A 4,000-Year-Old Student ‘Writing Board’ from Ancient Egypt (with Teacher’s Corrections in Red)


Americans raised on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books tend to associate slates with one room schoolhouses and rote exercises involving reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.

Had we been reared along the banks of the Nile, would our minds go to ancient gessoed boards like the 4000-year-old Middle Kingdom example above?

Like our familiar tablet-sized blackboards, this paper — or should we say papyrus? — saver was designed to be used again and again, with whitewash serving as a form of eraser.




As Egyptologist William C. Hayes, former Curator of Egyptian Art at the Metropolitan Museum wrote in The Scepter of Egypt: A Background for the Study of the Egyptian Antiquities in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 1, From the Earliest Times to the End of the Middle Kingdom, the writing board at the top of the page:

…bears parts of two model letters of the very formal and ultra-poite variety addressed to a superior official. The writers consistently refer to themselves as “this servant” and to their addressees as “the Master (may he live, prosper, and be well.)” The longer letter was composed and written by a young man named Iny-su, son of Sekhsekh, who calls himself a “Servant of the Estate” and who, probably in jest, has used the name of his own brother, Peh-ny-su, as that of the distinguished addressee. Following a long-winded preamble, in which the gods of Thebes and adjacent towns are invoked in behalf of the recipient, we get down to the text of the letter and find that it concerns the delivery of various parts of a ship, probably a sacred barque. In spite of its formality and fine phraseology, the letter is riddled with misspellings and other mistakes which have been corrected in red ink, probably by the master scribe in charge of the class.

Iny-su would also have been expected to memorize the text he had copied out, a practice that carried forward to our one-room-schoolhouses, where children droned their way through texts from McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers.

Another ancient Egyptian writing board in the Met’s collection finds an apprentice scribe fumbling with imperfectly formed, unevenly spaced hieroglyphs.

Fetch the whitewash and say it with me, class — practice makes perfect.

The first tablet inspired some lively discussion and more than a few punchlines on Reddit, where commenter The-Lord-Moccasin mused:

I remember reading somewhere that Egyptian students were taught to write by transcribing stories of the awful lives of the average peasants, to motivate and make them appreciate their education. Like “the farmer toils all day in the burning field, and prays he doesn’t feed the lions; the fisherman sits in fear on his boat as the crocodile lurks below.”

Always thought it sounded effective as hell.

We can’t verify it, but we second that emotion.

Note: The red markings on the image up top indicate where spelling mistakes were corrected by a teacher.

via @ddoniolvalcroze

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Artist Makes Micro-Miniature Sculptures So Small They Fit on the Head of a Pin

The jury remains out as to the number of angels that can dance on a pin, but self-taught artist Flor Carvajal is amassing some data regarding the number of itty bitty sculptures that can be installed on the tips of matchsticks, pencil points, and — thanks to a rude encounter with a local reporter — in the eye of a needle.

According to Tucson’s Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures, where her work is on display through June, The Vanguardia Liberal was considering running an interview in conjunction with an exhibit of her Christmas-themed miniatures. When she wouldn’t go on record as to whether any of the itty-bitty nativity scenes she’d been crafting for over a decade could be described as the world’s smallest, the reporter hung up on her.




Rather than stew, she immediately started experimenting, switching from Styrofoam to synthetic resin in the pursuit of increasingly miniscule manger scenes.

By sunrise, she’d managed to place the Holy Family atop a lentil, a grain of rice, the head of a nail, and the head of a pin.

These days, most of her micro-miniature sculptures require between 2 and 14 days of work, though she has been laboring on a model of Apollo 11 for over a year, using only a magnifying glass and a needle, which doubles as brush and carving tool.

In a virtual artist’s chat last month, she emphasizes that a calm mind, steady hands, and breath control are important things to bring to her workbench.

Open windows can lead to natural disaster. The odds of recovering a work-in-progress that’s been knocked to the floor are close to nil, when said piece is rendered in 1/4” scale or smaller.

Religious themes provide ongoing inspiration – a recent achievement is a 26 x 20 millimeter recreation of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper — but she’s also drawn to subjects relating to her native Columbia, like Goranchacha, the son the Muisca Civilization’s Sun God, and Juan Valdez, the fictional representative of the national coffee growers federation.

