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Stylistic Traces of Amarna Art in Reliefs of the Tomb of Petosiris (Tuna al Gebel Necropolis)

In: Old World: Journal of Ancient Africa and Eurasia
Author:
Valeria KuvatovaInstitute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia, kintosha@mail.ru

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Abstract

The famous tomb of Petosiris (a high priest of Thoth) in the Tuna al Gebel necropolis on the outskirts of the Middle Egyptian town of Hermopolis Magna is dated by the last quarter of the 4th c. bc. The pictorial program of the tomb, decorated with painted reliefs, has no known parallels in Ptolemaic art. In terms of iconography and style the reliefs rely on both Egyptian and Greek artistic traditions. This study attempts to trace elements of the so-called Amarna style among the whole variety of cultural impacts that shaped the unique character of the reliefs. Not only the visual similarity but also the short distance between the necropoli in Hermopolis Magna and Amarna city support the impetus for looking for pictorial parallels between the reliefs of the Petosiris tomb and the Amarna monuments. Some distinct stylistic details of the reliefs find no matches in Egyptian art but for the Amarna period. Nor do they originate from Macedonian or provincial Greek art. The reliefs of the tomb of Petosiris seem to be the only extant piece of art of the Graeco-Roman period that goes back to Amarna tradition in terms of techniques, style and, to some extent, iconography. The styling of the reliefs relies on three distinct visual paradigms – Classical (namely archaic) Egyptian, Amarna and Hellenistic – and seems to depend on subject matters of the particular parts of the program. The stylistic features deriving from different traditions probably served as a special visual language that helped to convey important meanings and connotations.

Abstract

The famous tomb of Petosiris (a high priest of Thoth) in the Tuna al Gebel necropolis on the outskirts of the Middle Egyptian town of Hermopolis Magna is dated by the last quarter of the 4th c. bc. The pictorial program of the tomb, decorated with painted reliefs, has no known parallels in Ptolemaic art. In terms of iconography and style the reliefs rely on both Egyptian and Greek artistic traditions. This study attempts to trace elements of the so-called Amarna style among the whole variety of cultural impacts that shaped the unique character of the reliefs. Not only the visual similarity but also the short distance between the necropoli in Hermopolis Magna and Amarna city support the impetus for looking for pictorial parallels between the reliefs of the Petosiris tomb and the Amarna monuments. Some distinct stylistic details of the reliefs find no matches in Egyptian art but for the Amarna period. Nor do they originate from Macedonian or provincial Greek art. The reliefs of the tomb of Petosiris seem to be the only extant piece of art of the Graeco-Roman period that goes back to Amarna tradition in terms of techniques, style and, to some extent, iconography. The styling of the reliefs relies on three distinct visual paradigms – Classical (namely archaic) Egyptian, Amarna and Hellenistic – and seems to depend on subject matters of the particular parts of the program. The stylistic features deriving from different traditions probably served as a special visual language that helped to convey important meanings and connotations.

The famous tomb of Petosiris (the high priest of the god Thoth) is located in the necropolis of Tuna al Gebel on the outskirts of the Middle-Egyptian city of Hermopolis Magna. It is dated slightly differently by various scholars, with suggested dates being mostly limited to the last quarter of the 4th century bc (von Bissing 1933:183–186; Picard 1931:201–204; Menu 1994:327; Venit 2015:5; Baines 2004:45). The layout of the tomb of Petosiris (a rectangular building with a portico) is reminiscent of Egyptian temples of the 30th dynasty (Venit, 2015:8). It is T-shaped, with a long rectangle chamber serving as a naos and the shorter one as a pronaos. The inner walls of both chambers are decorated with reliefs arranged in several registers.

Among the early Ptolemaic temple-tombs – which are far from abundant – the Petosiris tomb is one of the earliest (Gabra 1941:14; Gabra, Drioton 1954:9; Lembke 2012:208). The architectural and pictorial designs of the tomb also explicitly convey its owner’s views on his own cultural and political role in society as well as his eschatological beliefs and expectations. All known Early Ptolemaic temple-tombs in Tuna el-Gebel – the tomb of Petosiris, another one belonging to his brother Djedthothiufankh and that of a priest named Padikam – were at least partially decorated (Lefebvre 1924: 31–36; Gabra and Drioton 1954: pl. 1; Lembke 2012:208). Due to the poor state of preservation of the two latter monuments, their pictorial programs are not as clear as that of the Petosiris tombs. Even with what little of the paintings has survived in the Padikam tomb (Gabra, 1941:19–54; Gabra and Drioton 1954: pl. 1), it is obvious that its pictorial program was far less sophisticated and stylistically eclectic, complying more to Egyptian iconographic conventions than that of the Petosiris tomb. The Ptolemaic tombs of later periods were not even decorated with reliefs or paintings (Lembke 2012:216).

Yet, in terms of style, the reliefs of Petosiris were probably not completely unique. A relief fragment of unknown provenance from the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection of Berlin (# 2214; Parlasca 2005: fig. 3) contains four figures of offering-bearers. Three of them are rendered in a Hellenizing manner, conspicuously reminiscent of that of the lower register of the naos of the Petosiris tomb. The quality of the relief is very impressive for a presumably provincial artwork. It seems that in the early Ptolemaic Period the upper classes of Egyptian Chora developed a certain interest towards a Hellenizing style.

