The Old Kingdom, Part II:
Dynasty 6 (ca. 2323–2150 B.C.)
With the Sixth Dynasty, significant changes in art appear. Although the underlying cultural shifts remain difficult to discern, a number of these artistic changes seem to convey a particular religious intensity. More easily explained is the new importance of provincial centers at this time.
Art and Religion at the Capital
Sixth Dynasty pharaohs continued to rule from Memphis and build funerary complexes at Saqqqara. Religious texts known as the Pyramid Texts, which were written considerably before they were first inscribed on the walls of the burial chamber of Unis at the end of the Fifth Dynasty, became a feature of the royal burial chambers. A celestial view of the king's afterlife is expressed by many of the texts, such as the following verses:
"My place is with you, O Sun, and I will not give it to anyone else.
I will go up to the sky by you, O Sun, my face as that of falcons, my wings as those of birds, my claws as the viper's fangs.
There is no case against me on earth among people. I cannot be found guilty in the sky among the gods, for I have driven off my accuser and anihilated the one who was against my ascent to the sky, and the Path Opener has made me fly to the sky among my brother gods.
I have made my arms as a goose. I have beat my wings as a kite. Someone has flown away, people; I have flowen away from you."
(Pyramid Texts, Spell 302)
Large scale relief representations of the pharaoh and the gods dominate royal relief programs, while the elaborate depictions common to the Fifth Dynasty, showing the pharaoh's heroic deeds, now move into the background. Although few royal statues survive from the pyramid complexes, there are large nujmbers of near-lifesize statues of foreign captives with breakage that suggess the sculptures were ritually "slain." They are particularly plentiful at the complexes of Pepi I (ca. 2289–2255 B.C.) and II (ca. 2246–2152 B.C.).
In many royal and nonroyal sculptures, enlarged eyes and mouths, narrowed waists, and smooth elongated limbs convey energy and expressiveness--somewhat at the expense of realism. The style draws on artistic conventions first known in wooden statues. A related style may be noted in relief. Also characteristic of nonroyal statuary of this dynasty is the pairing of a slender and often nude figure of the deceased with depictions of the same person when mature. These officials' statues were now sometimes placed in the burial chamber of a mastaba rather than in a serdab (statue chamber).
Art and Autobiography at Provincial Centers
Administrative reforms by Pepi I considerably decentraized the bureaucraticy. Royal gifts to important temples outside the capital, like the tempe of Hathor at Dendera, are more often attested. Many officials were deported to provincial capitals and buried in cemeteries there, statuary and relief from provincial tombs becomea noticably more frequent in the reserved body of art. This network of patronnage probably led to the wide dissemination from the capital of the new sculptural style discussed above.
The zeal of some of these provincial officials is proclaimed in autobiographical accounts inscribed in their tombs. Pepi-nakht left in his tomb at Aswan on the southern border a lengthy account of raids and rescues performed on behalf of Pepi II:
"I am one who says what is good and repeats what is liked: I never said anything badly about any people to one in power, for I have desired that it go well for me with the great god. I have given bread to the hungry and clothing to the naked. I never judged between two brothers in a case of depriving a son of his father's property. I am one beloved of the father, blessed of his mother, and beloved of his siblings.
The incarnaltion of my lord sent me to back up the land of Lower and Upper Nubia. I acted according to what my lord would bless, and killed a great number there, (including) the ruler's children and accomplished generals. I brought a great number of them back home as captives, while I was at the head of a large and powerful army of brave men, so that my lord came to trust me on every mission he sent me on.
The incarnation of my lord sent me again to pacify those countries, and I acted accordingy to what my lord would bless. Because of my excellence and vigilance in doing what my lord loves, I brought the two rulers of those countries back home in peace, as well as oxen, sheep and goats that I found for the palace, along with the ruler's children and the two generals who were with them, though it was not the sort of thing the monarchs of the Nile valley normally do.
The incrnation of my lord also sent me to the country of Asia to bring back for him the unique associate overseer of foreign troops, Ankhti, son of the carpenter of Hierakonpolis, Kaiaper, who had been building a seagoing ship there for a voyage to Punt when the nomadic Asiatics killed him and a troop of the expeditionary force that was with him. I acted according to what my lord would praise. Together with a troop of the expeditionary force that was with me, I repulsed a great number of these Asiatics, so that they were driven into flight and some of their people were killed.
High official royal seal-bearers, unique associate, lector priest, overseer of foreign troops, who puts the terror of Ifones into foreign lands, Pepi-makht, called Heqaib"
(Tomb of Pepi-nakht, Aswan)
By the end of the Sixth Dynasty, probably owning to a number of factors including climatic change, central control weakened. The First Intermediate Period ensued, during which leadership was dispersed among the provincial capitals. It was from this provincial base that a unified Egypt reemerged in the Middle Kingdom.
Excavated by the Harvard-Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Expediton in Giza, 1912. Recived from the Egyptian Government by the MFA in the allotment of finds. Acquired by the Museum from the MFA, Boston, 1964.