Egypt, it's art during the Saite Period of Egyptian History

The capital of the Saite Dynasty was Sais in the Western Nile Delta. Its first king was Psamtek I (664-610 B.C.) who ejected the Kushites and Assyrians from Egypt. The victory over foreign rule brought about an era of national pride. Art of the Saite period was typically based on Old or Middle Kingdom prototypes (ca. 2690 - 1650 B.C.).

Demotic (popular) script was formally adopted and used in all documents during the Saite period, replacing the hieratic (priestly) script that had been used by the elite. Demotic was the script used on the Rosetta Stone, discovered in 1799 and now at the British Museum. Egypt, and the Rosetta Stone, were ceded to the British government by the French in 1801. Because the Rosetta Stone was written in Greek, Demotic and Hieroglyphics, it was used to decipher the previously-unknown language Hieroglyphics. Hieroglyphics was particularly difficult to crack because it can be written from right to left or left to right.

A Greek trading post was established in the Nile Delta during this period (ca. 630 B.C.) called Naukratis. Greek mercenaries were increasingly used in place of Egyptians in the military. Suddenly, Egypt was part of the Mediterranean world.

Little is known of the five other kings of the Saite Dynasty. There are no surviving statues of the Saite kings that are completely intact.

The Saites particularly venerated the Step Pyramid at Saqqara, the traditional burial place of kings from the time of Narmer (ca. 3100 B.C.) Some Saite artists literally traced panels, using grids, from Saqqara. The image below is an example of one copied from the Old Kingdom.

From the funerary stela of Antkhefenkhons, priest of Amun. Thebes, Dynasty XXVI; height of complete stela is 18.6 inches; British Museum, London, U.K.

Cyril Aldred and many other Egyptologists believe that the casting of metal sculpture became prevalent during the prosperous Saite period. Scholars think that the “casting of metal sculptures on a small scale had been reduced to a mechanical exercise.” (C. Aldred, Egyptian Art, Thames and Hudson, London, 1980, p. 227

Bronze figure of Amun, Dynasty XXVI; on the base is inscribed: "Amun, given life Amenirdis daughter of Kheth-khonsu-irbi," 7 5/8 inches high; private collection, U.S.

Artists of the Saite period used a version of the grid system for carving reliefs in conformity with older works. The squares of the grid were made smaller than those used during the Old and Middle Kingdoms; now the hand of a man equaled one square of the grid. The original grid system for drawing the human figure had been developed in the Fifth Dynasty (ca. 2500 B.C.). The carvers of the Saite period had nearly two thousand years of examples and accumulated expertise in using the grids. They didn’t slavishly copy older reliefs. In the example below, the figure’s shoulders are broader than they would have been during previous times. The headdress is similar to those worn by Asiatic warriors in the New Kingdom (ca. 1450 B.C.)

Sandstone relief with Atum and cartouches of two divine worshippers of Amun, Dynasty XXVI, 29.5 x 20.5 inches; private collector, U.S.

Traditional animal cults were revitalized during the Saite period. The cult of the god Thoth was one of the major ones that came back into fashion. The Thoth cult was centered in Upper Egypt at Khnum. His key characteristics were wisdom and peacemaking. Typically Thoth was depicted as an ibis. In his baboon manifestation, according to myth, he made peace between the sun god Ra and his daughter Tefnut. Tefnut abandoned Egypt enraged at her father Ra, taking all the water from the Nile with her. Thoth restores peace and the water returns to the Nile.

Seated Baboon; XXVI Dynasty; light green faience; the baboon was a manifestation of the god Thoth and governed mathematics, the calendar, and writing; 1.3 inches high; Jacques-Édouard Berger Collection, Paris, France.

During the Twenty-Fifth and Twenty-Sixth Dynasties, coffins and tombs emulated Old Kingdom styles, but were more ornate. Tombs were now burial complexes, decorated more elaborately and on a larger scale. For the upper classes, they were typically carved into the rock. The outer coffin below is of the type new during the Saite period, with four pillars on each corner supporting a vaulted lid. Coffins of this period also featured paintings of long portions from the Book of the Dead.

Painted wooden outer coffin with vaulted lid for Hor, a priest of Montu and the son of Ankhhorti; Length: 84.6 inches; excavated at Deir el-Bahri, Thebes; National Museum, Cairo, Egypt.

By the early seventh century B.C., priests served full-time at their temples. In the past, they were limited to thirty day stints and rotated every five or six months. Temples were not places for worship for the religious; they were meant to house the god and the people who performed the rituals serving the god, and through the god, the Pharaoh and his rule. Priests were still chosen from the most elite families. They were literate, and often knowledgeable about the sciences, particularly astronomy.

Basalt torso of Udjahormehet, an official and priest in the Temple of Neith at Sais; 7 inches high; private collection, U.K.