Ancient Art Review: Palette of Narmer

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“The Palette of Narmer” is a work of art created in the ancient Egyptian city of Hierakonpolis around 2950 B.C.E. It is a carving made of green schist that represents art from the Early Dynastic Period (Stokstad 52). It was found during the dig season of 1897-1898 by British archeologists James E. Quibell and Frederick W. Green. The 64-centimeter tall palette contains artwork on both sides that display symbols that carry cultural significance relative to the time. For example, one side depicts a royal palace that sits over the head of King Narmer, which is meant to indicate that he is the ruler. The palette also shows an array of defeated enemies, their decapitated heads, and pictures of bulls, which indicate the might of the king. The palette was meant to be a tribute to the power of King Narmer and the society he governed (Stokstad 52).

Another similar work is “The Code of Hammurabi,” an ancient writing on a black diorite slab that describes the rights, duties, and punishments for King Hammurabi’s citizens in ancient Mesopotamia. It dates back to around 1772 B.C.E. and it is one of the oldest writings of significant length in the world (Stokstad 38). The large slab, approximately 71 centimeters in height, described in detail the various cultural laws and traditions of the time and established a widespread model of legal and judicial reasoning for Hammurabi’s society, which included things as specific as the liability of a builder for a collapsed house (Stokstad 38).

The Palette of Narmer” and “The Code of Hammurabi” each have their own distinct style and appearance, but there are many common aspects between them. They both have a smooth, stony texture which helps outline the various characters that play a role in the art. The two carvings have a very similar hue with an almost identical value. The outline of the characters in the carvings is very similar, and the shape of the characters and their actions are shown in a relatively similar manner.

Despite the similarities, however, there are many ways in which these two carvings differ with respect to artistic elements. “The Palette of Narmer” uses diminution to show spatial recession, whereas “The Code of Hammurabi” uses only one plane to depict its characters. In “The Palette,” King Narmer’s sandal-wearing accompaniment is smaller than the king himself, which emphasizes that the king is prominently displayed in the foreground. Also, while there are similarities in the outlines of the shapes in the two carvings, “The Palette” has more clearly defined outlines of its figures, while the “The Code” has figures with more blurred and rough edges. The characters shown in “The Code” have more spatial depth to them, as “The Palette” has characters that are not raised from the sculpting surface nearly as much as in “The Code.” And while both carvings are relatively smooth in texture, “The Code” is rougher and more grainy than its counterpart. “The Palette” is much more well-preserved and features less chipping and scratching on its surface.

Both of these sculptures have many form-related characteristics to compare and contrast, and both of them are very important pieces of art that carried a great deal of significance in their time. “The Palette of Narmer” was a testament to the will and might of a powerful ruler, while “The Code of Hammurabi” was a descriptive account of the laws and customs of ancient Mesopotamia society.

Work Cited

Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History. 5th ed. N.p.: Prentice Hall, 2005. Print.