In terms of iconography and style, the reliefs decorating the inner walls of the tomb present a challenge for the scholars. The style of the reliefs is conspicuously eclectic. The pictorial program relies on diachronic Egyptian, Macedonian and provincial Greek conventions. Some of the pictorial schools that influenced the style and iconography of the Petosiris tomb reliefs (e.g. Greek diaspora in Egypt) remain understudied due to small quantities and poor preservation conditions of archeological findings such as painted or carved funerary monuments, ceramic ware and other artworks. In particular, the knowledge of Greek funerary art of Egypt before the Macedonian invasion is still rather limited. The proportion of Egyptian and Greek elements in the reliefs varies from scene to scene. Some episodes of undoubtedly Egyptian origin are styled in a Greek manner, while definitively Greek compositions include prominent Egyptian features. The same episodes offer Hellenistic interpretation of some figures and Egyptianizing rendering of the other. All the reliefs of the pronaos and the lower register of the naos seem to be a product of intentional stylization, both iconographic and pictorial. The artists took special effort to give each relief an archaic Egyptian, or Hellenistic, or pointedly eclectic appearance. Sarah E. Coles points out that Ptolemaic Egyptian elite had developed a hybrid artistic style as a means of self-presentation depending on the work’s particular social purpose (Coles 2019:79–83).

The outstanding semantic intensity of the pictorial program of the tomb is stipulated by the very high, near-royal status of its owner who used to be a high priest in times of long-lasting foreign rule (Cherpion, Corteggiani, Gout 2007:3; Coles 2019:87–88). Given the lack of native kings, the whole responsibility for Egyptian religious and cultural traditions shifted from pharaohs to the priesthood, hence the visual allusions on royal funerary temples. In terms of its architectural and decorative approach, the Petosiris tomb seems to be the earliest one of its type (Cherpion, Corteggiani, Gout 2007:2; Coles 2019:87).

The current paper sets a modest goal to highlight stylistic features that seem to have originated from visual conventions of the Amarna period and to study plausible vectors for their appropriation.

The question of whether the inhabitants of Hermopolis Magna could have had an opportunity to get acquainted with nearby Amarna monuments is not particularly difficult to answer: they most likely saw a fair amount of artworks of the Amarna period. The distance between the city of Hermopolis and Amarna is about 20 km, while the distance between Tuna al Gebel and Amarna is roughly 25 km. Thus, the ruins of the Akhenaton’s capital city as well as the Amarna necropoli could hypothetically have been accessible to the inhabitants of Hermopolis Magna. In the area of Tuna al Gebel an Amarna boundary stela (Stela A) has survived in decent condition. The German archaeological expedition in Hermopolis Magna in 1929–1939 found many fragments of reliefs originating from Amarna. Some of them were discovered in the foundation and pylons of the temple of Ramses ii, while the others were found in identified layers of the town (Roeder 1969:2). American museums accommodate many Amarna artefacts from the collection that had been kept in Egypt and were sold out piece by piece in the mid-20th century. John D. Cooney believed that it originated from unauthorized excavations performed in Hermopolis Magna during the political turmoil of the Second World War (Cooney 1965:2). By comparing the total amount of known Amarna reliefs to the amount of ruined temples and palatial buildings discovered in Akhenaten’s capital city, Cooney conjectured that many reliefs were still in the archaeological layers of Hermopolis Magna (Cooney 1956:2). These observations support the hypothesis that the inhabitants of the city may have been acquainted with Amarna art.

The reliefs of the upper registers of both long and short walls of the naos follow the long-lasting Egyptian funerary art tradition, mutatis mutandis. Two upper registers of the West Wall are allocated for visualization of two basic paradigms of transfer to the netherworld. The first one was described in the Book of the Dead and used to be a mainstream writing in the New Kingdom, while the second one recited in the Book of Amduat became very popular later in the Third Intermediate Period. By involving both paradigms the author of the pictorial program underlined the continuity of the Egyptian perception of the Afterworld and made an effort to comply with both basic long-established traditions of their visualization in the funerary art.

The lower registers of the naos long walls feature depictions of processions of offering bearers. Although processional scenes are characteristic hallmarks of Egyptian funerary art, in the tomb of Petosiris they are rendered in a highly unusual eclectic style deriving from several pictorial traditions at a time. The abundance of intermixed ‘quotations’ of different styles suggests a conscientious and purposeful stylization within the pictorial program (Fig. 1).

Figure 1
Figure 1

Tomb of Petosiris, naos, East Wall

Citation: Old World: Journal of Ancient Africa and Eurasia 2, 1 (2022) ; 10.1163/26670755-01010002

