This fascinating piece of art located in the Egyptian Museum of Turin. And like the Museum in Cairo, it’s wholly dedicated to Egyptian art. It is a small and fragile object of 25 x 15, a drawing on limestone.
The limestone shard on which the artist drew what has become famous as the “Turin Dancer” or “Turin Museum Ballerina” measures 10.5 cm in height and 16.8 cm in length. The designer “made the most of the rounded shape of the ostracon to organize its composition. The ballerina’s body, which occupies the centre of the stone, describes a curve parallel to the contours of the ostracon. The young woman makes the bridge by resting only the tiptoes and the hands on the ground. At the angle, drawn by the knees on the left side, meets the angle of the elbows on the opposite side. The chest in the extension of the head breaks the line which connects the arms to the abdomen. The delicacy of the limbs opposes the thickness of the black, curly hair which seems to drag the head towards the ground. “
In “Stone Notebooks – The Art of Ostraca in Ancient Egypt”, Anne Mimault-Gout gives us a description, just as admiringly, of this work of art: “Among the representations of dancers and musicians, the most famous of the figured ostraca is that of the dancer making the bridge ‘The ballerina of the museum of Turin’, the work of a master. Her supple body, superbly thin and elegant, performs an acrobatic movement. She wears only a tiny loincloth and a large ring at the ear: the breast is generous, and the mass of long curly hair invades the space created between the legs and the arms. “
As for Eleni Vassilika she interprets, with great sensitivity, this “suspended” moment: “She is represented when she bends backwards, perfectly in profile, and not in the usual rigid standing posture, with the shoulders frontal and legs in profile. The contours of the leg and the arms on the background are also depicted realistically. The dancer’s wavy hair is loose and flowing, but the earrings, which do not fall, defy gravity. The liveliness and artistic quality of the drawing of this almost iconic sketch testify to a high level of skill and suggests that it may have been the work of a royal craftsman who worked in the Valley of the Kings “.
The faithful rendering of the anatomy, the superb form of the young woman, the vivacity induced by her acrobatic position: everything in this sketch made over 3000 years ago is full of life and energy and holds us under its control. charm!
This work, which – it must be emphasized that’s only a “draft” – testifies to the extraordinary mastery that the artisans of the pharaonic era had achieved. A Mastery which, expressed as well on small media like this one, or else, on the colossal statuary, or the walls of the tombs.
Ostraca (in the singular: ostracon) are shards, debris or fragments of limestone, or even of terracotta which were, in antiquity, used by artists as graphic supports for their “essays”. The papyrus was in fact too expensive at the time and reserved for more ‘noble’ uses … Thus the ostraca, which they found in profusion in the sides of the mountain, were they the support on which they worked their preparatory sketches, on which they practised, started again, before reaching excellence and finally being admitted to work in situ in the royal tombs.
It is also on these ostraca, that they allowed themselves to give free rein to their imagination and their own creativity, far from the canons and codes which were imposed on them, or “vignettes” which they had to faithfully reproduce. Thus, many of them offer us fresh and charming subjects, such as fables or satirical drawings, a whole sympathetic bestiary, as well as some intimate and even erotic scenes …
Most of the ostraca recorded today come from the current site of Deir el-Medineh. Founded at the beginning of the XVIIIth dynasty under the reign of Thutmose I, this village was a “royal institution” and then called “Set Maât her imenty Ouaset” (“The place of Truth, in the west of Thebes”). It extended and enlarged several times, especially under the reigns of Thutmose III and the first Ramessides.
There lived, in the shelter of high walls, the members of the community of craftsmen (architects, scribes, designers, painters, sculptors, quarrymen, simple workers …) who worked “in teams” and “in workshops” in the digging and the decoration of the residences of the eternity of the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens and, it seems, other more distant necropolises… “It is by analyzing the Theban tombs of the XVIIIth dynasty that we were able to deduce the existence of different workshops. We know, thanks to a recent discovery, that a group of artists or a workshop based in Deir el-Medineh, had probably been active in Saqqara, in the north of Egypt.”
“Rediscovered” in the 19th century, the village of Deir el-Medineh saw a “parade” of many ‘researchers’, then Egyptologists: Bernardino Drovetti, Henry Salt, Karl Richard Lepsius, Auguste Mariette, Gaston Maspero… Ernesto Schiaparelli will undertake excavations there in 1905, then the German Georg Christian Julius Möller. The site concession will then be definitively awarded to Ifao in 1917; for thirty years, from 1922 to 1951, Bernard Bruyère will methodically explore the site and make important and wonderful discoveries.
The dancer’s ostracon arrived in Turin in 1824 through the acquisition by His Majesty the King of Sardinia of the first “Drovetti” collection. It is now exhibited at the Museo Egizio under reference C 7052.
If it is sometimes indicated as having an ‘unknown provenance’, it is, however, most often indicated as coming from Deir el-Medineh, which according to its style seems very probable.
We cannot help but compare it to an ostracon dated from the 19th – 20th dynasty – almost similar although less successful – discovered by Bernard Bruyère in 1949-1950, in the large well of Deir el-Medineh.
How not end with this analysis, that issued in the guide to the Museo Egizio, an analysis, to which it is impossible not to adhere: “It seems more and more obvious, that the artists of Deir el-Medineh, employed by the State, have left a strong imprint on their works and are at the origin of a singular artistic style which has not finished, fascinating us! “
Marie Grillot (Marie Grillot)
Ostrakon figurato con rappresentazione di una ballerina in posizione acrobaticahttps://collezioni.museoegizio.it/it-IT/material/Cat_7052/?description=&inventoryNumber=7052&title=&cgt=&yearFrom=&yearTo=&materials=&provenance=&acquisition=&epoch=&dynasty=&pharaoh=
Notebooks de pierre – The art of ostracas in ancient Egypt, Anne Mimault-Gout, Hazan, 2002
Museo Egizio, Fondazione Museo delle Antichità Egizie di Torino, Franco Cosimo Panini Editore, 2016
Art treasures of Museo Egizio, Eleni Vassilika, Allemandi & Co
Museo Egizio guide, Franco Cosimo Panini editions
The Egyptian Museum Turin, Federico Garolla Editore
Egyptian Art in the Museum of Turin, Ernest Scamuzzi, Hachette, 1966
The artists of pharaoh, Deir el Medineh and the Valley of the Kings, Louvre, 2002
A World History of Art , Hugh Honor, John Fleming