Sunday, March 12, 2006

Illustration Friday - tattoo

This weeks topic is 'tattoo'.

I briefly considered the military meaning of the word - signals by bugle or drum, continuous druming rhythm or entertaining military spectacles such as the Edinburgh Tattoo

I discarded these thoughts quite early on as i wasn't really sure how i would manage to convey the idea.

When i was thinking about tattoos in terms of permanent inking of the skin, I first thought of Oetzi the Ice man. He was a man accidently mummified by a glacier 5000 years ago on the border of Austria and Italy.

His body and clothing and weapons were amazingly well preserved and recent studies show that he was injured by an arrow shortly before he died. His body was found to have tattoos in various places- mainly lines which have been suggested as intended to cure in a way related to accupuncture or similar therapy.

His tattoos weren't very visually interesting so i dropped the idea of drawing Oetzi but I was reminded of a similar mummified body called the Siberian Ice Princess or Ice Maiden.

The Siberian Ice Maiden was found in a burial mound near the Altai mountains in 1993 by the archaeologist Natalia Polosmak. Her tomb was surrounded by the remains of six sacrificed horses and her coffin was covered in ornately decorated leatherwork.

Unlike Oetzi, this mummy was deliberately preserved in the 5th century BCE ; her internal organs and even muscles were removed and her skin stuffed with peat to help with preservation and the skin sewn back into place.

Her remains were additionally preserved by water seeping into her larch-wood coffin and deep freezing her in the permafrost.

The woman's clothes were well preserved- a shirt red woolen skirt and leggings and a sheer wild silk blouse that showed probable early trade links with India. She wore a huge headdress made of black felt decorated with birds and this headdress had been so important that the coffin was made long enough to fit!

She wore a necklace of wooden camels and dishes of coriander seeds were placed around her- which were probably burned to disguise the smell of decay before her body was finally buried.

Apart from being a unique female burial , this woman was discovered to be elaborately tattooed with intertwined horned beasts on her left arm and right thumb which may suggest she was a woman of unusual status -maybe a storyteller, a singer , or wisewoman rather than a princess or noblewoman.
The tattoos were thought to be made using needles dipped in soot which leaves a blue-black mark in the skin.

This woman fascinated me when i first heard of her and so i realised i wanted to to do something for Illustration Friday based on her burial and tattoos.

Reference photos of this mummy and her tattoos are not easy to come by and so i really went for something inspired by the description of her burial that i'd read rather than a slavishly accurate depiction of the actual Ice Maiden mummy

My daughter posed for me so i could get a reference photo of a woman lying on her right side - she was quite amused when she saw what i did with her pose and hoped that she didn't really look skinned.

The tattoos that i've painted are based on the beasts with floral horns design that were mentioned in the description of her tattoos and i have added in snow leopards in a cycle of predator and prey and rebirth that was inspired by early art. Snow leopards and deer entertwined were apparently carved into the leatherwork on her coffin , so it seemed right to make that my verison of her tattoo.

The necklace i've given her is of three wooden camels and some beads on a leather thong- I have no idea if it looks anything like the real one but it seemed right to me.

The wooden artefact is a 'mirror' that had major significance for these people - as all known burials from this culture contained these objects- all of the mirrors were inscribed with antlered beasts - so i have followed that. There were conflicting reports of the material the mirror was made of so i made this one of wood

btw I made no attempt to depict the headdress - i really didn't t have a clue about it apart from it being black felt and very very tall and covered with little birds and a griffin - plus i liked the idea of the composition focussing on the rounded shapes of the skull and mirror.

I'm quite pleased with how she turned out in the end.

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Rowantree said...

Your illo and the history about that woman fascinated me too. Great deatils and very expressive !

disappointed said...

nicely done

tattoo as carving on bone

melanienyc said...

this is fantastic!

melanienyc said...

this is fantastic!

HARDWAX said...

Fascinating story and intricate, mysterious looking illo, who knows, maybe she was a hunter, if you hadn't told us she was a woman-that's what I would have thought.

Anonymous said...


isay said...

wow! great post!

AscenderRisesAbove said...

An amazing illustration.

carla said...

My goodness, Alison, you do come up with the most esoteric bits of information! I just love it! This illustration is fascinating in itself, but with the background, it's completely captivating. Well done...thanks for sharing this:>

Giles said...

Great image.

Lori Witzel said...

YOW. Bringing the bones up, and isn't it interesting that skins endures too?

A well-thought homage to both the woman and her tattooer.

The Unknown said...

Wow! That's awesome.

tiffinix said...

This is exquisite! Beautiful the colors - the story - the tattoo. WOW!

Jess said...

Always interesting to visit your blog, Alison!

Anonymous said...

The tattos of "ice maiden" are illustrated in the book "the inner circle" by O. Kharitidi .