…drawing under the influence of Ancient Egypt

by Alden Cole on June 14, 2015 · 1 comment

“Autobiography is now as common as adultery and hardly less reprehensible.” – John Grigg (1924-2001)

Denderah1WPAccording to my somewhat haphazard records, in August of 1976 I painted the mandala pictured at left, prompted by a comment earlier that summer from Jim Wasserman, Samuel Weiser’s office manager, who had discovered an illustration in an astrology book by Robert Cross Smith the 19th century astrologer better known as Raphael. The poorly drawn zodiacal mandala was based on the famous “sculptured Dendera zodiac (or Denderah zodiac)… a widely known Egyptian bas-relief from the ceiling of the portico of a chapel dedicated to Osiris in the Hathor temple at Dendera… This chapel was begun in the late Ptolemaic period; its portico was added by the emperor Tiberius. This led Jean-François Champollion to date the relief correctly to the Greco-Roman period, but most of his contemporaries believed it to be much older. The relief, which John H. Rogers characterised as ‘the only complete map that we have of an ancient sky’, has been conjectured to represent the basis on which later astronomy systems were based. It is now on display at the Musée du Louvre, Paris.” (from Wikipedia. For more interesting information on the Denderah zodaic, see the second link.)


Jim Wasserman, who knew my artwork well by then, had the idea that I could take the rough Raphael sketch and make a spectacular piece of artwork out of it, which he would then try to get published as a poster by Weiser’s. I’ve forgotten how many hours, even days, this piece took to create; definitely a case of “The happy man does not hear the clock strike.” I was in that zone of focused creativity, prompted by the excitement of a possible poster publication plus making some money, as well as the artistic challenge of taking a rough idea sketch by someone who couldn’t draw well, then turning it into a beautiful work of art. In the late summer I showed Jim the finished artwork, and he proceeded to have it photographed, color separations made, and first proofs printed.

DenderahEng&ArtWPRight around the same time that the first proofs were coming off press, I made an interesting discovery while researching another job: an engraving of the original Dendera Zodiac (seen at left in b&w), drawn by Vivant Denon (1747-1825) the great French artist who accompanied Napoleon’s scientific expeditionary forces during the Egyptian campaigns of 1798-1801. I showed the engraving to Jim, and we agreed that although we liked the poster art that I had just created, this engraving put a whole new spin of what we were doing. Should we proceed with printing a poster that was a copy of a copy? or should we attempt to be as accurate as possible in our representation, by going back to this more original source. You can guess our decision. And so that fall I proceeded to start another much more detailed artwork. First I laboriously traced the complicated composition of the engraving onto 2-ply Bristol paper with pencil, then inked all the figures in black, a feat in itself. I then set to work coloring the 23″ x 23″ sheet, using my favorite medium of that time – Luma Dyes – until it looked like the colored artwork above.

DenderahFinalWPThe vicissitudes of turning the second work of art into a poster are beyond full description in this medium. Suffice to say, that Weiser’s chose not to publish the poster at the time, so Jim negotiated with a business friend Larry whose family was in the printing business to front us a print run of 3000 posters (or was it 5000?) in exchange for certain concessions on our part. Something possibly shady and definitely inopportune happened in the spring of 1977 with Larry’s business dealings, as a result of which I never saw a royalty check. Large portions of the print run ‘disappeared’ or were unaccounted for. Eventually I received close to a hundred printed posters, which were ultimately the only payment I saw from this affair. Nevertheless, I considered myself lucky to have the copies I did, which have sold sporadically over the years; plus I still possessed the original art. A few years later in the early 80s Don Weiser expressed interest in republishing the poster under the Weiser logo; however the original art had faded drastically. Luma Dyes – the original medium used – were notoriously color fugitive, as I discovered too late. So what did I do? I repainted the entire 23″ x 23″ surface using oil paint this time around so it wouldn’t fade again. Talk about tedious activity, but the result as shone above, was worth the effort. Sometime around 1982 the poster was republished looking slightly different from the first rogue printing; and this time I received all due royalties, thank you Don.

OriginalSeaPriestessComp900On an Egyptian roll, I created the artwork at left as my first idea comp for what would eventually be the wrap-around book-cover for Dion Fortune’s The Sea Priestess which I featured a few months ago, and which is reprised below. In addition I feature
SeaPriestessWrapCoverWP900two pieces from the same time period reflecting my interest in and indebtedness to the art of that great civilization centered on the Nile, which, according to other sources, was a mere repository of what survived from those legendary cultures known as Atlantis and Lemuria.



“The trouble with our times is that the future is not what it used to be.” – Paul Valery (1871-1945)

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Marcell April 15, 2017 at 6:49 pm

Would like to have a art print of the Dendera Zodiac. 23 x 23..

Please let me know if you have any left…


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