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Art
Egyptian Wall Painting  
By Francesco Tiradritti, photographs by Sandro Vannini
350 Illustrations. 392 pp.
Abbeville Press . US$150.00
ISBN-10: 0789210053 / ISBN-13: 978-0789210050

In Egyptian Wall Painting, Francesco Tiradritti expertly analyzes a mysterious world that most people can merely wonder about. An eminent Egyptologist, Tiradritti’s fourteenth book offers an inside look at how ancient Egyptians portrayed and interpreted their world. Tiradritti explains that “every monument is valid for what it represents, but also for what it symbolizes,” and points out that it is necessary to understand what different “cultural references” signify.

The artwork displayed in Egyptian Wall Painting is simply magnificent. The 350 color reproductions even invite the reader to touch the artwork because a special matte paper mimics the feel of the stuccoed limestone of the original paintings. Reproductions often cover an entire page, and there are many that spread over two pages. In either case, the paintings will take the reader’s breath away.

Tiradritti begins with the most basic elements of Egyptian wall painting: the surface on which it is painted, and its color palette, taken from the natural world of the Nile basin. For example, colors used in paintings of deserts reproduce the reds, yellows, and browns of this environment with great accuracy whereas skin tone, important in our world, seems to be without meaning and often varies from figure to figure within the same painting. Tiradritti writes that to understand the palette the Egyptians used it is even necessary to consider “the variation in light over the course of the day and the change in the landscape during the year.”

Much of Egyptian wall painting is simultaneously symbolic and realistic. It often narrates a series of events by showing multiple figures performing different stages of the same task. A figure’s movement is shown by overlapping silhouettes. There are also several recurring themes that show us much about how Egyptians lived during the three-thousand year Pharaonic epoch. Funerary rites and processions abound, as do depictions of farming, hunting, swamps, the Nile, the desert, and ordinary Egyptians going about their daily tasks. However, these realistic wall paintings are “not fully mimetic,” and they incorporate many religious themes. Tiradritti explains that even when male figures are represented realistically, female figures remain largely typological and are not individualized. Their reproductive abilities are frequently emphasized, and large breasts and hips work to stress female sexuality and sex appeal. Similarly, paintings that depict deities often use colors associated with a god’s function to identify him or her.

Egyptian Wall Painting will be of interest to historians, especially Egyptologists, and to anyone who is interested in art or ancient Egyptian civilization. Tiradritti’s other books include Egyptian Treasures and The Treasures of the Egyptian Museum.

Elizabeth Breau, for Notable Book Reviews
Notable Book Reviews received one or more copies of this book in exchange for this review.
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