source: courtesy of vladimir melnik

Apart from conventional lotus flowers and papyrus stems, the offering bearers carry fantastic flowers. Their iconography has no Egyptianizing features and clearly derives from Macedonian art. The neck of one of the antelopes is adorned with a big palmetto – a distinct and popular Greek decorative element. One of the women is depicted in Hellenizing apparel, her head veiled and one of the arms covered within the folds of a himation. The Hellenistic rendering of faces, hairstyles and garments of the offering bearers is frequent in the Petosiris tomb, which is not common in traditional Egyptian funerary art. By contrast with the Minoans, who were often represented in processional scenes of the New Kingdom (Panagiotopoulos 2001:263; Wachsmann 1987:27–41), the Doric Greeks had never been conventional participants of processions of the offering bearers in Egyptian Pharaonic art. The ethnic variety of foreign offering bearers and war prisoners in reliefs and paintings of New Kingdom tombs reflected the political realm of Egyptian history (Matić, 2015:375–376) long before the development of Classical Greek civilization. It seems plausible that the processions in the tomb of Petosiris also referred to ethnic diversity of Egyptian society in the 2nd half of the 4th c. bc., although it is unclear to what extent the reliefs reflected the social environment contemporary to Petosiris. The ethnic variety of the processional scenes could also stem from enthusiastic appropriation of popular iconographic formulas of the Pharaonic period. In fact, some iconographic features from the tomb of Petosiris do imply ‘quotations’ of monuments of earlier epochs.

Egyptian funerary art gravitates to three basic types of processions that seem to have influenced the iconography of the lower register of the naos, namely the processions of family members and servants carrying the staff necessary for a happy afterlife, processions of foreign tributaries, and processions of foreign war prisoners. Each type had developed its own specific iconographic clichés. The reliefs of the tomb of Petosiris contain features of all three iconographic types thoroughly intermixed.

The situation in Egyptian society of the 4th c. bc had nothing in common with the social and political paradigms of the New Kingdom. By the time of the construction of the Petosiris tomb the country had long been under foreign rule; first the Persians, then the Macedonians invaded Egypt as successful conquerors. And yet the reliefs of the lower registers of the Petosiris tomb naos display iconographic characteristics of processions of both foreign tributaries and war prisoners. In the early Ptolemaic period Hermopolis Magna was home to a large Greek community. There is no evidence, though, that it was as multinational as it is represented in the naos reliefs.

Although the depictions of offering processions used to be a common motif of Egyptian art, they became particularly popular in the art of Amarna. The increased interest in processional scenes had probably resulted from substantial change in funerary iconographic designs caused by changes in religious beliefs of Akhenaten’s elites. In the shrines of Amarna tombs the episodes pertaining to the cult of Osiris and the transfer to the Afterworld were substituted by scenes dedicated to the tomb occupants themselves (Kemp 2012: 251). The offering processions constituted an important part of a renewed iconographic repertoire (Kemp 2012:255). The Amarna elite took no interest in representations of panoramic battle and hunting scenes in the iconographic programs of the tombs, so the popular subjects of the New Kingdom pictorial programs were supplanted by a variety of social rites. As a rule, the walls of pronaoi were allocated for the depictions of processions of foreign war prisoners and offering bearers. They were visually similar to their immediate predecessors (the processual scenes of the periods of Amenhotep iii and Amenhotep iv), although the former played a much more significant role within pictorial programs. For instance, the programs of the tombs of Huyi (East wall) and Merira ii (West wall) visualize an important political event of the 12th year of Akhenaten’s rule, namely the visit of foreign delegations that included Syrians, Libyans, Nubians, Hittites, and probably Amorites (Dodson, 2009:11) to the King’s court (Davies 1905a: pl. 37, Davies 1905b: pl. 15). The mutual interest displayed on both monuments in processions of offering bearers was clearly enhanced by the desire to emphasize the importance of that particular political event.

The fragments of reliefs containing depictions of foreign processions were also found in Hermopolis Magna. For instance, one such fragment was found in Howard Barnet’s collection (Cooney 1965:85–86).

The depiction in the lower register of naos of the Petosiris tomb contains iconographic elements characteristic of various procession types. In terms of subject matter, it represents a procession of Egyptian offering bearers carrying goods for the tomb owners, although a lot of participants are rendered as foreigners. The iconography of Nubians and Libyans is particularly reminiscent of Amarna reliefs (Figs. 36). The profiles of some protagonists are similar to traditional New Kingdom iconography of Syrians (Palestinians), especially conspicuous pointed beards of the men. The faces of Nubians in Amarna reliefs and those in the tomb of Petosiris are also very much alike. It is difficult to say whether in the early Ptolemaic period the Libyans still adorned their heads with feathers and the Nubians wore massive heavy ring-like earrings. As almost a millennium had passed since the New Kingdom period, it seems more likely that the iconography of foreigners in the tomb of Petosiris (Venit 2015:13; Cherpion, Corteggiani, Gout 2007:140) was just styled in accordance with Amarna art conventions.

Figure 2
Figure 2

Relief from the tomb of Horemheb, Saqqara. Currently in Rijksmuseum van oudheden, Leiden, inventory number h.iii.oooo.

