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Comparing of two pieces of art Research Paper

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Updated: Dec 13th, 2019


Throughout the ages, difference in culture has produced varied art and architecture. Art forms produced in different ages have shown different elements of mythological and religious significance, which can be understood only in context of the particular culture. This essay is an effort to compare and contrast two pieces of art, exhibited in Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The two pieces of art selected for comparison are Seated Sekhmet, which is an Egyptian sculpture from the New Kingdom Dynasty dated 1309-1352 BC and the other is Statue of Athena Parthenon (the Virgin Goddess) a sculpture made in the Roman Imperial period in the 2nd or 3rd CE.

The first is an enthroned figure of a woman with the head of a lioness, seated on a square seat, the second is a marble replica of the original statue made in gold, and ivory statue sculpted by the Roman master sculptor Phidias.

The essay begins with a description of the two art pieces and then moves on to a more formal description of the style and make of the sculptures. The paper then describes what these two statues stand for and the subject matter that they exude. In the second part of the essay, the paper discusses the meaning and function of the sculptures.

Formal Analysis

This section presents a detailed description of the two sculptures studied in the paper. The first is a hard sculpture etched in stone of the lion headed Egyptian goddess Sekhmet from the Karnak temple. The sculpture depicts the body of a woman mounted with a head of a lioness, and seated on a square stone throne.

The statue is made in granite. The statue was found in the temple of Mut at Karnak, made during 1391-1352 BCE. The height of the sculpture is 49 13/16” high x 21” wide x 26 ¼” deep (Pinch 134). It is located in the second floor of the Egyptian and Nubian gallery in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. The goddess has small eyes, which are intense and prominent jawline.

The facial features of the statue emanate an aura of violence. This is one of the 730 statues found in the Mut temple at Karnak, Egypt. The statue was made during the reign of king Amenhotep III. This is a litany in stone, especially made in granite.

The surface of the statue is clean and gleams of the granite stone with which it is made of and despite the weathering due to centuries of exposure to the arid nature, it still hold intact the details of the sculpture. The head of the goddess is crowned with a headdress, which is probably made of some other material, which is presently missing from the sculpture.

The head of the lioness shows detailed carvings with the whiskers and ruffs. The eye of the sculpture and the muzzle too are clearly visible. Decorative band is visible of the garment of the sculpture and recognizable just below the breast. Both the forearms show considerable wear and tear, especially the right hand. The left hand holds the ankh, which is placed on the left knee of the goddess.

The close knitted dress is sculpted until the nape of her ankle and the hem of the garment is etched with horizontal lines. The goddess is seated on a throne that has black, non-inscribed pillars, which run just above her head. However, the lower vertical bars next to the leg of the goddess have hieroglyphic inscriptions.

The bars on the goddess’s right side reads from right to left and vice versa on the left side. The inscriptions describe the goddess and her relation to other deities.

The second statue is that of Athena Parthenon, the virgin goddess, placed in the MFA at Boston. The statue is made of stone and bronze. The technique used for building the sculpture is marble from Mt. Penetelikon near Athens. Overall, the statue is 154 cm and weighs 232.7 kg (60 5/8 in., 513 lb.). The statue is mounted on a concrete base of 3 3/8” deep. The statue is a replica made during the Roman period.

The original is a statue in gold and ivory statue was originally kept in the Parthenon on the Athenian Acropilis made in 438 BC by master sculptor Phidias (Pinch 186). The sculpture shows the goddess wearing a helmet, which is flanked with sphinx on either side of the head of the goddess. The visors have visors on either side, which are probably deer. Griffins adorn the cheek pieces of he statue.

The either side of the face of the goddess is delicate curls falling gracefully on her shoulders. Gorgon aegis adorned on the chest of the goddess is edged with snakes (Pinch 187). There are snakes that encircle her wrists and form a knot at the center (Pinch 186). The statue was made of a heavy marble, however, the neck and the head of the statue was made of a lighter marble (Pinch 186).

The joints are secured by the curls that adorn right above their right shoulders, and even the hair on the back of the figure. Some parts of the figure had been restored. The restored portions of the statue are a small part of the left eyelid, the nose tip of the goddess, and her left nostril (Pinch 186). The body of the sculpture has remained intact, and no restoration work was necessary in it.

The troughs in the arms showed ancient iron pegs, which were used to hold the weight of the colossal marble figure (Pinch 186). The goddess is adorned in exquisitely carved marble dress that drapes, with minute and extensive folds to the ground. Only a partial right foot is visible through the heavy drape of the goddess’s dress.

