Scale and Pictoriality in Ancient Egyptian Painting and Sculpture

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Using the example of canonical depiction in ancient Egypt, this essay investigates a characteristic function of differentiations of scale in pictorial arts of the ancient world: namely, to demarcate and distinguish the importance and significance of depicted things, especially animal, human, and divine figures, often in terms of social status (generally, ‘larger’ on the plane of the picture = ‘greater’ in status). Proportional systems for constructing the human figure and a ‘grid’ layout for the composition were the two principal means by which Egyptian draftsmen, painters, and sculptors presented a pictorial rhetoric of scale. But natural perspectival effects had to be taken into account too; when replicated at different real sizes and viewed from different angles, paintings and sculptures sometimes varied in the scalar effects that they relayed. Finally, different media, types, and functions of depiction enabled scale to be approached in different ways. Overall, however, the pictorial projection of scale, it is argued, virtualized an immanent ideal world across the full range of its replications in representation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)268-285
Number of pages18
JournalArt History
Issue number2
Early online date22 Mar 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2015

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