Ancient Egyptian art, the Libyan palette

Egypt art, Libyan palette

We are going to talk about one of the finest artifacts about ancient Egyptian art, which is the Libyan palette.

Palettes in ancient Egypt

Palettes were usually made of slate/schist/greywacke the ancient Egyptian name for schist was (bhn). They were used to grind pigments such as malachite or galena from which eye paint (kohl) was made. Palettes were normally buried with the deceased as grave or funerary goods.

Earliest examples of palettes during the pre-dynastic period were simply rectangular in shape, later developed to animal shapes such as hippopotami and turtles or later birds and fish. These were known as cosmetic palettes.

They were usually oval or shield-shaped and were used as votive or commemorative items in temples rather than grave of funerary goods.

The Narmer palette is from the latter type i.e. commemorative as it commemorates the victory of Narmer on the people of Lower Egypt.

Each palette has a recto and verso side which is distinguished by the depression in the middle of the verso. The Libyan palette was found at Abydos, dating back to the pre-dynastic period (Nagada III).

It commemorates the victory on Libyan lands known to the Egyptians as “Temehew”, “Tmhw” and “Tehenew thnw”, as well as the tributes that were given to Egypt from the land of “tmhw”. It is made out of schist, which was brought from the eastern desert and Sinai.

Unfortunately, it is damaged, only the lower part survived so we could not tell which side is the verso or the recto due to the absence of the circular depression used for grinding malachite (kohl).

Egypt art: the description

The first face is divided into FOUR registers depicting scenes of walking animals in three registers above the 4th register of two rows of trees (maybe olive trees).

The 1st register:

Ancient Egypt art, Libyan palette
Egyptian art, the Libyan palette

It shows a group of bulls or oxen which are represented walking or standing one behind the other in a row. They have wide eyes which are further emphasized by a series of lines or wrinkles around them.

The musculature of the limbs is well stylized and stresses the power of the bulls. The last one his horns are overlapping the preceding one also the diminishing size of bulls toward the end of the line, most probably because of the lack of the space.

The 2nd register: it depicts a line of donkeys, they are all the same size but the last one is smaller in size than the other.

The 3rd register: it is occupied by a line of rams the problem of the lack of space was solved by representing the last one smaller in size and his head turned to the back and that also maybe to break the monotony of the scenes, or maybe he is missing his mother whom he left behind.

The 4th register: it contains a group of olives tree “8” in number, arranged in two rows.

At the end of the last row, there is a representation in hieroglyphics of a throwing stick on a piece of land, which stands for t3 tmhw (name of a Libyan tribe). Olive trees are one of the main trees that had been grown in Libya.

If we look to the leaves of these trees we feel as if they are moving, so the artist would like to show that the Libya, tribes were leaving Egypt in a stormy windy day.

The Egyptian artist was skillful enough to show the magnificence of ancient Egypt art, as he represented the details of the animals’ body.

This palette is widely interpreted as a celebration of a victory over a group of Libyan people, in this condition these animals are represented as the spoils of war or most probably a gift from the Libyans.

The fact about the second face

Ancient Egyptian art
Egypt art, the second face of the palette

There are seven cities (represented as fortified walls) with their names apparently written inside the walls.

It consists of two main rows of frames or squares and these are symbols for fortified towns.

Inside some of these frames, there are some hieroglyphic inscriptions most probably represented the names of towns;

One of these inscriptions is identified as Buto (P), known nowadays as Tell el faraeen in Kafr el-Sheikh Governorate.

There is a representation of god Seth in the form of a jackal. The city here is represented by the Bnw bird which may refer to Heliopolis or Tanis.

Hours and beneath the owl (letter “m”) may refer to Fayum (which is actually written with two owls). Two wrestlers probably representing Horus and Seth. The city may be Buto where the famous fight between them took place.

The king destroyed the town of (Ka) with a lion above representing the king and the k3 arms may refer to Memphis which was the place of the Ka of Ptah.

The king (scorpion king owner of the palette) is destroying the city of (hwt). Thus the upper row may refer to the northern middle Egypt and the lower row to the delta.

Upon each frame, there is a representation of an animal e.g. a falcon (or hawk), a scorpion, a lion. And double falcons. Each animal is holding a pick or hoe to break.

Down the walls of the cities (hieroglyphic sign mr) sinking the puck into the fortified city to lay its foundation. That’s why this palette is sometimes referred to as the foundation palette.

On the uppermost part of this face, there is a representation of human feet but the rest of the scene is destroyed.

Ancient Egyptian art includes a lot of masterpieces, and the Libyan palette considers one of them.