Representations of Distinct Physical Features in Wall Scenes of the Old and Middle Kingdoms

Document Type : Original Article


The Higher Institute of Tourism and Hotels (EGOTH), Luxor, Egypt


This paper deals with the significance of Egyptian wall scenes, whether they depict stereotyped themes or specific individuals and events. The representation of human figures in Egyptian art was governed by well-known strict canons of proportion and perspective, which resulted in most figures looking similar and necessitated the addition of accompanying inscriptions to identify them. Such identification however demonstrates the artist’s intention to draw specific individuals. A careful examination of these scenes demonstrates that the artist was observant of the physical differences of the people he represented, whether these were the result of race, birth defect, disease, or accident. Variations in the skin colour, hair type and style, shape of the beard and nose, colour of the eyes were observed, and so were body shape, with some shown as emaciated, dwarves, suffering severe in-toeing, hunched-up shoulders, or even blindness. Sudden physical effort required in certain professions resulted in hernias, and both umbilical hernias and scrotal hernias appear in wall scenes. Physical deformities, perhaps the result of accidents or diseases, such as polio, are represented in some scenes, while living on the banks of a river rich in dangerous aquatic animals no doubt resulted in accidents, as is commemorated in the tomb of Khnumhotep II at Beni Hassan in the case of a man who lost the lower part of his leg. These examples which were depicted side-by-side with other more typical scenes strongly demonstrate the specificity of Egyptian wall scenes, despite the restrictive canons.