Figures in the round are the earliest mode of modelling, and remain the most important, as they are less conditioned than reliefs, and give full scope to ability and knowledge. The earliest human figures are found in the second stage of the prehistoric age, immediately after the white-lined pottery. They are of ivory, limestone, slate, pottery, or of stick and paste. Such figures did not continue to be made after the middle of the prehistoric civilisation. The ivory figures usually end in a mere peg below, with wide hips and shoulders, but no arms. The eyes are marked, though often the mouth and nose are omitted (fig. 15). The limestone or cement figures have the division of the legs lined out; some are standing, as fig. 16, with tatu marks painted on the stone; others are of the armless form, seated, and clearly of the steatopygous Bushman type. The slate figures are always of men, with pointed beards, and white beads inserted for eyes. The pottery figures are roughly modelled, but with the legs separated. The stick and paste figures are made by modelling a vegetable paste over a stick; the legs are marked, sometimes arms are added, or else there are merely shoulder stumps. In one case the head is modelled bald, painted red, and has a black wig modelled over it, showing that separate wigs are as old as the prehistoric time. Some ivory tusks are carved with a much more advanced style of heads (fig. 17), which give the best idea that we have of the type of the people. The animal figures are rudely cut, but have a certain ferocious air (fig. 18).
Some much more advanced figures in ivory have the legs and arms separate, and a passable amount of modelling in the head and body. Though quite of prehistoric style, they are probably influenced by the school of highly developed ivory-work of the 1st dynasty, and may shortly precede that time.
The early dynastic age brought in entirely new ideals. The oldest figures of this time are the colossal statues of the god Min from Koptos. These are of much the same work as the prehistoric human figures, but have spirited drawings of animals incised on them (see fig. 51). Just before the 1st dynasty there came a finely developed style of ivory-carving, which is known to us by the many figures of men and women found at Hierakonpolis. The finest stone-work of that age is a study in limestone of a king's head (figs. 19, 20), which is so closely like Narmer (fig. 54) that it must be just at the beginning of the 1st dynasty. It is a sculptor's study of a king preparatory to making his statue, and, as Professor A. Michaelis says, "it renders the race-type with astounding keenness, and shows an excellent power of observation in the exact representation of the eyes." The delicacy of the facial curves should be noticed, and the entire absence of any conventions in the modelling of the mouth as well as the eyes. The widely prominent ears are a characteristic of the earliest historic figures; such a feature belongs to a hunting race who need to catch sounds, and suggests that they always slept on their backs. This is unlike the prehistoric folk, who were always buried contracted and lying on the side, as being their natural attitude; but it agrees with the modern Egyptian, who sleeps in the mummy posture, lying on the back.
Prehistoric figures in the round.
A large number of ivory figures were found at Abydos, fully developed in style, beyond those of Hierakonpolis. They comprise figures of girls, boys, dogs, apes, a bear, and many lions. They are admirably easy in their pose, and perfectly natural in form with a simplicity and truthfulness better than any later work. The figure of an old king (fig. 21) was with these; notice the subtle expression of the face, the droop of the head forward, and the natural air. This is probably early in the 1st dynasty.
Rather later is the hard limestone head of King Kha-sekhem, of the Ilnd dynasty (fig. 22). Fine as the modelling is about the mouth, yet convention has already crept in; the edges of the lips are sharpened, and the extended line at the outer corner of the eye has been introduced. We see then under the earliest dynasties the observation of Nature free from any artificial trammels,unconscious, simple and dignified, on a higher plane of truthfulness and precision than is found in later art.
In the pyramid age we will first observe the earlier private figures (23 to 26). Queen Mertitefs (fig. 23) was the wife of Seneferu, at the close of the IIIrd dynasty. In her type of face, and the treatment of it, we see an earlier race and earlier work than that of the pyramid times. The large, staring eyes, the mouth turning down, the natural hair cut short and brushed straight down over the forehead beneath the wig, - all these details disappear after this. When we compare this with the head of Nofert (fig. 24), who was of the next generation, the change of type and work is at once seen. In Nofert the eyes are admirably placed, the brow is perfectly natural, and the modelling of the features is irreproachable. Yet there is less absolute naturalism than in the older work of the 1st dynasty. The hair is evidently kept complete beneath the wig, and is laid out smoothly over the forehead.
19, 20. 1st dynasty king, limestone.
21. 1st dynasty king, ivory.
22. Khasekhem (Ilnd dynasty)