In considering the various systems of proportion it will be convenient to deal with them under the headings of the nations amongst whom they were originated or used. One of the earliest known canons is that given in an early Sanscrit work, the 'Silpa Sastra,' or 'of the fine arts.' In this canon a vertical line is divided into 480 parts, which are thus distributed throughout the body:
Upper part of Head.....15
To umbilicus ------55
Lower part of Abdomen ......................... 53
If this canon be estimated in terms of the head, it will be found that the entire body is made to contain a little less than seven and a half heads. According to Quetelet, this scheme of proportion is met with in several of the paintings of Raphael.
The earliest information which we possess as to the canon of the wonderful Egyptian people is due to Diodorus Siculus. Unfortunately, this writer, who was a contemporary of Julius Caesar and Augustus, though he travelled over a great part of Europe and Asia to collect materials for his 'Bibliotheca Historical is far from being reliable, and I only mention his stories because they find a place in most works on the subject with which we are concerned. According to this writer, the Egyptians divided the body into twenty-one and a half parts, and worked under rules so rigid that the height of the statue once decided upon, the stones from which it was to be constructed were distributed to different workmen to be finally fitted together when all had completed their tasks. In illustration of this he tells a probably apocryphal story respecting the two sons of a certain Phoecus, of Samos, Taleclos and Theodorus by name, who, having studied art in Egypt, and employing the canon of that country, constructed a statue of Apollo Pythius in two halves. The height having been agreed upon, one half of the figure was executed by one brother in Samos, and the remainder by the other in Ephesus. On being placed together, when completed, it was found that they accurately fitted to one another.
To understand the Egyptian works, certain points require to be borne in mind, the first of which is the conventionality by which they were, to a certain extent, bound down. Thus, in their sculptures in relief, the head was almost always represented in profile, but with a full-face eye, the bust was also full-face, the trunk three-quarters, and the legs profile. Again, the gods were represented larger than men, kings than subjects, and the dead than the living. The same conventionality of treatment was observed in the colours with which their sculptures were overlaid. The flesh tints of men were of a dark reddish-brown, and those of women a pale yellow. This scheme of colour is, however, occasionally departed from. Thus, at Sakharah, under the fifteenth dynasty, and at Aboo Sumbel under the nineteenth, there are represented men with skins as yellow as those of women, and in tombs at Thebes and Abydos, about the time of Thothmes IV. at Horenheb, and also at Bayt-el-Wely, flesh tints of rose-colour and crimson are met with. Then, in the second place, it must be remembered that the peculiar religious views of the Egyptians had an important bearing upon their art.
The 'ka,' the double, or spirit of the body, was supposed to perish miserably if it had not the dead body, in the shape of a mummy, or at least a counterfeit presentment of the same, to attach itself to. Now, as the mummy might be stolen, there were provided for the 'ka' in that case one or more figures of the deceased person. These were not intended as memorials for the children or friends to gaze upon, since they were shut up in rooms to which no entrance was afforded. In figures constructed for this purpose, extreme accuracy of facial resemblance was the only thing to be sought for, and we find, therefore, that whilst the head and face are most carefully represented, the remaining parts of the body were less accurately rendered - merely sketched in, if we may use such a phrase in connection with sculpture. It is obvious that figures executed under conditions such as these would not require any carefully devised canon of proportion for their construction. With respect to the manner in which the mural sculptures were executed, an interesting account is given by Jones in his handbook to the Egyptian Court of the Crystal Palace. He says, 'A wall was first chiselled as smooth as possible, the imperfections of the stone were filled up with cement or plaster, and the whole was rubbed smooth and covered with a coloured wash.
Lines were then ruled perpendicularly and horizontally with red colour, forming squares all over the wall corresponding with the proportions of the figure to be drawn upon it. The subjects of the paintings and of the hieroglyphics were then drawn upon the wall, with a red line, most probably by the priest or chief scribe, or by some inferior artist, from a document divided into similar squares. Then came the chief artist, who went over every figure and hieroglyphic with a black line and a firm and steady hand, giving expression to each curve, deviating here and confirming there, the former red line. The line thus traced was then followed by the sculptor. In this stage there are instances of a foot or head having been completely sculptured, whilst the rest of the figure remains in outline. The next process was to paint the figure in the prescribed colours; and in some cases the painted line deviates from the sculptured line, showing that the painter was the more important workman, and that even in this process no possible improvement was,omitted. There are other instances where a considerable deviation from the position of an arm or leg has been made.