The Hidden Life of Ancient Egypt || Clare Gibson

The publisher was very keen that I should see this, even though I explained that ancient history doesn’t normally fall within the purview of ABR Towers. “Never mind that”, they said, “this is about the artefacts”, and so it is.

The first impression is that it’s a lot more than the usual “Ooh, look, mummies” approach to a civilisation that was well-advanced in art, architecture and science. Ancient civilisations die out either because they destroy themselves (the Incas probably cut down so many trees that their water supplies and agricultural systems dried up), or they become overwhelmed by invasions or they just develop beyond themselves.

What I think I like most about this book is the freshness, not just of its approach, but of the images. Yes, we’ve all seen them, or ones like them, before, but here they’re in an artistic context and suddenly all those representations of human and animal forms look fresh, as though you’re seeing them for the first time; which, in a way, you are.

As well as copious illustrations which never start to get repetitive (a not-infrequent problem with ancient history), Clare provides complete yet admirably concise descriptions and explanations that bridge the gap between seeing and understanding without overloading you with information.

On balance, I’m beginning to think that this is exactly the sort of thing this site needs: a fresh look at something you’d initially pass by as being irrelevant to contemporary painting.

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