layout: page
title: “Ancient Texts, in Reflection”
author: “Jason Toro-McCue”
- fieldbooks comments: false
show_meta: true header: image_fullwidth: caption: The MFA’s Facebook Logo


The MFA houses tens of thousands of years of art across history, including sculptures, paintings, and texts. In the contained ancient periods of time, media for writing included things like stone, clay, silk, jewelry, and much, much more, that still written on today, but aren’t nearly as popular. Two such pieces that caught my attention were Mahaprajapati Nursing the Infant Buddha and the Relief of the Royal Cup-Bearer Tjawy. The similarities between the 14th century work and the work from 1300 B.C. were, surprisingly, multitudinous.


In order to make an accurate and side-by-side note of the work, the following table is provided.

ArtistWang ZhenpengUnknown
Year MadeEarly 14th Century1390 - 1353 B.C.
Made With/OnDrawn “rule-bound” on silkChiseled into Limestone
What is Drawn?In order of unrolling; A Buddhist scripture. After the scripture, a note praising Zhenpeng’s style. Then, a Buddhist picture of Mahaprajapati nursing the infant Buddha, with her children playing in the background. After the art, a note from another artist that says, essentially, “Weiqiao is here.”A biography in picture of the royal cup-bearer’s life, showing him in activities as menial as counting grain, and as important as leading a procession of sacrifices. The back has a written biography of the boy.
ClassWealthy; Silk was a more expensive substance, and Wang Zhenpeng was a court painter. There are several accounts praising the artwork, more than the Buddhist religion.Wealthy; Tjawy was a royal cup-bearer, and the limestone piece implies that the occasion was a funeral.
LanguageChinese symbols, likely with hours spent making sure they were accurately drawn. Implies high skill and dedication to perfection.Hieroglyphs, chiseled into the limestone with static skill. Likewise, implies high skill and dedication, but is less tied with a language due to the picturesque nature of the Hieroglyph form.
How the Medium Effects ReadingThe scroll would be unrolled; a reader would start unrolling, seeing the scripture to the praise of the art to the art itself to the final notice of seeing. This allows the text to be “watched,” piece by piece, almost like a movie.Would likely be part of a wall of similar text, though seeing images of the young Tjawy’s life is much different from reading it; it feels much easier to follow, especially for those non-proficient in reading Hieroglyphics, due to the images that the artist chiseled.

From the Viewpoint of Authors

In his work The Medium is the Massage, Marshall McLuhan would note that, especially for the Zhenpeng piece, that the “content” of these works is hardly important. It is more likely that the quality and the prestige of the author is more important to the people who commissioned such works; the Yuan dynasty would be more than happy to showcase the work of Zhenpeng to guests from all over China, to show their religious quality and the talent of their court artists, while the 18th Dynasty of Egypt could point to Tjawy’s tomb as showmanship of their worship of the gods and the skill of their artists.

Alan Liu’s work, “Imagining the New Media Encounter”, underlines another important distinction between these two noble works. In his work, Liu theorizes that new media is “haunted” by old media; some of old media transcends into new media. How it transcends is important to understand how it is important. For Zhenpeng’s piece, the new media that is most like it is that of the movie. Scrolls were designed to be read scene-by-scene, after all, and unlike a book, scrolls typically used imagery to punctuate such work. There is, of course, some relation to the modern-day book, due to the qualities of the scroll, but it’s similarities to the movie is quite clear.
This is of course much different than the “new media” “haunted” by Tjawy’s tomb; the Emoji. Yes, it seems that Hieroglyphs are making a major comeback; the usage of basic images to convey ideas through the context around the images themselves.


In general, though they seem incredibly different in usage and style, they both are used to flaunt the wealth of the wealthy and used to cement a piece of knowledge; in one Religion, the other remembrance of one fallen. As such, their impact on the growth of their two societies, and the potential “haunting” of future, foreign societies, is important to remember in order to understand the evolution of modern day media.