See more of  Flor Carvajal’s micro-miniatures on her Instagram.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Louvre’s Entire Collection Goes Online: View and Download 480,00 Works of Art

If you go to Paris, many will advise you, you must go to the Louvre; but then, if you go to Paris, as nearly as many will advise you, you must not go to the Louvre. Both recommendations, of course, had a great deal more relevance before the global coronavirus pandemic — at this point in which art- and travel-lovers would gladly endure the infamously tiring crowdedness and size of France’s most famous museum. But now they, and everyone else around the world, can view the Louve’s artworks online, and not just the ones currently on display: through the new portal collections.louvre.fr, they can now view access every single one of the museum’s artworks online.

“For the first time ever,” says last week’s press release, “the entire Louvre collection is available online, whether works are on display in the museum, on long-term loan in other French institutions, or in storage.”




This includes, according to the about page of the collections’ site, not just the “more than 480,000 works of art that are part of the national collections,” but the “so-called ‘MNR’ works (Musées Nationaux Récupération, or National Museums Recovery), recovered after WWII,” and “works on long-term loan from other French or foreign institutions such as the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, the Petit Palais, the Fonds National d’Art Contemporain, the British Museum and the archaeological museum of Heraklion.”

The masterpieces of the Louvre are all there, from Eugène Delacroix’s La Liberté guidant le peuple and Titian’s La Femme au miroir to the Vénus de Milo and the Great Sphinx of Tanis. But so are an enormous number of lesser-known works like a Giovanni Paolo Panini view of the Roman forum, an anonymous 19th-century Algerian landscape, Hendrick de Clerck’s Scène de l’histoire de Psyché (among many other Dutch paintings), and a powder flask amusingly engraved with human and animal figures, all of them in search of their rightful owners since their retrieval from a defeated Germany. You can also explore the Louvre’s online collections by type of work: drawings and engravings, sculptures, furniture, textiles, jewelry and finery, writing and inscriptions, objects, and of course paintings. In that last category you’ll find the Mona Lisa, viewable more clearly than most of us ever have at the physical Louvre — and downloadable at that. Enter the collection here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Short Biography of Keith Haring Told with Comic Book Illustrations & Music

Singer-songwriter-cartoonist Jeffrey Lewis is a worthy exemplar of NYC street cred.

Born, raised, and still residing on New York City’s Lower East Side, he draws comics under the “judgmental” gaze of The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist and writes songs beneath a poster of The Terminator onto which he grafted the face of Lou Reed from a stolen Time Out New York promo.

Billing himself as “among NYC’s top slingers of folk / garagerock / antifolk,” Lewis pairs his songs with comics during live shows, projecting original illustrations or flipping the pages of a sketchbook large enough for the audience to see, a practice he refers to as “low budget films.”




He’s also an amateur historian, as evidenced by his eight-minute opus The History of Punk on the Lower East Side, 1950-1975 and  a series of extremely “low budget films” for the History channel, on topics such as the French RevolutionMarco Polo, and the fall of the Soviet Union.

His latest effort is a 3-minute biography of artist Keith Haring, above, for the Museum of Modern Art Magazine’s new Illustrated Lives series.

While Lewis isn’t a contemporary of Haring’s, they definitely breathed the same air:

While Haring was spending a couple of formative years involved with Club 57 and PS 122, there was little six-year-old me walking down the street, so I can remember and draw that early ’80s Lower East Side/East Village without much stretch. My whole brain is made out of fire escapes and fire hydrants and tenement cornices.

Lewis gives then-rising stars Jean-Michel Basquiat and performance artist Klaus Nomi cameo appearances, before escorting Haring down into the subway for a literal lightbulb moment.

In Haring’s own words:

…It seemed obvious to me when I saw the first empty subway panel that this was the perfect situation. The advertisements that fill every subway platform are changed periodically. When there aren’t enough new ads, a black paper panel is substituted. I remember noticing a panel in the Times Square station and immediately going aboveground and buying chalk. After the first drawing, things just fell into place. I began drawing in the subways as a hobby on my way to work. I had to ride the subways often and would do a drawing while waiting for a train. In a few weeks, I started to get responses from people who saw me doing it.

After a while, my subway drawings became more of a responsibility than a hobby. So many people wished me luck and told me to “keep it up” that it became difficult to stop. From the beginning, one of the main incentives was this contact with people. It became a rewarding experience to draw and to see the drawings being appreciated. The number of people passing one of these drawings in a week was phenomenal. Even if the drawing only remained up for only one day, enough people saw it to make it easily worth my effort.

Towards the end of his jam-packed, 22-page “low budget film,” Lewis wanders from his traditional approach to cartooning, revealing himself to be a keen student of Haring’s bold graphic style.

