History Embalmed

Bas-Relief

The Definition of a Bas-Relief is Bas-relief is a method of sculpting which entails carving the surface of a flat piece of stone. A Bas-Relief is a sculpture which is portrayed as a picture where the image is raised above the flat surface of the background.

The Egyptian Bas-Relief
The Egyptians treated bas-relief in three ways:

  • As a simple engraving executed by means of incised lines - preferred for small monuments
  • By cutting away the surface of the stone round the figure, and so causing it to stand out in relief upon the wall - this method was the most generally adopted
  • By sinking the design below the wall-surface and cutting it in relief at the bottom of the hollow. This method lessened not only the danger of damage to the work, but the labour of the workman

The Egyptian Stone Bas-Relief
The Egyptians sometimes cut boldly into the stone. At Karnak, on the higher parts of the temples, where the work is in granite or sandstone, and exposed to full daylight, the bas-relief decoration projects full 6-3/8 inches above the surface.

Had it been lower, the tableaux would have been, as it were, absorbed by the flood of light poured upon them, and to the eye of the spectator would have presented only a confused network of lines. The head, the arms, the legs, the trunk, each part of the body, in short, was separately cast. If a complete figure were wanted, the parts were put together, and the result was a statue of a man, or of a woman, kneeling, standing, seated, squatting, the arms extended or falling passively by the sides.

The Egyptian Bas-Relief
The method of using cubes was used to create the Egyptian Bas-Relief. The work was begun by covering one face of a cube with a network of lines crossing each other at right angles; these regulated the relative position of the features. Then the opposite side was attacked, the distances being taken from the scale on the reverse face. A mere oval was designed on this first block; a projection in the middle and a depression to right and left, vaguely indicating the whereabouts of nose and eyes. The forms become more definite as we pass from cube to cube, and the face emerges by degrees. The limit of the contours is marked off by parallel lines cut vertically from top to bottom. The angles were next cut away and smoothed down, so as to bring out the forms. Gradually the features become disengaged from the block, the eye looks out, the nose gains refinement, the mouth is developed. When the last cube is reached, there remains nothing to finish except the details of the head-dress and the basilisk on the brow.

Bas-Relief
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Ancient Egypt

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