Citation: Old World: Journal of Ancient Africa and Eurasia 2, 1 (2022) ; 10.1163/26670755-01010002

Figure 3
Figure 3

Tomb of Petosiris, naos, East Wall

Citation: Old World: Journal of Ancient Africa and Eurasia 2, 1 (2022) ; 10.1163/26670755-01010002

source: courtesy of vladimir melnik
Figure 4
Figure 4

Tomb of Petosiris, naos, East Wall

Citation: Old World: Journal of Ancient Africa and Eurasia 2, 1 (2022) ; 10.1163/26670755-01010002

source: courtesy of vladimir melnik
Figure 5
Figure 5

Tomb of Meryre ii at Amarna, middle register

Citation: Old World: Journal of Ancient Africa and Eurasia 2, 1 (2022) ; 10.1163/26670755-01010002

after davies, norman de garis 1905a : pl. xxxv
Figure 6
Figure 6

Fragment of relief, Amarna, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, accession # 22.2.10

Citation: Old World: Journal of Ancient Africa and Eurasia 2, 1 (2022) ; 10.1163/26670755-01010002

The procession in the naos is particularly interesting considering the unusual number of child figures, as well as relaxed spatial relationships between the figures of children and adults. The practice of including children in processions of both offering bearers and war prisoners goes back to the 18th Dynasty art. Uroš Matić argues that the depictions of children were strictly regulated by the iconographic canon. The child figures were only included in processions of the Syrians and the Nubians (Matić, 2015:375). The Syrian children were usually depicted in processions of offering bearers, whereas Nubian children were typically depicted in processions of war prisoners (Matić, 2015:381–382). The children’s postures as well as their spatial relations with the figures of adults were rather standardized as well (Matić, 2015:376–378). There are certain stylistic parallels between the newly informal and relaxed Amarna rendering of the theme and the even more spontaneous and effortless approach in the reliefs of the Petosiris tomb. For instance, one of the reliefs of the tomb of Horemheb in Sakkara, which is very close to Amarna monuments both in terms of dating (Tutankhamun’s reign) and style, contains a depiction of a female prisoner. She carries one child on her shoulders, while the other one sits in a sling arranged on her back.1 (Fig. 2) It is juxtaposed to the figure of a man wearing a pointed beard characteristic of depictions of males from the Eastern Mediterranean region. The East Wall of the Petosiris tomb naos accommodates an image of a man with a pointed beard carrying a child on his shoulders. (Fig. 1) Although the relations between the child and adult figures in the mentioned reliefs are not identical, they are nonetheless remarkably similar. The West wall of the naos of the Petosiris tomb hosts two depictions of women carrying their children in slings arranged on their bosoms.

Among the naos reliefs of the tomb of Petosiris, the scenes of tender physical contact between children and adults are probably the most intriguing. Although such iconography has not been found in the known processional scenes, their origins can be traced back to Amarna monuments dedicated to the royal family. The depictions of royal parents kissing their children are ‘endemic’ in the art of Amarna. They hadn’t appeared before Akhenaten’s rule and quickly vanished in the Post-Amarna period. Greek and Macedonian art had never taken much interest in representing informal communication between adults and children. The images of families with children are common in farewell scenes of Hellenistic funerary stelae but the postures and gestures of the protagonists are much more reserved and dignified. Nothing in Greek art conjures the emotional contact and spontaneous tenderness that are so evocative in the reliefs of the Petosiris tomb.

The depictions of tender communication between children and adults might have been inspired by the acquaintance of Hermopolis Magna artists with some pieces of Amarna art dedicated to the royal family. The depictions of Akhenaten’s family focus on bodily contact between the parents and their children. The spontaneous poses and gestures express their mutual affection and tenderness. The stela from a home shrine in Amarna (now located in Berlin),2 the relief fragment from the above-mentioned Hermopolis collection (later acquired by the Brooklyn Museum of Art3 (Cooney 1965:20–22)) (Fig. 7), and the sculpture from the Egyptian Museum of Cairo4 (Bongioanni & Sole Croce 2005:181) are probably the most impressive examples of this iconographic type.

Figure 7
Figure 7

Amarna relief from Hermopolis Magna, the Brooklyn Museum, New York, accession number 60.197.8

Citation: Old World: Journal of Ancient Africa and Eurasia 2, 1 (2022) ; 10.1163/26670755-01010002

All mentioned monuments depict royal parents kissing their daughters. Unfortunately, only the faces are preserved in the relief fragment from the Brooklyn Museum. Meanwhile, the state of preservation of the stela allows one to study relations between the figures of Akhenaten and his daughter. The right hand of the king supports the girl’s thigh so that her shins hang on both sides of her father’s arm. The king’s left hand supports the back head of the princess. The West wall of the naos of the Petosiris tomb features two figures of mothers kissing their children. Evidently, the artists were quite interested in representations of maternal love. One of these scenes is particularly interesting in terms of its iconography. The child rides atop of his mother’s right arm so that her arm is placed between the child’s legs, as on the Amarna stela mentioned above. (Fig. 8). The woman supports her child’s head with the hand of the same arm, while her left hand grasps the boy’s shin. The gesture of the child embracing his mother is reminiscent of the gesture in one of the reliefs from the Hermopolis collection5 (Cooney 1965:28–29).

Figure 8
Figure 8

Tomb of Petosiris, naos, West Wall

Citation: Old World: Journal of Ancient Africa and Eurasia 2, 1 (2022) ; 10.1163/26670755-01010002

source: courtesy of vladimir melnik

Yet another unconventional gesture emphasizing affectionate family relations reappears in the processional scenes of the Petosiris tomb naos. In one of the episodes a child sitting in a sling touches her mother’s arm above the elbow. In another, the mother grasps her child’s arm above his elbow as well. As a rule, in the processional scenes of the New Kingdom the parents hold their children either by their hands or by wrists. In the meantime, the grasp above the elbow is characteristic of Amarna monuments dedicated to the royal family. The above-mentioned relief in the Metropolitan Museum contains a depiction of a little princess touching the upper arm of her elder sister right above the elbow. The sculpture in the Egyptian Museum of Cairo renders the contact between the king and his daughter similarly.

