ARTYFACTS: Nebamun's Tomb - British Museum

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Nebamun's Tomb - British Museum

Arguably the most beautiful Egyptian paintings, these scenes of everyday life show a world of abundance. Fishing, hunting, singing, dancing - it's ancient Egypt at play. Unlike the more formal and sombre Royal Tombs, the tombs of lesser officials are often more relaxed allowing more freedom of expression. 

The birds, fish, cows, geese, deer and hares are so good that the species are easily identifiable but it's the way their movement and behaviour are captured that lifts many of the scenes. The gaggle of geese peck the ground, flap their wings and waddle. The duck is caught in a perfect duck-walk pose and the cat twists in the air as it catches its prey.

The social scenes are full of chat and life as guests are offered drinks and the dancers and musicians entertain. The full face poses of the musicians are very unusual in Egyptian art, which are almost always in profile. It's not often that you can feel what it was like to be there, as Royal and religious art is so templated, but here it's intimate.

Then there's the background exposition and objects, showing actual tools from Thebes such as paint brushes, plaster smoother, paint palette etc. Furniture is also shown, and I'm still puzzled by the headrests upon which sleeping Egyptians slept -they look so damn uncomfortable.

It's free, beautifully designed and lit, which is more than you can say for many expensive London art exhibitions.


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