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Work Fragment of the Hunting Palette

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: From the late prehistoric period to the late Middle Kingdom (circa 3800 - 1710 BC)

Fragment of the Hunting Palette

© Musée du Louvre/C. Décamps

Egyptian Antiquities
From the late prehistoric period to the late Middle Kingdom (circa 3800 - 1710 BC)

Author(s):
Etienne Marc, Pierrat-Bonnefois Geneviève

The so-called "Hunting Palette" is among the objects that feature the earliest Egyptian bas-reliefs from the late predynastic period. These were large votive stone slabs with a central circular shape. One side of this stone is decorated with a hunting scene. The clothes, weapons, and certain symbols would be recurrent themes throughout the pharaonic civilization.

Palettes for grinding eye shadow

In the late Egyptian predynastic period, during the fourth millennium BC, residents of the Lower Nile valley used stone palettes used to grind eye shadow. They were flat, elegantly sculpted, and reproduced a stylized animal shape, most often a fish, but they were sometimes fashioned into diamond or even shields-shapes topped with animal heads. We assume that the green eye shadow, made from copper ore, played an important role in their customs and must have been viewed as containing magical powers. The palettes were art objects, placed near the heads of the deceased in their tombs.

Early bas-relief sculpture

In the final phase of the so-called "Naqada" period, sometime after 3300 BC, palettes featuring hunting scenes were among the first examples of bas-relief art in Egypt. Some were fairly large in size and included a circular shape in the center. This is the case of the so-called "hunting" palette; the Louvre has one fragment of this palette, while two others are in the British Museum in London (EA 20790). The scene portrays a row of men hunting lion and antelope (London fragments). The Louvre fragment depicts a number of loin-clothed hunters wearing animal tails and carrying throw sticks and bows. The accoutrements and artistic conventions used to represent these Naqada figures were recurrent themes throughout the pharaonic era.

Between predynastic and dynastic Egypt

These historical narrative palettes were discovered in tombs and in religious edifices. These are extremely artistic, but impractical, and were probably made for gods or chiefs. They must have been limited to ceremonial or even commemorative use only. The art of relief carving developed on these large palettes as well as on dagger handles, at a time when major stone architectural structures were still nonexistent. The cosmetics palette, a characteristic object from the late predynastic period, was therefore the support for the first relief sculptures. Here, the hunting scene depicts an essential activity of predynastic society, which Egyptians during the dynastic period considered to be a manifestation of man's control over natural chaos. Hunters parade along the entire edge of the palette, while animals are relegated to the center and the edges. The action on this transportable object is composed with a disconcerting sense of freedom, as it is not conditioned by the inflexible orientation of a wall surface.

Bibliography

A.J. Spencer, Early Egypt, The rise of civilisation in the Nile valley (London, The British Museum Press, 1993), p. 57-58, fig. 37.
M. Stead, Egyptian life (London, The British Museum Press, 1986), p. 59, fig. 75.
B. Midant-Reynes, "Aux origines de l'Egypte. Du Néolothique à l'émergence de l'Etat, Paris" 2003, p. 336-361.
R. Tefnin, "Image et Histoire. Réflexion sur l'usage documentaire de l'image égyptienne", Chronique d'Egypte, tome LIV, n 108, juillet 1979.
p. 221-229 : "La question de la narration, à propos de la Palette de la Chasse".

Technical description

  • Fragment of the Hunting Palette

    Late Naqada Period, c. 3300-3100 BC

    Abydos?

  • Graywacke, sculpture (bas relief)

    H: 14.60 cm; W: 40.50 cm. Total original length: 66.8 cm.

  • Transferred by the Department of Oriental Antiquities in 1912 (n 1551)

    E 11254

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    The Naqada era, c. 4000–3100 BC
    Room 20

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