Apparently, a fair number of iconographic features visualizing the affection between children and their parents go back to the scenes dedicated to the Amarna royal family.

The middle register of the South part of the West wall of the naos accommodates a traditional episode of the bull sacrifice. The rendering of two figures cutting the carcass is very specific: both have soft rounded bellies hanging over their loincloths (Fig. 9). This feature is characteristic of Amarna style that tended to non-idealistic interpretation of human bodies (Figs. 1112). The artists clearly introduced this particular rendering on purpose. Although the mid-section of one of figures is screened by the bulk of the bull’s leg, the artist took special effort to carve a plump belly hanging below the outline of the leg. The contrast between athletic, geometrically rendered figures of priests to the left of the sacrifice scene and exaggerated chubby bellies of the bull offerors implies that the artists used two iconographic models, each belonging to a different style and consequently to a different period.

Figure 9
Figure 9

Tomb of Petosiris, naos, East Wall

Citation: Old World: Journal of Ancient Africa and Eurasia 2, 1 (2022) ; 10.1163/26670755-01010002

source: courtesy of vladimir melnik

One of the reliefs of the pronaos also displays a similar rendering of the male figure. The belly of the seated goldsmith hangs over his loincloth. The folds of the loincloth are styled in the Amarna manner as well (Fig. 10). José Sales argues that some of the scenes depicting craftsmen are reminiscent of those in the tombs dating to the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty (reigns of Amenhotep iii / Amenhotep iv) (Sales 2016:196). Meanwhile, the above-mentioned stylistic details point to a narrower time span, namely the Amarna period.

Figure 10
Figure 10

Tomb of Petosiris, pronaos, North Wall

Citation: Old World: Journal of Ancient Africa and Eurasia 2, 1 (2022) ; 10.1163/26670755-01010002

source: courtesy of vladimir melnik

The non-idealistic interpretation of male figures is omnipresent in Amarna reliefs including those found in Hermopolis Magna (Figs. 1112). The reliefs were made of smallish rectangular slabs (talatats) of 22–24 cm high on average. It usually required three talatats placed one on top of another to assemble a human figure. As a result, a lot of separate slabs have been found, bearing depictions of either heads or legs or bodies. For instance, among the fragments found by Günther Roeder’s expedition there were several depictions of male bodies with plump bellies hanging over loincloths (Roeder 1969: taf. 211, pc 288; taf. 79, 32-viii A; taf. 172, pc 15; taf. 202, pc 214). Similar fragments could have served as models for the stylizations in the tomb of Petosiris.

Figure 11
Figure 11

Amarna relief from Hermopolis Magna, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, accession # 1985.328.10

Citation: Old World: Journal of Ancient Africa and Eurasia 2, 1 (2022) ; 10.1163/26670755-01010002

Figure 12
Figure 12

Amarna relief from Hermopolis Magna, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, accession # 2006.102

Citation: Old World: Journal of Ancient Africa and Eurasia 2, 1 (2022) ; 10.1163/26670755-01010002

Yet another element shows an evocative influence from the Amarna repertoire. A female figure on the East Wall (to the right from the naos entrance) stands out of the rich variety of faces, postures and garments of the offering bearers. The image seems to be constructed of diachronic iconographic quotations. Her head, which is rendered full-frontal and completed with large, anatomically incorrect high-set ears, is reminiscent of the Late Period iconography of Hathor, while the body proportions, posture and the emphasized transparency of her dress seem to derive from visual conventions of Amarna. This image is the only direct appropriation of the Amarna canon of female figures, while the quotations of the Hellenistic style are abundant.

The reliefs of the pronaos offer even more decisive fusion of Egyptian and Hellenistic elements. The iconographic program of the North, East and West walls seems to be conventional in the context of Egyptian funerary art. In the meantime, the bold stylistic eclecticism provides evidence for the existence of a prominent pictorial tradition of the Greek cultural milieu in 4th century Egypt. It seems very plausible that the artists of the tomb of Petosiris had used some Greek models that were later lost. The same conjecture is supported in respect to the South wall separating the pronaos and naos. In addition to stylistic elements, certain subject matters included into the pictorial program of the South wall also originate from Greek/Macedonian art. The stylistic eclecticism of the pronaos reliefs is also conspicuous, but here the Egyptian elements look rather alien in the predominantly Greek context.

Any assumptions concerning the particular reasons behind such an obvious interest of Petosiris (as an author of the pictorial program) in citations of the Greek art will remain no more than just guesses. And yet the story of Petosiris’ family might give a hint for these reasons. Upon careful analysis of the autobiographical texts and the biographies of Petosiris’ father and elder brother, Bernadette Menu came to the conclusion that Petosiris had been appointed a high-priest of Thoth after the discharge (and probable execution) of his elder brother Djedthothiufankh who had collaborated with Persian invaders (Menu 1994: 319–320; 326–327). Petosiris was appointed a high priest during Macedonian rule and energetically supported Macedonian authorities (Menu 1994: 326; Menu 1998:250). Probably, his political stance and the need to compensate for his brother’s official collaboration with the Persians contributed to his pronounced interest in Hellenistic subject matters and style of the tomb’s pictorial program.

