This week's episode 187 of The History of Egypt Podcast "Sety in Abydos Part 2" is an in-depth dive into the Abydos King List and features my reproduction of the scene.
I am a massive fan of Dominic Perry's podcast and have been following his wonderfully told (and excellently researched) story of ancient Egypt's history for several years now. It's humbling to be included in the show in a small way and help contribute to sharing that story.
Dominic contacted me about another project and happened to mention that he was planning an episode on the Kings List and that he would love to see it brought to life in the same way. The challenge was accepted and my reproduction took around 45 hours of very painstaking work to complete! The Abydos King List featured 76 different cartouches, as well as extensive hieroglyphic texts, which was a challenge to recreate in full colour based on only photographs and reports of the list in its present-day state.
Read on to find out the process I used to recreate this epic scene.
My artwork features on the cover of the podcast, on The History of Egypt Podcast website and within the episode guide he creates for his Patreon supporters. If you'd like your copy of the Abydos King List, you can make use of the code EGYPTPODCAST in my Etsy Shop for a discount.
Listen to the full episode
Recreating the Abydos King List
The starting point for all my reproductions is research. To create accurate reproductions it's important to understand the context of the original artwork - where it was found, the period it was made in, and most importantly, the purpose of the artwork. I gathered as many references and articles from reputable sources as I can, and scoured archaeological reports and modern-day photographs for the details I needed.
For this reproduction, I had three key sources:
Reference photographs of the current site found on Wikimedia
Amice Calverley’s 1933 colour reproductions from ‘The Temple of King Sethos I at Abydos Vol 1-3’
Rosalie David’s book Temple Ritual at Abydos, which provided transliterations and translations of hieroglyphics
A 3D model made by David Anderson helped me visualise the space.
It is often useful to look at other people's reproductions, especially sketches and drawings made by early travellers as well as archaeologists. These often preserve details that have been lost as sites become damaged after discovery and help clarify things it's difficult to discern from photographs.
Below is a small selection of other people's reproductions of the same scene I found during my research:
Organising the baselines and registers
One of the fundamental principles of ancient Egyptian art is the organisation of space. Scenes are organised with reference to an underlying baseline, with horizontal guidelines used to order scenes. The Abydos King List follows this principle, utilising regularly spaced registers in a grid to hold the cartouche of each king and a baseline to anchor the figures of Seti I and Ramesses II.
I set the proportions of my digital canvas in Photoshop and began drawing the baselines and registers. I often employ the ancient's technique of using red for the first draft of my guidelines, which I later trace over in black and eventually delete. I use transparent photographs of the current King List below my main canvas as a guide to make sure everything is laid out in proportion to each other. I have to be aware of lens curvature in modern cameras, which distort proportions, and compensate for it when setting up my frames.
I use a simple black pencil tool to create the lines for each figure, inscription and cartouche on a new layer in Photoshop. I zoom in as close as I can to achieve the precision the original artists employed in their stone carving.
For highly detailed parts such as the figures of Seti and Ramesses, I add background layers containing high-resolution closeup photographs of them, enabling me to recreate the remaining detail in the carved surface. Both of the figures' faces have been chiselled away in antiquity, so I used other depictions of them from the temple to recreate their distinctive visages.
Ancient Egyptian art uses polychromy, filling in the outlines with solid blocks of contrasting colours which were chosen as much for their symbolic meaning as they were to accurately illustrate the subject. They utilised standard colours and patterns for most of their depictions and hieroglyphs, so even when the paint layer has been lost, we have a good idea of what colour the original was.
For this reproduction, I could look at the colours and painting styles used in other scenes within the Great Temple of Abydos which still retain traces of their colour. Amice Calverley’s 1933 colour reproductions from ‘The Temple of King Sethos I at Abydos Vol 1-3’ provided the best source of information. I created a reference board of the painted inscriptions from the temple that I used to ensure I selected the right colours and patterns for each sign and symbol.
To add colour to my reproduction, I select the spaces between my lines and add a colour fill to a layer beneath my line drawing. This enables me to save a monochrome line drawing of the finished artwork, as well as a full-colour version. Just like the ancient Egyptians, I have my own standard palette of colours I use for each of my pieces.