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Striding figure.

Looking Carefully

A wood sculpture over 40o0 years old which has not been consumed by dry rot, white ants or simple decay can be an oddity. When that sculpture is a complete Egyptian figure showing an artist's sensitive handling of wood to portray dignity, honor and respect, the sculpture is a treasure.

Figure of a Striding Man, standing less than 16" (41 cm) tall, is such a treasure. His demeanor and dress tell us that he probably represents an Old Kingdom (c. 2400 B.C.) nobleman of considerable importance. Such a figure would be placed in a tomb to "identify" it for the Ba (soul) and the Ka (vital force of the deceased). His long left arm gracefully echoes the forward movement of his left leg. His right hand holds the end of his kilt, the skirt worn by men. The kilt, which would have been made of starched linen, is shown here with horizontal lines carved to represent the folds of the cloth. The strong triangular appearance of the skirt further accentuates the stance of the figure.

The gesture of the stride accompanied by the grasping of the kilt may actually be a court stance of acknowledgement in the presence of a king or immediate superior. This same gesture can be seen in similar figures of the time. Note the long elegant fingers with the perfect nails and cuticles of hands that have not seen hard labor.

The chest is modeled with sensitivity to anatomy. There is a swelling curve around the navel with a small protruding knot of the kilt below. The nipples are of inlaid ivory. Attention to muscle and actual body shape can be seen in the way the kilt covers the body, and in the calves of the legs below.

The crack through the chest shows us the sculpture is from one piece of wood which was attached to a separate base. Trees rarely were of sufficient diameter for full sculpture, so the arms of such figures were often made separately and joined by mortise and ten don joints or by dowels.

Egyptians captured the idealistic and naturalistic images in one figure. The face is less a portrait and more an individual captured through a sculptor's formula. The eyes stare forward. The mouth is calm and confident. The hair is cropped close to the head. The dark hair and gesso-like material on the body and kilt indicate the presence of color at one time. This figure as a whole shows more three-dimensionality and flair to the gesture than is seen in most other similar examples from the same time.


Figure of a Striding Man stands in stark contrast to Study: Falling Man, created in 1964 by American Ernest Trova, despite the fact that both step forward holding a similar stance.

Study: Falling Man is two-thirds life size. It is an enigma--stepping forward or falling; ruling technology or being ruled by it. The shiny cold surface contrasts strikingly with the warmth of wood in the Egyptian sculpture. The faceless striding figure of our century walks with total introspection. His lack of arms make him seem to operate like a planet in rotation, unable to change direction or not caring to. The mechanism attached to his chest was transformed from a spray device obtained in a hardware store. This figure is serene and in control to the point of seeming mechanized and inhuman. The paunchy, swayback, middle-aged appearance of this willing chrome victim of technology helps the Egyptian take on a youthful, hopeful and eager appearance by contrast.

Together these two figures span the full range of figurative sculpture through their contrast of materials and appearance. On a comparative level, each steps forward with the left foot, and each exhibits a continuing universal representation of anatomy. The Egyptian seems to remain in control--this figure appears to represent a man enough in control to change direction at the next step. The mechanization of our modern man seems to have eliminated control with regard to direction even though this figure seems able to accept whatever fate a forward step would bring him.

The chrome-like surface of the Trova sculpture reflects the face of anyone who looks at it, making the viewer part of the sculpture and its fate. While Figure of a Striding Marl allows us to look at man from a place and time long ago and far away, Study: Falling Man grabs us into the immediacy of its world. Each sculpture offers us a figure showing dignity with head held up and moving forward.

Key Concepts

* Ancient Egyptian history spans a period of time lasting about 3000 years, and is divided into Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom, with transitional periods.

* Architectural materials were discovered at the time of the Old Kingdom, allowing for more permanent structures, such as the creation of a tomb for the dead king complete with the artistic pieces that became part of the burial.

* Egyptians combined idealistic and naturalistic images within one sculpture, capturing not a portrait, but all individual modeled in a sculptor's stylized formula.

* Egyptian wood sculpture was often small and carved from imported woods using copper tools.

* Egyptian sculpture, as well as painting, shows a strong use of geometric shapes.

Stylistic Information

Ancient Egypt covers a period of over 3000 years of history. Three strongly recognized Egyptian images--the pyramids, Tutankhamen and Cleopatra--sequentially stand apart from each other by nearly 1000 years. Ancient Egyptian history is primarily divided into Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom.

The Old Kingdom--the time of Figure of a Striding Man--followed the Archaic Period and spanned nearly 500 years beginning in 2700 B.C. Generally Dynasties III to VI are considered Old Kingdom. Mud-brick and structural timber imported from Lebanon encouraged architectural feats beyond the reed shelters and mud hovels of prehistoric time. Stone was used for door-posts, thresholds and lintels. While peasants continued to lie in homes of lashed bundles of papyrus stalks, wattle and daub, the upper class enjoyed structures of strength--but not permanence. Permanence and monumental architecture grew from the need to create a tomb for the dead king. The step-pyramid for Djoser of the Third Dynasty is the first known permanent stone tomb of its kind. The pyramid's designer, Imhotep, is the first non-Pharaoh mentioned in history.

