The Art of Ancient Civilizations

Reproduced by Thomas Baker

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Ancient Egyptian tomb mural from the Tomb of Nakht, reproduced in oil paint on a textured wooden panel by Thomas Baker

Musicians, Tomb of Nakht

Reproduction of an ancient Egyptian tomb mural

18th Dynasty (about 3500 years old) by Thomas Baker

approx. 36 X 40 inches, oil on plaster-textured wood panel

This painting is available for purchase: $6500.00

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A Concert for All Eternity

In this painting from the 18th Dynasty tomb of Nakht, part of a banquet scene, a strolling lute player steps casually between two other musicians playing a double flute and a harp. This mural is remarkably naturalistic for a formal ancient Egyptian painting, when most such art was uniformly rigid and stylistic. By this period of human history, the realistic art of earlier millennia, such as the animals seen in prehistoric cave paintings and the humans in the Saharan rock art (that I also reproduced), had given way to stiff symbolism in the official art of dynastic Egypt. However, we can see in the figures of this particular mural some rudimentary shading and other characteristics that would eventually progress to truly natural representation of the human form in later Greek and Roman times and beyond. In this example of ancient Egyptian art we sense naturalism stirring, yearning to break free of symbolism.

Nakht, whose tomb wall this scene decorated, was a scribe, holding the title, "Astronomer of Amun" at the Karnak temple during the 18th Dynasty.  His job was to study the location of stars, sun and moon in order to schedule festivals and cult rituals for the temple. His wife, Tawy, was a musician of Amun. We know nothing about Nakht and Tawy beyond what has been learned from their tomb, and it is even unclear what king they served under, though some evidence points to Thutmose IV.

Wealthy Egyptians like Nakht, in addition to providing their tombs with abundant food and many objects of wealth and convenience, commissioned wall paintings like this one showing pleasant scenes of the afterlife. Not meant merely for decoration, the girls in this magical painting were intended to actually play for the soul of the deceased throughout eternity (and who is to say for sure that they do not?). The women wear on their heads the customary perfumed cones of animal fat with which all participants in an Egyptian banquet were provided, which melted down over their bodies and clothes during the course of the festivities (and can be seen here dripping down over the girls' dresses). The harp may have been made from an elephant tusk. Above the musicians, part of a shelf is visible containing bunches of grapes and wooden stands holding more food, of which only the legs are visible here. ---Thomas Baker

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