The reliefs of the pronaos also offer intriguing features. Despite some Hellenizing elements, the depictions of craftworks and episodes of household administration basically follow the Egyptian visual paradigm. The themes involving cattle-farming, as well as the rendering of poses and spatial interrelations between animals heavily rely on Egyptian tradition, while the poses and apparel of human figures are mostly treated in the Hellenistic manner.

José Sales argues that some of the pronaos themes and scenes involving livestock – particularly the episodes of suckling, milking and helping to deliver a calf – find their parallels in iconographic programs found in Old Kingdom tombs, mostly in Saqqara and Giza (Sales 2016:196). The style of the Petosiris tomb reliefs depicting livestock has nothing in common with that of the 5th and 6th Dynasties mentioned by J. Sales, so the parallels are purely iconographic. Meanwhile, the episodes of suckling, milking and birth had long outlasted the Old Kingdom. They appeared, although less frequently, in the Middle and New Kingdom tombs of Deir el Bahri (milking: 11th Dynasty temple (Naville 1913: pl. ii), Sheikh Abd el-Qurna (suckling: tomb of Khonsu, 18th Dynasty (Vandier 1969: fig. 126.1)). The scenes also made part of pictorial programs of the Middle Kingdom tombs of Beni Hassan (suckling: tomb 2 belonging to Amenemhat (Newberry I, 1893: pl. xiii), tomb 15 of Baqet iii (Newberry ii, 1893: pl. vii)), Al Bersha (milking and helping to deliver: tomb 5, 11th Dynasty (Griffith and Newberry 1895: pl. xiv)), and Meir (helping to deliver: tomb B No 2, 12th Dynasty (Blackman I, 1914: pl. X); suckling: tomb B No 4, 12th Dynasty (Blackman ii, 1915: pl. vii;)). Among the pronaos scenes of cattle-farming the artist depicted a herdsman carrying a calf (West Wall). The iconographic programs of the Old Kingdom tombs rarely contain livestock scenes, while they seem to have been rather popular in the Middle Kingdom tombs of Middle Egypt (two depictions in the Amenemhat tomb 2, Beni Hasan (Newberry I, 1893: pl. xiii); tomb 21, Beni Hasan (Newberry I, 1893: pl. xxiia), tomb B No 4, Meir (Blackman ii, 1915: pl. vii).

Beni Hasan necropolis is located in the vicinity of Hermopolis Magna, while Al Bersha and Meir are somewhat more distant but still incomparably closer to the city and Tuna al Gebel necropolis than Saqqara and Giza. The painted tombs of Beni Hasan could offer a wide range of themes and basic iconographic clichés. It seems safer to assume that the artists working in the Petosiris tomb were familiar with local models than those in the far north of Egypt. The style of Beni Hasan tomb paintings, though, is unequivocally provincial and unsophisticated. As there are no stylistic reminiscences of Beni Hasan or any other provincial Middle Kingdom monuments in the Petosiris tomb reliefs, the artists are likely to have been inspired by different stylistic conventions.

A few Amarna reliefs found in Herompolis Magna – unfortunately only partially preserved – contain stable scenes such as feeding and caressing cows (Cooney 1965: cat. 58, 59).6 It is probable that the thematic variety of cattle-farming scenes in Amarna was considerably larger than is currently known.

While Hellenizing features are rather limited in craftwork, household and cattle-farming episodes, they abound in scenes of harvesting and processing wheat and grape crops. At first instance it seems bizarre, for such episodes were widely popular in pictorial programs of the New Kingdom tombs, primarily in Thebes. Therefore, their iconography was well elaborated, even standardized to a certain extent. On the other hand, the vast majority of the known Amarna tombs, with an exception of the tomb of Huya, lack depictions of agricultural labor. As for the latter, the rustic and agricultural scenes that had once decorated the walls of the tomb were largely destroyed at some point in Egyptian history (Davies 1905b: pl. V, vii). Nonetheless, the repertoire of agricultural scenes in the tomb of Huya was much more limited than in the tomb of Petosiris. The pictorial programs of Beni Hasan tombs are also conspicuously lacking in wheat and grape harvesting episodes. Probably, lacking necessary Egyptian models to copy, the artists of the Petosiris tomb found their inspiration in painted Greek artifacts, such as terracotta reliefs and vase paintings.

It also seems plausible that the choice of Hellenizing style was deliberately made by the customer who intended to emphasize his loyalty to the Greek culture. For the purpose of Hellenistic stylization, the selection of the particular motif of daily living seems to be quite logical. Any iconographic deviations in the episodes depicting funerary rites and transfer to the happy Afterlife could have endangered (in the perception of an Egyptian of that time) the transition of a deceased to the happy afterlife, while the Hellenizing rendering of the earthly life episodes was totally safe.

Thus, it looks like the appeal to Hellenistic pictorial tradition was convenient for both the customer of the pictorial program and the artists who carved the reliefs.