It is the tombs that provide us with information about the Old Kingdom and the artistic styles and accomplishments of the time. Their colored reliefs vividly show us country life in Ancient Egypt with representations of busyness illustrating boating on the Nile, music, games and dancing, pastoral life, field sports, and more. The reliefs are full of life--in contrast with the eternal calm of the tomb where they are displayed.

It was during the Old Kingdom that characteristics of artistic style began that were to remain strong for centuries. Animated figures in profile with frontal chest views interact but rarely overlap. Fish, animals and geometric stylizations of plants complete the scenes. Hieroglyphic symbols appear.

Wood sculpture of the Old Kingdom was small because the available wood--principally acacia, cedar, sycamore, fig, tamarisk and willow--had a small diameter. The tools used were copper adzes, axes, chisels and saws, and wooden mallets. Egyptians used a standard measurement unit of the cubit, equivalent to the distance from elbow to finger-tip. A standard number of cubits was used for a figure's height and proportions.

The Pharaoh's craftsmen customarily set the artistic fashion of a time as well as influenced attitudes. The solid majestic and divine look of the early sculptural Pharaohs presents an image in contrast to a later slate sculpture of a Pharaoh with his wife that started a sculptural trend transforming the ruler into a more human image. Ultimately, the power of the rulers became diversified as their children and dependents laid claim to a privileged life and a part of the king's immortality. A decentralization of government led to anarchy and the fall of the Old Kingdom.

Suggested Activities Elementary

* Create a display of figures walking. Include modern examples such as sportswalkers and fashion figures along with Figure of a Striding Man and other examples from art history. Generate a list of words that describe walking, such as "lumber," "amble" or "stroll." Discuss and demonstrate how walking varies just as facial expressions might vary. Students could then produce creative pieces with walking as the subject, such as poems, videotapes and sculptures.

* Students may create tagboard silhouettes of pharaohs wrapped in cloth (include amulets and charms in the wrappings). An appropriate sarcophagus or cartonnage covering should be made for the mummy with hieroglyphics about the dead and symbols of appropriate gods such as Osiris and Anubis. Additional objects for the tomb such as figure of a Striding Man and stone ceremonial bowls could be cut from tagboard.

* Include Figure of a Striding Man in a study of art that stresses strong verticals and horizontals. You may wish to include such pieces as a figure by Giacometti or a later painting by Mondrian. Cut pieces of paper that are long, e.g. 6" x 18" (15 cm x 46 cm). Using the paper horizontally or vertically, have students draw or paint a figure that fits the compositional format.

* Students can design figurative wire sculptures where the figure has one font in front of the other. The figures may be clothed in costume, in the act of doing some thing, male, female, etc. The students should be able to see the creative variety of sculpture with this single common factor.

* Using geometric shapes of cut paper (circles, rectangles, triangles), have students make an arrangement that resembles Figure of a Striding Man. Color should be the student's choice. This abstraction of the sculpture should show its strong geometric character.


* Archaeologists are central to our understanding of the past. After a study of the role of the archaeologist, bring in objects that may be unfamiliar to students (e.g., a shrimp deveiner or a tea ball). Assign students to groups, each with an object, and ask them to think up possible uses for the object. You can turn this around by presenting students with unusual objects of life today (e.g., reflecting ball lawn ornaments) and ask them to think about what archaeologists of the future might say about us.

* Gather together examples of art from the three major time periods of ancient Egyptian history. In an attempt to help students understand that 3000 years of history has passed, create a visual timeline from 1950 to the present. Help students draw conclusions about the speed of change during our time as compared to change in the time of the Ancient Egyptians. Discussions could follow about what influences change.

* Figure of a Striding Man most probably represents a nobleman of considerable importance. Ask students to research life in Egypt and determine the rights, privileges and powers of the noblemen at that time.

* Collect examples of different woods, both hard woods and soft woods. Invite students to work on the wood samples using a chisel and mallet. Discussion could follow regarding what necessary skills would be needed by a wood sculptor. How might the skills differ as tools change? What does trade have to do with wood sculpture? How might the grain of the wood have an effect on the finished piece?

* Art history has often been an inspiration to modern commercial efforts. Reacquaint students with American Gothic by Grant Wood or Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci. They will most likely be familiar with both because of modern-day takeoffs of the image. Introduce students to Figure of a Striding Mars. Each student will then create a modern takeoff advertisement using the Figure of a Striding Man image in a creative manner. Further study of Egypt might lead to imaginary products such as "There's no place like the Nile," Ancient Egyptian food products complete with sand, or "papyrus towels" for picking up spills. It is important to discuss the best way to maintain integrity of the image while allowing for creative efforts.


Miriam Stead, Egyptian Life. London, England, British Museum Publications, 1986.

Morris Bierbrier, The Tomb-Builders of the Pharaohs. London, England, British Museum Publications, Ltd. 1982.

T.G.H. James, Ancient Egypt: The Land and Its Legacy. Austin, Texas, University of Texas Press, 1988.

George Hart, Exploring the Past: Ancient Egypt. New York, Gulliver Books, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988. (For the young reader.)

Pamela Hellwege is Department Head, Teacher and Youth Programs, The Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis, Missouri.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Davis Publications, Inc.
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:studying Egyptian sculpture, 'Figure of a Striding Man' and modern sculpture, 'Study: Falling Man'
Author:Hellwege, Pamela
Publication:School Arts
Date:Mar 1, 1991
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