Egyptian artists, artisans, architects and astrologers reached heights of sophistication and mastery that deemed Egypt one of the greatest ancient civilizations. Their construction of the pyramids, understanding of planetary movements and interior decoration are still marveled at by the modern world; it’s no wonder that Egypt is on everyone’s must-see list. Today, after the revolution, Egypt is eager to welcome visitors from all corners of the world to revel in its culture.
The merging of paintings and sculptural elements in the much-lauded Queen Nefertiti’s tomb is a prime example of the Egyptians’ accomplishments. Since its massive renovation, completed in 1992, the tomb is rarely opened. However, the well-timed visitor can enter into a world of such refined glory and beauty that it virtually vibrates with architectural reverence.
The huge tomb – really the size and lay-out of a large modern apartment – is chiseled into a limestone mountain. It features paintings in bright colors, employing bas-relief to enhance the realism, as well as poems inscribed on the walls, composed by Ramses II to memorialize his deceased wife.
The style is less naturalistic than what was later employed by the Greeks and Romans, yet it draws a modern eye. In his book “Egyptian Painting and Relief,” Gay Robins, an expert on Egyptian painting, explains a technique with which the Egyptians would draw a square around the intended space for decorating to ensure correct proportions. This grid system begins to unpack the precision evinced in Nefertiti’s tomb, but the artistry of the birds, goddesses, robes and beauty of Queen Nefertiti holding hands with Isis welcomes the viewer to a rich world.
Every surface is painted and relief cut to portray the continuity of beliefs, friendships, desires and religious customs. However, to the modern discerning eye, the moment of great covetousness comes when the viewer’s gaze turns upward and beholds a ceiling in deepest Egyptian blue filled with a field of stars.
Although the Egyptians knew each star by name, this is not an actual sky, but rather a decorator’s depiction of stars – row after row of hand-painted, fivepointed stars in horizontal and vertical patterns, with endless tiny permutations that in themselves could occupy a day’s visit. The effect is to reproduce eternity underground.
In one of his poems about Nefertiti, Ramses II wrote, “My love is unique – no one can rival her, for she is the most beautiful woman alive. Just by passing, she has stolen away my heart.” Many will feel that way about the design in this 3,300-year-old tomb.
Photography courtesy of Wickham Boyle