The episodes of the low register on the South Wall of the pronaos are rendered as typically Greek symbolic scenes pertaining to the funerary cult. They are located right below traditional Egyptian representations of Petosiris and his wife receiving homage from their son and grandson (East: Cherpion et al. 2007, 90 scene 71) and from their daughters (West: Cherpion et al. 2007, 83–4 scene 67). On the basis of semantic connections between the upper and lower registers the scholars interpret the figures depicted in Hellenizing scenes as Petosiris’s family members performing commemorative rites (Lefebvre 1923–1924, I: 107; Török 2011: 64, 69; Venit 2016:39), though Petosiris himself is not represented in the Hellenizing style (Coles 2019:87). All of the depicted members of Petosiris’s family were most likely alive when the tomb was constructed and decorated, as they belonged to contemporary political and cultural paradigms that required clear statements of loyalty towards the Macedonian rulers. The Hellenizing rendering of commemorative rites could hardly endanger the transit of the deceased to Duat, for the naos scenes depicting Egyptian funerary rites and traditional beliefs involving afterlife travel provided necessary visual support.

Further examination of style and iconographic models reveals that some of the Hellenizing scenes are reminiscent of Macedonian funerary stelae and paintings while others are closely connected to vase painting. The Egyptianizing elements stand out of the Hellenizing environment.

The East part of the wall (to the left from the entrance to the naos) features a depiction of three figures (two female and one child) standing under a tree. One of the women offers a wreath to the other one. Both the subject matter and the rendering of the scene originate from Hellenistic pictorial tradition. The outline of the tree with its carved bare branches is also reminiscent of depictions of trees on Macedonian funerary stelae. Yet, despite its predominantly Hellenistic nature, the iconography of the tree harkens back to the Egyptian tradition. The Macedonians often depicted a snake (as a chthonic symbol of the Underworld) entwining the stem of a tree, while the composition from the Petosiris tomb contains depictions of birds sitting on branches. In contrast with bare trees depicted on Macedonian stelae, the Petosiris tomb artists painted the tree foliage in greenish color. Unfortunately, the pigment has faded almost completely, thus giving more Hellenizing impression than was originally intended. The leaves of the wreath (as the most symbolically charged element of the composition) were carved, while the depiction of the tree was created with two techniques – carving and painting. A relief from the Brooklyn Museum depicting a scene of scaring away birds7 (Cooney 1965:78–79) provides an eloquent example of the same combination of techniques. It contains a depiction of a tree with a bird sitting on the branch. The tree looks very similar to that from the pronaos of the Petosiris tomb. The stem, branches and the bird were carved, while the foliage enveloping the branches was painted. The traces of greenish-blue paint are still visible.

The West part of the South wall (to the right from the entrance) features three compositions depicting offerings. Two of them are definitely Hellenizing, while the third one, despite the similar rendering of the woman’s figure, hairstyle and apparel, semantically belongs to Egyptian tradition. The woman, who is rendered in semi-profile, holds a struggling duck in her outstretched arms. (Fig. 13) She grasps the bird by its neck with her left hand, while squeezing its leg with the right one. The practice of sacrificing ducks had never existed in Greek/Macedonian funerary tradition. The woman’s posture is reminiscent of that of Akhenaten sacrificing a duck in the relief from the Metropolitan Museum collection8 (Cooney 1965: 17). The king also holds a bird in outstretched arms, grasping its neck by one hand and its wing by the other. (Fig. 14)

Figure 13
Figure 13

Tomb of Petosiris, pronaos, South Wall, Western part

Citation: Old World: Journal of Ancient Africa and Eurasia 2, 1 (2022) ; 10.1163/26670755-01010002

source: courtesy of vladimir melnik
Figure 14
Figure 14

Amarna relief from Hermopolis Magna, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, accession # 1985.328.2

Citation: Old World: Journal of Ancient Africa and Eurasia 2, 1 (2022) ; 10.1163/26670755-01010002

The processional scenes in both the naos and the East part of the South wall of pronaos contain a mysterious iconographic detail. Some of the offering bearers hold either large elongated vessels or bouquets surrounded by ducks. (Fig. 15) On the West wall of the naos the birds are tied to the oinochoia, while in other scenes the artists did not make an effort to render the strange objects more realistically. It seems likely that they had never seen the depicted objects in reality. There are no such examples of depictions of unfamiliar subjects in known New Kingdom art. Meanwhile, in Hermopolis Magna and Amarna the archaeologists discovered fragments of reliefs containing depictions of bunches of birds hanging upside down from capitals of kiosk columns (Cooney 1965: cat. 62, 63). This motive used to be very popular in Amarna art (Cooney 1965:100). The bunches of birds look rather enigmatic when withdrawn from their pictorial context and remind of vessels surrounded by tied birds. Probably, the artists of the Petosiris tomb were acquainted with some fragments depicting column capitals and hanging birds (Fig. 16). Found without the original context, they gave no clue as to their real meaning (which was quite profane), so the later artists mistook them for specific ancient offerings.

