Can one compile, at the present day, a true history of Egypt, especially of the most ancient times? Information derived from the monuments, despite the great abundance of the latter, is, after all, of a very fortuitous nature. For one ancient papyrus which has been rescued, countless millions must have perished. … It would seem that there still exists a great abundance of Egyptian documents, but they have to cover an enormous space of time.
We can generally say that such and such a king carried out building operations upon such and such a temple; that he undertook a military expedition against such and such a neighboring country; that he returned with the spoils which he proudly enumerates; to which we may add a more or less lengthy catalogue of the monuments, which his contemporaries have left behind them. Our knowledge of the civilization of Egypt is much fuller, thanks to the biographical inscriptions and to the countless scenes depicted upon the temples and the tombs.
We must also allude to another important source of information, although the most difficult to use — the religious texts. These appear to us, from the times of the Ancient Empire, as the written version of a long and almost invariable oral tradition. They indicate to us a state of civilization which Egypt had long since left behind when these religious texts were used. The general impression which emerges from a scrutiny of these materials is that even the Egypt of the earliest dynasties had already a long past behind it.
Ancient history is divided into the following division:
|Early Dynastic Period||First + second Dynasty||I and I||c. 3150 – 2686 BCE|
|Old Kingdom||Third to sixth Dynasty||III, IV, V, VI||2686 – 2181 BCE|
|First Intermediate||Seventh to eleventh Dynasty||VII, VIII, IX, X, XI||2181 – 2061 BCE|
|Middle Kingdom||Late eleventh to fourteenth||XI, XII, XIII, XIV||1705 – 1690 BCE Second|
|Intermediate||Fifteenth to seventeenth||XV, XVI,XVII||1674 – 1535 BCE|
|New Kingdom||Eighteenth to Twentieth||XVIII, IXX, XX||1549 – 1077 BCE Third|
|Intermediate||Twenty-first to twenty-fifth||XXI, XXII, XXIII, XXIV, XXV||1069 – 653 B.C.E.|
|Late Period||Twenty-sixth to Thirty-fist||XXVI, XXVII, XXVIII, XXIX XXX, XXXI.||672 -332 B.C.E.|
From all this we perceive that there are two obscure epochs, one between the Ancient and Middle Empires, the other between the Middle and the New, and a confused period between the close of the New Empire and the 26th dynasty. We find that the first two of these obscure periods have been times of artistic decadence in Upper Egypt. With the inauguration of the Middle Empire (12th dynasty), of the New Empire (18th dynasty), and again under the Saite Empire (26th dynasty), the artistic traditions of the great epochs were successively revived.
On each occasion, in fact, the models which served in the most brilliant periods of the Ancient Empire were reverted to, so that Egyptian art may thus be described not as a gradual artistic evolution which perfected itself as the ages rolled on, finally to deteriorate and die out, but rather as a series of deviations, or of decadence followed by renaissance. It is thus that we can explain the fundamental uniformity of Egyptian art, in a number of its manifestations, in spite of the great diversity which we notice.
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