PAST: Scribes of Outlines

Drawing in Ancient Egypt
Fri 13-09-2013 - Sun 19-01-2014

From 13 September 2013 to 19 January 2014, the Cinquantenaire Museum in Brussels hosted the exhibition ‘Contour Scribes – Drawing in Ancient Egypt’. This was a prime opportunity to discover the secrets of the draughtsmen and painters of pharaonic Egypt. The exhibition opend together with the grand retrospective devoted to the work of Henry van de Velde.

In Ancient Egypt, draughtsmen and painters were known as ‘contour scribes’. Indeed, Egyptian art was primarily determined by lines encompassing forms and areas, thereby producing outline sketches within which colours in all their hues could be applied to dazzling effect.

The exhibition, which, as ‘The Art of Outline Drawing in Ancient Egypt’, was having its first showing at the Louvre in Paris (from April to July 2013), pointed up the importance of drawing in the pharaonic civilization. It treated conventions, techniques, functions and applications, and brought the visitor into direct contact with Egyptian artists through the medium of the most free and spontaneous creations, as well as of strictly official works of art. A whole range of questions regarding the ‘contour scribes’ were dealt with, including: how and by whom they were trained, what their position in society was, how much literary and artistic schooling they had, and how their creativity and aesthetic sense can be described. The exhibition also seeked to provide a profound reflection on the concept ‘art’ in Ancient Egypt, as well as to consider how we ourselves experience Egyptian art, what ideal of beauty lies behind that art, and how that relates to the function of the works of art produced by the artists of the Nile Valley.

This rich range of themes was explored on the basis of approximately 200 remarkable items lent by world-class museums, and included illustrated papyri and ostraka, wall paintings from tombs, stelae, sculptures, items of grave furniture, and drawing instruments. Numerous of these items had come from the Louvre and the Royal Museums of Art and History, and also co-operating in the exhibition are the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), the British Museum and the Petrie Museum (London), the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford), the Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge), the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (Leiden), the Medelhavsmuseet (Stockholm), the Kestner-Museum (Hanover), the Ägyptisches Museum (Berlin), the Museo Egizio (Turin), the Museo Egizio (Florence), the Musée Calvet (Avignon), the Musée des Beaux-Arts (Lyon), the Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris) and the Musée des Antiquités nationales (Saint-Germain-en-Laye).

Accompanying the museum was a richly illustrated catalogue that not only discusses the items on display, piece by piece, but also includes a number of earlier essays on Egyptian drawing.