Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Fragment Fever (Egyptian floor mosaic fragment)

Taylor Speer-Sims
March 18, 2012

                                                        Fragment Fever

                                                          Photograph taken by Author

           The Oriental Institute Museum is a museum of the University of Chicago. This particular museum not only specializes in works of the Ancient Orient, it in fact houses only pieces from this area of the world. The Orient was for most of the world’s history been considered what is now called the Middle East. The term actually refers to any location outside the Western World, and also the Middle East had been at one point the known as simply the East. The Orient had been outside Christendom, therefore it had been considered outside the West (Putintsev).
            The museum has art and architecture pieces from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Syria, and Anatolia (Oriental). This is obvious when you walk up to the entrance to the building. Above the entrance doors there is a frieze  depicting an Egyptian with the symbol for everlasting life and holding a scroll and facing a man that could be a Greek man holding an Egyption freeze (there is a Greek temple behind him) (Tapp). There is a lion laying next to the Egyptian, and a buffalo next to the Greek. There are may types of ancient Eastern men carved behind the Egyptian, and modern Western men behind the Greek. Small Oriental reliefs are carved in the arch above the entry doors.
            After entering the building, there are two ways to through the museum. It does not matter which door to take, because both paths lead around, and exit, through the other door bringing the visiter through a very small gift shop. Obviously this would be because there is no charge to visit the museum, and they would appreciate any type of monetary contribution. How could a visitor exit without purchasing anything from this amazing place? The answer would be an obvious, they could not!
            Answering the question to why the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten moved the old capital from Thebes to the new city of Tell el-Amarna, is a completely different matter. Akhenaten had been considered a heretich because he changed the worship from the old Egyptian dieties that had been worshiped for over two thousand years. He changed to monotheism and his one true god, Aten, the sun god. The city had been built and abandoned within just fifteen short years after its conception. Akhenaten believed in the simplicity of the solar system, and wanted to reflect that in his new capital (Armana).
            Simplicity in form can still be seen today in the art pieces that survive that ancient city. One such piece is located in the Egyptian area of the Oriental Institute Museum. "Fragment of a Painted Floor" is very simple, yet amazingly gorgeous (Plaster, pigment. New Kingdom Dynasty 18, Reign of Akhenaten Ca 1352-1336 BC Tell el-Amarna, Maru Aten, 22½”  x 27” Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL.). The simplicity of the piece is part of its beauty. The plaster is obvious, and the size is remarkable at 22½ x 27”. And, the flower takes up the entirety of the tile! The pigment is unknown, yet it appears to be watercolor (McDonald). Of course watercolor would not have been able to withstand the time, temperature and sand. However, this does have that appearance.
            The appearance of the fragment is not the typical ancient Egyptian work. There was no carving at all, no indentions, no lines or people. Egyptian art had usually been precise, the floor fragment is not. This looks to be more of a modern art, or even an artwork of a child. Because Akhenaten allowed the simplicity of the universe to show itself in the city, perhaps this gave the artists more freedom to experiment in other, previously unknown, styles.
Freedom that had been allowed to the artist of the floor piece still penetrates the viewer. More than likely this would have been at the edge of a room because the fabulous cornflowers appear to have initially been within a black square. There is a black horizontal line above, which meets the vertical line to the left, and possibly another line that is somewhat visible beneath the black flower box. To the extreme left is a vertical washed blue line that meets a more vibrant solid  teal-blue toward the bottom. The flower itself is composed of nine blue cornflower buds and green stems with leaves. The buds appear to be the same vibrant teal as what had been used in the bottom area of the far left line. Sizes of the buds start with the shortest on the left and the tallest in the center of the flower pot, but to the right of the tile. There may have been nine other buds at one time. This observation is due to the fact that there is nine additional leaves that “grow” off the right edge of the piece. The composition feels completely random, which is something else that separates this work form other common Egyptian art.
            This author typically does not like Egyptian art, but finds herself in love with "Fragment of a Painted Floor". This piece speaks with its vibrancy, and with its uncommonality. The colors are not something that is usually seen in ancient artwork, nor are they what would be assumed to be on the floor of an ancient building. The feelings of the artist still seem to whisper the freedom of the time. Ancient artisans would be happy to know that that their work is appreciated 2,700 years after the day that they created it.

Originally written for class at American Military University.

End Notes:
Armana Project. 2010. Web. http://www.amarnaproject.com/. March 18, 2011.

McDonald, Helen. “Re: Info on a Few Pieces.” E-mail to author. March 15, 2012.

Oriental Institute Museum. University of Chicago. January 5, 2012. Web.
http://oi.uchicago.edu/museum/. March 15, 2012.

Putintsev, Lilia. Personal communication with author. January 20, 2012.

Tapp, Renee. Personal communication with author. March 15, 2012,

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