In the Egyptian time period, art was used as a method of telling stories about previous rulers and providing religious information and guidelines to the citizens. The Last Judgment of Hunefer is a painting that had quite a large impact on the Egyptian people and their thoughts and actions in society, as well as a piece of art that when looked at, creates a lot of interest in discovering the meaning behind it. The large amount of curiosity in the eyes of the observer is due to the fact that this painting is telling a story about an unfamiliar or mysterious time period.
People nowadays may not always know the meanings behind the symbols used and as a result, may be inspired to do some research on the painting in order to discover what the artist was initially attempting to get across to the viewer. Although the fact that this painting was used specifically for religious reasons and as a result doesn’t leave much to the imagination, it is still quite intriguing to discover more about the Egyptians and their way of life.
The ability of Egyptian art to ensue curiosity in the eyes of the onlookers is based on the fact that it tells a story about what may have happened thousands of years ago, which without prior knowledge may be a bit challenging to depict.
Unless one knows the connotations of the symbols, they will be unable to fully understand the meaning of the story being told. The Last Judgment of Henefer is a great example of Egyptian art work from the XIX Dynasty. This 1’6” painting on papyrus can be found in The British Museum in London, England. Starting at the bottom left of the painting, there are two figures: a human who is being judged, and the jackal headed Anubis facing a scale. The scale is used to weigh the heart of the person being judged. Seen overhead, there’s a pattern of smaller figures known as the deities that the judged had to swear virtuousness to. On the bottom and middle of the painting, a man with the head of an Ibis, Thoth is recording the results of the weighing of the heart. Last but not least, as you continue left, Horus, the man with the head of a hawk is presenting the human being judged to Osiris, the god of the afterlife. These are the elements of art that can be found in the painting The Last Judgment of Hunefer.
There are many aspects of the painting The Last Judgment of Hunefer that draw the eyes of the spectators. Looking at the painting, the viewer will see that there are very warm colours such as orange and brown involved. Although it has a good range of value, it is not chiaroscuro because the distribution of dark and light does not make the images appear three-dimensional. This rectilinear painting has quite a few diagonal lines that assist with forming triangles in the legs, arms, and the deities sitting at the top of the painting. The curves along the bodies of the human and the gods make this painting very organic. This is because there is an irregular shape that resembles the biological curves of living organisms. The color of the robes that the deities are wearing creates a pattern that draws the eye and adds a simulated texture to the painting.
As is common in most art from this time period, the pharaoh is painted with importance. Whether he be surrounded by something, sitting on a throne, wearing a crown, or just larger than everyone else, his importance is made very apparent. In this painting, Osiris, the god of the afterlife is sitting in a throne wearing a crown and is slightly larger than the other symbols and gods in the painting. In this period, realism was not high on the artists’ list of priorities as they were more focused on getting the story told. The artist of this piece made no attempt to create an illusion of depth, which also affected the realism of the people and gods in the painting. In some ways it seems understandable that things wouldn’t be completely realistic, especially considering the fact that there are people with animal heads in the painting as well as humans.
Because this piece of artwork is telling a story, it is very occult. Generally in stories the beginning is different from the end and as a result, the image of the story will not be symmetrical. Just like reading words on a page, reading this story in the painting means that both sides with not be mirror images. The movement of the piece has a lot to do with the story. You have to read it from left to right, and so that’s the trail that your eyes will take across the painting. The way that your eyes move along the paper also has a lot to do with the composition of the piece. “At the left, Hunefer is led into the Hall of the Two Truths by Anubis, the jackal-faced guardian of the underworld. Anubis, then weighs the heart of the dead against the ostrich feather of Maat, whose head appears on the top of the scales. Maat, the goddess of truth and justice symbolized the divine order and governed ethical behavior; hence her feather was an emblem of law.
The ibis-headed scribe Thoth, who was sometimes shown in the guise of a baboon, records the results. Looking on with keen interest is Ammut, the devourer of those whose evil deeds made them unworthy of an afterlife. She has the head of a crocodile, the body and legs of a lion, and the hindquarters of a hippopotamus – all ferocious beasts. The deceased had to swear to each of the deities seen overhead that he had not sinned. Having been declared “true of voice,” he is presented by Horus to his father, Osiris,” (Horst W. Janson, Anthony F. Janson) The principles of design have a great impact on the understanding of the piece. Religion was extremely important in the life and afterlife of an Egyptian citizen. The general idea at the time was that the human existence was cyclical; their existence would be repeated eternally.