The final image, to the lyric, “Keith’s explosive short lifetime and generous heart speak like an infinite fountain from some deep wellspring of art,” is breathtaking.

Spend time with some other New York City icons that have cropped up in Jeffrey Lewis’ music, including the Chelsea Hotel, the subwaythe bridges, and St. Mark’s Place.

Watch his low budget films for the History Channel here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Exquisite, Ephemeral Paper Cuttings of Hans Christian Andersen

Quick, name a melancholy Dane.

For most of us, the choice comes down to Hamlet or Hans Christian Andersen, author of such bittersweet tales as “The Little Match Girl,” “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” and “The Little Mermaid.”

Andersen’s personal life remains a matter of both speculation and fascination.

Was he gayAsexualA virgin with a propensity for massive crushes on unattainable women, who engaged prostitutes solely for conversation?

No one can say for sure.




What we know definitively is that he was a jolly and talented paper cutter.

He enchanted party guests of all ages with improvised stories as he snipped away, unfolding the sheet at tale’s end, a souvenir for some lucky young listener.

“You can imagine how many of them must have got torn or creased,” says art historian Detlef Klein, who co-curated the 2018 exhibition Hans Christian Andersen, Poet with Pen and Scissors. “You could often bend the figures a little, blow at them and then move them across the tabletop.”

Amazingly, 400 some survive, primarily in the Odense City Museums’ large collection.

Pierrots, dancers, and swans were frequent subjects. Spraddle-legged creature’s bellies served as proscenium theaters. Even the simplest feature some tricky, spindly bits—tightropes, umbrellas, delicate shoes….

The most intricate pieces, like Fantasy Cutting for Dorothea Melchior below, were thoughtful homemade presents for close friends. (The Melchiors hosted Andersen’s 70th birthday party and he died during an extended visit to their country home.)

The cuttings bring fairy tales to mind, but they are not specific to the published work of Andersen. No Thumbelina. No Ugly Duckling. Not a mermaid in sight.

As Moy McCrory, senior lecturer in creative writing at the University of Derby, writes:

Andersen knew that his written work would outlast him: he was famous and successful, as were his tales. Yet he continued to work in these transient materials, their cheapness and availability making them of no value apart from their appeal to sentiment…Why work in a form that ought to have left no traces? I suggest that this showed how Andersen reacted to his fame, and to his own sense of being forever on the margins of the lived life. He moved amongst the educated and the famous, was friendly with Dickens, was patronized by nobles, but was outside those circles. His education was gained at some pains to himself, years after the usual dates for these activities (he would not even pass nowadays as a “mature student”, since his completion of elementary school only took place when he was a young adult). He was always placed outside the normal bounds of the society he kept.

Readers, we challenge you to play Pygmalion and release a fairy tale based on the images below.

All images, with the exception of The Royal Library Copenhagen’s The Botanist, directly above, are used with the permission of Odense City Museums, in accordance with a Creative Commons License.

Explore the Odense City Museums‘ collection of Hans Christian Andersen’s papercuts here.

Bonus reading for those in need of a laugh: “The Saddest Endings of Hans Christian Andersen Stories” by the Toast’s Daniel M. Lavery.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Cocktails with a Curator: The Frick Pairs Weekly Art History Lectures with Cocktail Recipes

Once upon a time, not so long ago, First Fridays at the Frick were a gracious way for New Yorkers to kick off the weekend. Admission was waived, participants could take part in open sketching sessions or enjoy live performance, and curators were on hand to give mini lectures on the significance and historical context of certain prized paintings in the collection.

Rather than pull the plug entirely when the museum closed due to the pandemic, the Frick sought to preserve the spirit of this longstanding tradition with weekly episodes of Cocktails with a Curator, matching each selection with recipes for make-at-home themed drinks, with or without alcohol.




Much as we miss these communal live events, there’s something to be said for enjoying these wildly entertaining, educational mini-lectures from the comfort of one’s own couch, drink in hand, no need to crane past other visitors for a view, or worry that one might keel over from locking one’s knees too long.

Deputy Director and Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator Xavier F. Salomon makes for an especially engaging host. His coverage of James McNeill Whistler’s Symphony in Flesh Color and Pink: Portrait of Mrs. Frances Leyland, above, touches on the artist’s affinity for butterflies, music, Japanese themes and building his own frames.

But the greatest delight is Salomon’s talent for imbuing 19th-century art world gossip with a sense of immediacy.

Sip a sake highball (or a virgin sangria-style refresher of plum juice and mint) and chew on the true nature of the artist’s relationship with his shipping magnate patron’s wife.