Both the figures studied show a completely different physical appearance, make, style, and appearance. This section presented the physical description of the two sculptures. The next section will demonstrate the specialty and substance of the sculptures.

Subject Matter

This section discusses the subject matter of the two statues i.e. it delineates what the statues actually depict, what is the relevance of the two subjects to the religious and cultural beliefs of the two civilizations.

The first statue discussed is that of Sekhmet. The statue shows a popularly known figure of the goddess with her head of a lioness. Sekhmet is a solar goddess who is known to be very aggressive (Pinch 187). Pinch describes Sekhmet as the goddess of destruction who is believed to have descended to earth as the Eye of Ra when death first came to earth (187).

She was sent to punish the rebellious humans, and she is believed to have destroyed the whole of humanity. The visual imagery of the figure is that embodies destruction and divinity. The image is appropriate of that of a goddess that embodies a blazing sun and who would destroy all evil with her divine powers (187). Further, the goddess is also linked with disease and pestilences (188).

She is the goddess of curing diseases. The meaning of the name of the goddess is “the powerful one” which also depicts the nature of belief surrounding her (Scott 224). Sekhmet is the goddess of Ptah, the god who created ancient Memphis. Sekhmet is associated with goddess Mut, the consort of Amun god and the major seat of the god is centered in the Mut temple in Karnak (Scott 224).

Ideally, this could have been a parallelism between the Upper and Lower Egypt. The creator god Ptah and his consort Sekhmet reined over the lower Egyptians (187). In the Pyramid text, Sekhmet is called the “parent of the king when he was reborn” (188).

This remake of the Athena Parthenon made by Phidias, is different in its make and technique from the original figure. This is a Roman copy and a fine specimen of the Roman art. The goddess as depicted by the Greeks, etched in gold and ivory was a gleaming representation of religious ritual. Instead, in her new incarnation in marble she stands as a personification of wisdom.

She embodies the intellectual activity of the Romans (Platt 171). In the original model, Athena is stood tall and grandiosely, holding a Parthenon around her (Kleiner 136). Athena is in her full armor and shield, and helmet. However, the roman replica of the Athena, is made with Hellenistic inspiration. The figure became a symbol of literary productions of the time, instead of the traditional religious rites.

The figure has a somberness that can be associated with the library exuding of academic qualities instead of a ritualistic celebration of the divine. Thus, this figure is important in its secular representation from the religious depiction observed in the Grecian figure. The marble figure’s stress was not on ritual activity. It figures neither did invoke authority, as did the Athenian model made by the Greeks.

Meaning and Function of the Objects

Traditionally, the first object, the Seated Sekhmet is a statue used for religious rites, enshrined in a temple of worship. Sekhmet was a revered goddess of the Egyptians, and was worshiped as a goddess of destruction and as one who could cure ailments. On the other hand, the marble figure of Athena made in the Roman tradition is a secular figure, epitomizing knowledge and wisdom.

The roman figure is a deliberate attempt to disassociate Athena from her religious significance as demonstrated in its original version made by Phidias. Therefore, there was a clear shift in the religious depiction of Phidas and move towards an emphasis of wisdom and turning the goddess into a national symbol (Moore 89).

A comparison of both the exhibits studied in the paper shows that these two figures were installed with two different perspectives – the first Egyptian statue is that of a religious figure, installed in a temple to evoke fear and reverence. The second, on the other hand, is also of a goddess but depicted as cultural rather than a religious figure.

The first statue was probably worshiped at the temple, while the second stood as a symbol of wisdom and knowledge in a library enclosure. The difference in the cultural depiction of religiosity in the different ages and cultures is clearly delineable through the two sculptures.

Works Cited

Kleiner, Fred S. Gardner’s Art Through the Ages: The Western Perspective. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2010. Print.

Moore, Albert C. Iconography of Religions: An Introduction. Philadelphia: Fotress Press, 1977. Print.

Pinch, Geraldine. Handbook of Egyptian Mythology. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO , 2004. Print.

Platt, Verity Jane. Facing the Gods: Epiphany and Representation in Graeco-Roman Art, Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. , 2011. Print.

Scott, Gerry D. “A Seated Statue of Sekhmet and Two Related Sculptures.” D’Auria, Sue. Servant of Mut: Studies in Honor of Richard A. Fazzini. Leiden: BRILL, 2007. 223-234. Print.

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