Everything that happened in life was merely a series of changes. Death, being one of these changes was just leading to another existence, “death was a transitional state that led to a better world” (Johnston, 471). After death, the weighing of the heart would take place. This painting was important because it shows the process in which the Egyptians determine whether or not a person is worthy of moving on to the afterlife. Before this procedure, the person being adjudicated must swear to each of the deities seen overhead that they had not sinned in their lifetime. As seen in The Last Judgment of Hunefer, Anubis weighs the heart against the feather of Maat while Thoth records the verdict. If the heart and the feather are of equal weight, the person under judgment is deemed justified of voice, or in other words that they told the truth when they promised they hadn’t sinned.
Depending on the result of the weighing of the heart, people were separated into two groups in the netherworld; the blessed who would go on to the afterlife, and the sinners who would not. The sinners would be condemned to punishments such as decapitation or burning. This was called a second death, or in other words total extinction. A being that had to go through this would not move on to the next existence. For those that did move on, “the afterlife contained an agricultural paradise known as the Field of Reeds” (Johnston, 472). The desire to get to the afterlife is completely understandable. The Field of Reeds would be especially appealing when compared to the other possible result: the second death. The beliefs of the occurrences after death in Ancient Egypt are very similar to how people view them today; if you’re good, you go to a paradise: the field of reeds, or heaven. If you have sinned, you suffer: the second death, or hell.
The beliefs of the occurrences after death in Ancient Egypt are very similar to how people view them today; if you’re good, you go to a paradise: the field of reeds, or heaven. If you have sinned, you suffer: the second death, or hell. Nobody would want to have to suffer the punishment that would be inflicted had they committed a sin such as such as adultery, lies or thefts and would be willing to change their lifestyles so that these penalties did not happen to them. Religion was so important to society during this time period because it meant the difference between eternal happiness in the afterlife, or a horrible punishment leading to the end of his or her existence.
The mummification of a body was a very important part in sending somebody to the afterlife. A book of the dead is a collection of over 200 spells and incantations to form a guide to the afterlife. “A book of the dead is written on papyrus or leather and placed in a casket with a statuette of Osiris or slipped into the sarcophagus or into the mummy-wrappings” (Hugh Honour). The Last Judgment of Hunefer, a spell for the weighing of the heart found in the book of the dead was placed in the tomb with the deceased. The purpose of this is was to help guide the souls of the dead through the challenges presented to them by the deities. When the book of the dead with The Last Judgment of Hunefer was placed in the casket, the mummies would have been wrapped in a very classic way. The body and limbs were completely wrapped in linen. The head was the only body part that was unwrapped, but a mask that was usually painted blue and gold covered it.
The purpose of the funerary mask was to protect the head of the deceased, and present a long-lasting substitute for the dead in an idealized manner. The mummification process usually took around seventy days. In this time there were cleansings, extractions of the internal organs apart from the heart, as well as drying out the body. The mummification process was to purify the corpse and preserve its physical integrity, “mummification concluded with anointing with resin, oils, and spices to inhibit decay, provide a pleasant smell and to confer divine status” (Johnston, 473). These mummification rituals sent the departing soul on it’s way to the afterlife. The creation and the placement of the book of the dead, and the care taken of the deceased was very important in the process of helping their souls on their journey to the afterlife.
The book of the dead was placed in the tomb of the deceased. It was made as a guide for the souls of the deceased to help them through the challenges appointed to them by the deities, one of which being the weighing of the heart, as seen in The Last Judgment of Hunefer. The placement of the book of the dead and the hard work put into the mummy wrapping was because their religion was greatly emphasized on the afterlife. Great care in the preservation of the body was ensured. Over the course of about seventy days there were bodily cleansings, withdrawals of the innards apart from the heart, as well as dehydration of the body. The torso and limbs were completely wrapped in linen leaving only the head unwrapped with a funerary mask placed overtop.
A mask was used to protect the head and to provide a long-lasting substitute for the deceased in an idealized fashion. It was believed that the body would be of use to a person in the afterlife and so their bodies would have to be preserved. The aforementioned rituals were imperative to the religious views on the departure of the deceased. The Last Judgment of Hunefer, an extremely interesting and thought provoking painting was very important to the Egyptian people and had a very large impact on their lives.
Presently, people may feel motivated to discover more about this piece of art, and as a result will uncover information about the Egyptians religious views. This painting really caught my eye whilst learning about it. I wanted to be able to understand the meaning of the story, but to do that I had to do a fair amount of research on things such as religion and the principles and elements of the design of the painting. All things considered, I have discovered that The Last Judgment of Hunefer had a really large impact on the Egyptian people and their way of life.
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Johnston, Sara Iles. Religions of the Ancient World: A Guide. Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States: Harvard University Press, 2004. 471-473. Print.