Sake Highball
sake (of your choice)
club soda (as much/little as needed)
lots of ice

Alternative Mocktail
plum juice

ice
cut orange, lemon and apple (sangria style)
mint leaves
sugar (as needed)

Salomon returns to consider one of the Frick’s most iconic holdings, François Boucher’s rococo Four Seasons.

Commissioned in 1755 to serve as over-door decorations for King Louis XV’s mistress Madame de Pompadour, they now reside in the Frick’s ornate Boucher Room.

Salomon draws comparisons to another swooning Frick favorite, Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s series Progress of Love. While the romantic nature of these works is hardly a secret, Salomon is able to speak to the erotic significance of dolphins, grapes, and tiny 18th-century shepherdess bonnets.

Those who are respecting COVID protocols by courting outdoors this winter will welcome Salomon’s thoughts on Winter’s central figure, a coquette riding in a sleigh driven by a well-bundled man in Tartar dress:

Her hands may be warmed by a muff, but her upper body is completely exposed. It’s a combination of luxury and seduction typical of Boucher, all treated in a fanciful, even humorous manner.

Also, is it just us, or is Curator Salomon taking the opportunity to enjoy his Proust-inspired Time Regained cocktail in a kimono? (A perk of the virtual office…)

Time Regained
2 oz. Scotch whisky
0.75 oz. Dry vermouth
0.5 oz. Pisco
0.25 oz. Jasmine tea syrup (equal parts of jasmine tea and sugar)

Alternative Mocktail
Cold jasmine tea
One spoonful of golden syrup
Top with tonic water

Salomon hands hosting duties to colleague Aimee Ng for Vermeer’s Mistress and Maid, one of three works by the Dutch Master in the Frick’s collection.

Here the drama is less explicitly informed by the boudoir, though there’s a big reveal around the 10 minute mark, thanks to recent advances in infrared reflectography and some well-coordinated art sleuthing.

As to the contents of the message the maid proffers her ermine trimmed mistress, we’ll never know, although those of us with ready access to the Dutch spirit genever can have fun speculating over a glass of Genever Brûlée.

Genever Brûlée
2 oz genever
1 teaspoon brown sugar
A few dashes of classic bitters
A dash of orange bitters
A splash of sparkling water
Garnished with a caramelized orange slice

Alternative Mocktail

Juice of half an orange
2 dashes orange blossom water
A splash of sparkling water
Garnished with a caramelized orange slice

To explore a playlist of every Cocktails with a Curator episode, covering such notable works as Velázquez’s King Philip IV of SpainClaude Monet’s Vétheuil in Winter, and Hans Holbein’s Sir Thomas More, click here.

To read more in-depth coverage of each episode’s featured artwork, along with its cocktail and mocktail recipes, click here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She most recently appeared as a French Canadian bear who travels to New York City in search of food and meaning in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

A 3,000-Year-Old Painter’s Palette from Ancient Egypt, with Traces of the Original Colors Still In It

It’s a good bet your first box of crayons or watercolors was a simple affair of six or so colors… just like the palette belonging to Amenemopet, vizier to Pharaoh Amenhotep III (c.1391 – c.1354 BC), a pleasure-loving patron of the arts whose rule coincided with a period of great prosperity.

Amenemopet’s well-used artist’s palette, above, now resides in the Egyptian wing of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Over 3000 years old and carved from a single piece of ivory, the palette is marked “beloved of Re,” a royal reference to the sun god dear to both Amenhotep III and Akhenaton, his son and successor, whose worship of Re resembled monotheism.




As curator Catharine H. Roehrig notes in the Metropolitan’s publication, Life along the Nile: Three Egyptians of Ancient Thebes, the palette “contains the six basic colors of the Egyptian palette, plus two extras: reddish brown, a mixture of red ocher and carbon; and orange, a mixture of orpiment (yellow) and red ocher. The painter could also vary his colors by applying a thicker or thinner layer of paint or by adding white or black to achieve a lighter or darker shade.”

(Careful when mixing that orpiment into your red ocher, kids. It’s a form of arsenic.)

Other minerals that would have been ground and combined with a natural binding agent include gypsum, carbon, iron oxides, blue and green azurite and malachite.

The colors themselves would have had strong symbolism for Amenhotep and his people, and the artist would have made very deliberateregulated, evenchoices as to which pigment to load onto his palm fiber brush when decorating tombs, temples, public buildings, and pottery.

