Ancient Egyptian Ostraca Art

  • Sharebar
Egyptian female dancer

Ancient Egyptian dancer performing a gymnastic backbend, painted in 13th century BC on Ostracon found in Thebes, 10.5 cm x16.8 cm, now in the Turin Museum Egizio, Italy

What you see here is a magnificent Egyptian painting, which is about 3300 years old, depicting an Egyptian woman dancer, performing a backbend, commonly found in performances of contortion, gymnastics and dances. The backbend, which requires intense training, shows the superior professionalism, talents and high skills of the dancer.

The dancing woman, wearing a typical black dance costume and gold hoop earrings, is perfectly at ease while bending, and in total control and balance. Her curly, wavy hair is left loose, and is flowing in a natural pattern in harmony with her dance movement. But her earrings are pointed upwards, defying gravitational force, and seems a bit odd in an otherwise perfect composition of art. It is hard to believe that the artist who painted this picture is aware of the effect of gravity on her hair which is lightweight, but he ignored it in the case of the comparatively heavier earrings.

However, the admirable balance of colors and high standards of artistry seen in this painting requires very high levels of expertise. Like several other Ostraka art pieces, this painting is also from the ancient Egyptian village of Deir el-Medina, home to the artisans who worked on the tombs of the Valley of the Kings in Thebes where the Pharaohs of the 18th to 20th Dynasties of the New Kingdom period (1550 BC to 1080 BC) were buried.

The artwork is painted on ostracon, singular of ostraca, which refer to pieces of pottery and fragments of limestone. Because Papyrus was expensive, ostracon was extensively used in ancient Egypt because of its durability, cheap or free availability and ease of working on it. It was the most preferred medium for not only drawing and painting, but also everyday writing, such as letters, documents, receipts, stories, prescriptions, etc.

The art piece in this picture survived in an impeccable condition despite several centuries of neglect until it was collected by Bernardino Drovetti (1776-1852), Consul General of France in Egypt. Possibly the work would not have survived so long, if it was created on any other media, other than ostraca.

Though Drovetti collected Egyptian art and antiquities in the name of France, he built up a huge personal collection for himself. In 1824, King Charles Felix (Carlo Felice Giuseppe Maria) acquired much of his personal collection consisting of 5,268 pieces, which later formed the foundation for the Museo Egizio in Turin, the second largest Egyptology museum after Cairo.

About Krishna