Figure 15
Figure 15

Tomb of Petosiris, naos, West Wall

Citation: Old World: Journal of Ancient Africa and Eurasia 2, 1 (2022) ; 10.1163/26670755-01010002

source: courtesy of vladimir melnik
Figure 16
Figure 16

Amarna relief from Hermopolis Magna, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, accession # 1985.328.4

Citation: Old World: Journal of Ancient Africa and Eurasia 2, 1 (2022) ; 10.1163/26670755-01010002

As for the scenes of craftworks and administrative activities, they are arranged in a particular way. The pictorial surface is divided horizontally into four traditional registers and vertically into four intercolumnars flanked by semi-columns. Such vertical and horizontal segmentation of pictorial columns was omnipresent in depictions of palaces and temples of the Amarna period. The everyday life of the household unfolded in separated rectangular rooms rendered in the cross-section perspective. For instance, the depiction of a sculptor working in his workshop in the tomb of Huya offers evocative iconographic parallels with reliefs of the pronaos of the Petosiris tomb (Davies 1905b: pl. 17). Many fragments of reliefs with depictions of palace and temple works were found by the expedition of G. Roeder in Hermopolis. The collections of the Brooklyn Museum (62.149; Cooney 1965: cat. 46) and Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (63.962, 63.427, 63.961; Cooney 1965: cat. 47, 48, 61) contain such pieces (Roeder 1969: cat. 46, 47, 48).

The talatat reliefs from Hempaaton (a temple in Karnak, which was built (or completed) by Amenhotep iv) offer parallels to this arrangement of pictorial design. The pictorial programs and style of Hempaaton reliefs as immediate precursors of Amarna art shed some light on the architecture and interior design of the destroyed Amarna temples. The reliefs of the Hempaaton wall in the Luxor Archaeological Museum demonstrate the typical vertical and horizontal segmentation of the inner space of the temple that serves as a background for a variety of administrative and household works.

Yet another detail in the reliefs of the Petosiris tomb was likely inspired by Amarna style. The folds of garments enwrapping the figures in Hellenizing scenes look like narrow straight petals with rounded lower ends. Their unnatural geometry is alien even to provincial Hellenistic art traditions that lacked the effortlessness of Macedonian art. The difference is even starker when the Hellenizing reliefs of the Petosiris tomb are compared to naturalistic Macedonian painting. Meanwhile, in the Amarna period the arrangement of the front parts of sindons into monotone folds rounded at the edges had come into fashion. The rendering of the clothes in Amarna reliefs recollect the reliefs of the Petosiris tomb.

The conspicuous stylistic parallels between the reliefs of the Petosiris tomb and the art of Amarna do not seem to be coincidental. As Akhenaton’s ancient capital and Hermopolis Magna were a short distance from each other, the inhabitants of the latter are likely to have seen examples of Amarna style. Living in the late 4th c. bc, they hardly would have recognized the fragments of reliefs, legacies of the heretic pharaoh’s time, and so could use them as models for their own works.

Conclusions

The stylistic and iconographic parallels between Amarna monuments and reliefs of the tomb of Petosiris suggest that Amarna art is likely to have influenced the style of the latter. The artists of Hermopolis Magna were probably familiar with artifacts of the Amarna period and used them as models for their own work. The multiple findings of Amarna reliefs in the city also support this assumption. Such attention paid to Egyptian cultural heritage was characteristic of the Late period (Rual 2015:2–3). James Allen and Marsha Hill argue that stylistic preferences of the Late Period varied from region to region depending on the artists’ acquaintance with local monuments (Allen & Hill 2000). For instance, the so-called Neo-Memphis sculpture school had developed under the influence of Old Kingdom art (Török 2014:10), which was basically unknown to the Thebans. In their turn, the Thebans primarily relied on Thutmoside and Ramesside traditions.

The eclectic style of the reliefs of the Petosiris tomb had developed from rethinking various visual paradigms. It is quite distinct from Neo-Memphis and Theban school styles. The expressiveness, plasticity and relative pictorial liberty of the Petosiris tomb reliefs are likely to take their roots not only in Hellenistic art but also in the art of Amarna.

The eclecticism of the iconographic program of the Petosiris tomb seems to be quite deliberate and conscious. The stylistic quotations of different periods of Egyptian history are likely to have been used as a special visual language conveying important meanings and connotations.

In order to visualize the funerary symbolism, funerary rites and transfer of the deceased to the happy Afterlife, the artists opted for the most classicistic (virtually archaicizing) style. The official Egyptian art paid special attention to this style in periods of transition from one traditional visual paradigm to a new one.

The majority of the reliefs of the pronaos are eloquently Hellenizing. Probably, the customer attempted to emphasize his support of the Macedonian rule as well as his sympathy to the Greek culture and Greek population of Hermopolis Magna. Four ritual scenes of Greek origin most likely represent Petosiris’s family members who were alive at the time of the tomb’s construction and decoration and thus involved in the political and cultural processes of the Early Ptolemaic period.

Visualizing very ancient – and unchangeable – Egyptian values of peaceful and abundant earthly life, pleasures of everyday labors, and importance of family ties, the artists appropriated some elements of the Amarna style.

The iconographic program of the Petosiris tomb is not based on strict division between the styles. The elements contrast and intermix to reappear in unexpected combinations. And yet the pictorial trilingualism of the reliefs is well articulated and distinct.

References

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1

Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden, inventory # h.iii.oooo.

2

Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung, Berlin, inventory # 14145.

3

Brooklyn Museum, New York, accession # 60.197.8.

4

Egyptian Museum, Cairo, room 3.

5

Metropolitan Museum, accession # 1985.328.6.

6

The Brooklyn Museum, # 60.197.4; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, #63.960.

7

Brooklyn Museum, inventory # 60.197.3.

8

Metropolitan Museum, accession # 1985.328.2.

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