In prehistoric times ivory was much used, doubtless owing to the elephant being still abundant in southern Egypt. The natural form of the tusk was often left, and the surface worked in low relief; but the earlier work was on small pieces, as in figs. 3, 15, 17. Not only elephant ivory was used, but also that of the hippopotamus. At the beginning of the Ist dynasty ivory was largely used for statuettes and carvings. One of the best examples of this school is the figure of the aged king (fig. 21). Many other carvings of girls, boys, apes, lions and dogs were found with this at Abydos. At Hiera-konpolis a great mass of ivories was found in a trench six feet long, and many of them have been preserved. They are figures of men and women, carved tusks, wands, and cylinders. In the tomb of Mena's queen at Naqadeh were ivory lions and dogs, and such were also found in the tomb of King Zer at Abydos, used for gaming pieces. All of this early ivory-work is vigorous, and has the character and spirit of the early art.
The finest work known in ivory is the portrait of Khufu, the builder of the great pyramid (fig. 123). It is here much magnified, as the face is only a quarter of an inch high. Yet in this minute space one of the most striking portraits has been given. The far-seeing determination, the energy and will expressed in this compass, would animate a life-size figure; indeed, it would be hard in the illustration to distinguish it from a work on a large scale. The correct position of the ear should be noted, as it is always put too high up in later sculpture. Quite apart from the marvellous minuteness of the work, we must estimate this as one of the finest character-sculptures that remain to us.
A piece of open work, of a girl standing, is probably of the Old Kingdom (fig. 124). It is not of the style of hair or treatment of the Middle or New Kingdom; and in the Saitic age, when the older style was copied, the work is worse in pose and much more detailed and punctilious. There are some beautiful pieces of architectural models in ivory, from the inlaying of a casket, and, also, a figure of the Vth dynasty.
Of the Middle Kingdom an ivory baboon is perhaps the finest work; it has disappeared from the museum when at Bulak, and its place is unknown. A broken figure of a boy carrying a calf shows great truth and spirit. Ivory was also used for lion-head draughtsmen in the XVIIIth dynasty, but there are no fine works of that time.
Of the XXVIth dynasty two fine pieces have been found at Memphis, a lotus flower (fig. 125) and a man bearing offerings (fig. 126). These had been applied to the sides of caskets or other small woodwork. The figure of the man is but a stiff and coarse copy of the Old Kingdom work, lacking the truth and freedom of the early time.
There does not seem to have been any distinctive school of ivory-work in Egypt. The methods and nature of the objects are just what might have been done in stone or in wood at the same period. There is no sign of a special development due to the material, as there is in the Chinese ivory-carving.
124. Girl, Old Kingdom.
125. Lotus (XXVIth dynasty)
123. King Khufu.
126. Bearer of offerings.