02. Ancient Mediterranean, Art & Humanities

#15. Seated scribe. Saqqara, Egypt. Old Kingdom, Fourth Dynasty. c. 2620–2500 BCE. Painted limestone.

Art Historical Background

First off, we do not know the identity of the Seated scribe but it is assumed he originally sat on a base that may have ointainted his name and other identifying information. Due to time and shotty archeology of the 19th century, we have lost all historical information.

I’ll start with his face and work my way down. Many articles describe the striking eyes of the Seated scribe.They are still inlaid with crystal stones that create quite a shocking impression at first sight…any who I’ve never seen him in person so I can’t attest to their creepiness, but looking at the detailed image below they are certainly realistic.

Drawing back and looking at his face we see elements of personality, individuality, and age. This scribe was not indented to be eternally perfected in an everlasting, unattainable youthfulness. Although he is certainly not at old man we can see a little bit of sinking in his cheeks and other irregularities such as his half-smile and in what is my opinion, large ears.

The scribe certainly shows “imperfections” as we move down his torso too. Nothing against aging, but this is certainly not the chest of a 20-something year old Olympic athletic. We can clearly see that the scribe has a sedentary job in which he also probably enjoys the extra luxuries of plentiful food. By no means is he fat by modern standards, but we see evidence of his social status and age.

Read more: Lesson Plan: Human Figure in Ancient Egyptian Art


Not surprisingly, the scribe is in the act of writing, or would have been if his reed pen where still in his hand. His seated position is also conducive to his job as a scribe. Imagine in a thousand years some future humans may look at pictures of office workers and art historically break them down like we are doing to this piece! Imagine the art history of the future, woah…

I think people are so drawn to the Seated scribe because he breaks the mold of what people think Egyptian art “should” look like; sure he still has the black kohl eyeliner but the rest of him is nothing like the static, eternally perfect figures were are used to in the canon of art history.


Next Time: #16 Standard of Ur from the Royal Tombs at Ur (modern Tell el-Muqayyar, Iraq). Sumerian. c. 2600-2400 BCE. Wood inlaid with shell, lapis lazuli, and red limestone.

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