Much of the artwork still existent today from Ancient Egypt is contained in the tombs and burial chambers of once famous or important people. The artwork’s main purpose being to celebrate not only the life that these people have lived, but also the life that they were believed to begin after their death on Earth: their Afterlife. One of such artworks is a painted relief that has been dubbed Ti Watching a Hippopotamus Hunt, found in the tomb of Ti, an important official, in Saqqara, Egypt.
Such works like this one often depict activities and things that the people in them enjoyed in life, in an effort to give them those same activities in the Afterlife. In this case, the activity of hunting is something that this person wanted to have carried over into the next life. In addition to which, as our textbook mentions, “The conquest of nature, [like in hunting] for instance, served as a metaphor for triumph over death.” (Janson’s, 58) all-art.org however, states that the paintings may also or alternately have symbolized certain seasons throughout the year, allowing for a perpetual calendar that the deceased could follow while in the Afterlife. Either way, many of the paintings had additional underlying meanings for their journeys into the Afterlife.
As well, many of the ways in which the subjects (like the people, animals and backgrounds in the relief) are painted also follow certain patterns of meaning. For instance, the main important figure is far more stylized and idealized, meant to show them as the pinnacle of humanity. In contrast, the figures of the servants and lower class people look much more naturalistic and expressive, having much more dynamic poses and realistic proportions. Many of the animals also, are more natural looking and have significance beyond their places as wild game and decoration. Again from our textbook, it says that the hippopotamus was believed to be an evil creature, an embodiment of chaos and the god Seth, a destructive god corresponding with the animal’s penchant for eating crops.
As with many things of course, much of the true intended meaning of such a picture has been lost to the ages, as generations and generations beyond those who saw its original form have come and gone. Scholars continue to try and make the best translations and decipher as much as they possibly can in terms of the meaning of these reliefs, and can often make very well educated guesses based on the evidence that they do have. In the end though, all art is open to the interpretation of the viewer, and sometimes the best we can do is guess at a piece’s original intent.
- Janson's History of Art, 7th Edition