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Beauty Is More Than Skin Deep: Depictions Of Aging Women In Ancient Egyptian Art

2068 words - 8 pages

Beauty is More Than Skin Deep: Depictions of Aging Women in Ancient Egyptian Art

In Ancient Egypt, women are typically shown as youthful and beautiful while more mature, older women are very rarely depicted. For men of the time, ageing is shown in art more frequently because it was a positive aspect of manhood. For ancient Egyptians, art wasn’t just made for pleasure or beauty; it was a very practical and necessary part of the day-to-day lives of the Egyptians. In art, Egyptian belief was that people needed to be depicted at their peak of energy and beauty in order to remain that way forever when they cross over into the afterlife. In most ancient Egyptian art, male ageing is represented more frequently than women since it was considered a positive image for men. Egyptian art seldom depicted older women or women growing older: "neither pregnancy nor the spreading waistline that many women must have had after years of bearing children is part of the image." However, there are examples that feature elements of ageing that are linked to elite and non-elite women alike. These demonstrations of older women are possibly an attempt to outwardly show on women the authority and honor in the same way the image of male ageing is represented. Though it is rarely depicted, we can use art to trace the portrayal of older women and women growing older in Egypt, from the Third Dynasty down to the end of the New Kingdom.

As women age, their bodies change in various ways such as the development of wrinkles and white hair. However, Egyptian art did not necessarily combine these features in a consistent, fixed order when they show women as they grew older. This may reflect the reality of the ageing process: people do not always age in the same way. We are able to see signs of age, illness, and injuries from human remains out of Ancient Egypt. These factors leave traces on bones and in some special cases on body tissues. Even though the signs of ageing in women are seen in these remains, it is interesting to note that there is no existing text from this time period that describes a woman's feelings as she passes through menopause, or any other female specific aspect of aging. Perhaps it could have been thought that female ageing begins at menopause when a woman can no longer bear children, which was considered a primary role for women in Ancient Egypt. Or, maybe, it was more of an ideological choice to represent people in a certain way that tried to communicate the message of growing older without including intimate details of the ageing process. For example, sometimes we will see the face of a statue that may exclusively show signs of ageing but the body of that same piece does not. One of the most dramatic examples of "an old head on a young body" is the statue of Queen Tuya in the Vatican, whose face is deeply lined but whose body is firm and youthful. It was typical to see depictions of older or more mature women using subtle artistic hints that the...

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