As Jenny Hill writes in Ancient Egypt Onlineiwn—colorcan also be translated as “disposition,” “character,” “complexion” or “nature.” She delves into the specifics of each of the six basic colors:

Wadj (green) also means “to flourish” or “to be healthy.” The hieroglyph represented the papyrus plant as well as the green stone malachite (wadj). The color green represented vegetation, new life and fertility. In an interesting parallel with modern terminology, actions which preserved the fertility of the land or promoted life were described as “green.”

Dshr (red) was a powerful color because of its association with blood, in particular the protective power of the blood of Isis…red could also represent anger, chaos and fire and was closely associated with Set, the unpredictable god of storms. Set had red hair, and people with red hair were thought to be connected to him. As a result, the Egyptians described a person in a fit of rage as having a “red heart” or as being “red upon” the thing that made them angry. A person was described as having “red eyes” if they were angry or violent. “To redden” was to die and “making red” was a euphemism for killing.

Irtyu (blue) was the color of the heavens and hence represented the universe. Many temples, sarcophagi and burial vaults have a deep blue roof speckled with tiny yellow stars. Blue is also the color of the Nile and the primeval waters of chaos (known as Nun).

Khenet (yellow) represented that which was eternal and indestructible, and was closely associated with gold (nebu or nebw) and the sun. Gold was thought to be the substance which formed the skin of the gods.

Hdj (white) represented purity and omnipotence. Many sacred animals (hippo, oxen and cows) were white. White clothing was worn during religious rituals and to “wear white sandals” was to be a priest…White was also seen as the opposite of red, because of the latter’s association with rage and chaos, and so the two were often paired to represent completeness.

Kem (black) represented death and the afterlife to the ancient Egyptians. Osiris was given the epithet “the black one” because he was the king of the netherworld, and both he and Anubis (the god of embalming) were portrayed with black faces. The Egyptians also associated black with fertility and resurrection because much of their agriculture was dependent on the rich dark silt deposited on the river banks by the Nile during the inundation. When used to represent resurrection, black and green were interchangeable.

via My Modern Met

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She most recently appeared as a French Canadian bear who travels to New York City in search of food and meaning in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Take a New Virtual Reality Tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

You can go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art today, and in real life at that. This isn’t true of all the world’s great art institutions, still shut down as many are by measures in response to the past year’s coronavirus pandemic. But then, none of them have offered a digital visiting experience quite like The Met Unframed, recently launched in partnership with cellphone service provider Verizon. For a period of five weeks, anyone can join and freely roam a virtual reconstruction, or rather reimagining, of the Met and its galleries. There they’ll encounter paintings by Pollock, Van Gogh, and Rembrandt, as well as work by current artists and majestic artifacts from antiquity.

“Upon entering the website, visitors are welcomed to the museum’s Great Hall with a view of Kent Monkman’s diptych mistikôsiwak: Wooden Boat People (2019),” writes Hyperallergic’s Hakim Bishara. “From there, banners offer broad thematic concepts — Power, Home, Nature, and Journey — through which visitors can explore the galleries.”




Embedded in certain pieces of art, you’ll find not just historical details and audio-tour explanations but mini-games, which “include trivia questions and riddles that encourage close observation of the artworks and labels. A game called ‘Analysis’ uses the Met’s infrared and X-ray conservation scans of paintings to reveal underdrawings and other hidden details of well-known paintings.”

Win enough such games, and you’ll get the chance to “borrow” the artwork you’ve clicked to display, through augmented reality, in your space of choice — for fifteen minutes, at least. At Artnet, critic Ben Davis writes of placing here and there around his apartment Frederic Edwin Church’s Heart of the Andes, Jacob Lawrence’s The Photographer, and a Baby Yoda-scaled version of Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait. He even makes a serious if ultimately frustrated effort to win digital borrowing rights to the ancient Egyptian Temple of Dendur, one of the Met’s pièces de résistance since the late 1970s.

To experience The Met Unframed for yourself, just head over to its web site and use your phone to scan the QR code that comes up (if you’re not browsing on your phone in the first place). You’ll then be taken straight to the virtual Great Hall, which you can navigate by swiping in any direction — or physically moving your phone around, if you’ve enabled gyroscope mode — and tapping the icons glowing along the ground or on the walls. The combination of high technology, historical reference, depopulated but elegantly designed settings, puzzle challenges, and a score in which synthesizers meet ambient noise will remind visitors of a certain age of nothing so much as the adventure games of the early 1990s, especially Myst and its clones. But then, what does a museum do if not unite the past and the present?

via Hyperallergic

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletterBooks on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

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