to certain canon. The adherence was so strict that it has not changed for almost three thousand years of history of ancient Africa.

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