Category Archives: LETTER O

Limestone Flakes of the ‘Ostraca’

Greek: ostraca (plural) – oyster shells, ostracon (singular).

Ostracon is usually understood as a potsherd (“a piece of pottery, usually broken off from a vase or other earthenware vessel” (“Ostracon” 2021) or a flat stone piece (normally a flake of limestone), which was mainly used by artists from ancient Egypt and Greece for their freehand sketches and written notes.

“Generally discarded material, ostraca were cheap, readily available and therefore frequently used for writings of an ephemeral nature such as messages, prescriptions, receipts, students’ exercises and notes” (“Ostracon” 2021). Very exceptional are “the so-called figural ostracons [featuring] drawings, often sketches by artists or architects. The artists sketched their ideas on them with great freedom, avoiding the limitations of official art, thanks to which their sketches were more spontaneous, not devoid of the sense of accurate observation and a clear satirical message. One of the most beautiful and known examples of an ostracon paintings is a representation of an Egyptian dancer performing a somersault (Deir el-Medina, the New Kingdom, between sixteenth and the eleventh centuries BC.; see: Egyptian Dancer from Turin and Her Acrobatic Somersault).

Ostrakon of Cimon, an Athenian statesman, telling his name (as “Kimon [son] of Miltiades”); 486 or 461 BC., Ancient Agora Museum in Athens. Photo by Marsyas (2005). CC BY-SA 2.5. Photo and caption source: “Ostracon” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

Featured image: A possibly satirical ostracon depicting a scrawny cat giving a bolt of cloth and a trussed up goose as an offering to a seated mouse, likely representing either a noblemen or a noblewoman with bared breasts. Either a satire on upper-class life, or perhaps a scene from a fable. New Kingdom, either nineteenth or twentieth dynasties, circa 1295-1070 BC., from Thebes. Photo by Keith Schengili-Roberts (2007). CC BY 2.5. Photo modified. Photo and caption source: “Ostrakon” (2020). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia.


“Ostracon” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <>. [Accessed 2nd August, 2021].

“Ostrakon” (2020). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia. Available at <>. [Accessed 2nd August, 2021].

Lucie-Smith, E. (2003) The Thames & Hudson Dictionary of Art Terms. London: Thames & Hudson World of Art, p. 158.

Obelisks in the Landscape, from Ancient Egypt to Modern Times

From Greek obeliskos: spit, nail, pointed pillar; from Latin obeliscus.

Tall and usually four-sided, narrow stone pillar tapering upwards, truncated at the top, with a pyramid-like shape or pyramidion in the form of an elongated pyramid. Monumental and monolithic obelisks were made of a single stone. They are characteristic of ancient Egyptian architecture, where they “[originally] were called tekhenu. […] The Greeks who saw them [in Egypt] used the Greek term obeliskos to describe them, and this word passed into Latin and ultimately [into] English [and other modern languages]” (“Obelisk” 2021).

Pylon of the Temple of Luxor with the remaining Luxor Obelisk in front (the second is in the Place de la Concorde in Paris). Photo by Olaf Tausch (2019). CC BY 3.0. Colours intensified. Photo and caption source: “Obelisk” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.

In modern European art, obelisks were adopted as one of the forms of commemorative monuments, and in smaller proportions as a decorative element in architecture, including the form of pinnacles, sculpture and artistic craftsmanship. The obelisk has also been popularized especially in the romantic gardens as a form of monument commemorating outstanding people and events. “Most modern obelisks are made of several stones” (“Obelisk” 2021).

Featured image: Niney-two foot (over twenty-eight metres), the unfinished obelisk, before sand was cleared away (stereograph, 1904), still lying in the Assuan granite quarry at the first cataract, Egypt. Underwood & Underwood – This image comes from the Travelers in the Middle East Archive (TIMEA) where it is available at the following Uniform Resource Identifier: 5646. CC BY-SA 2.5. Photo and caption source: “Unfinished obelisk” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.


“Obelisk” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <>. [Accessed on 1st March, 2021].

“Unfinished obelisk” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <>. [Accessed on 1st March, 2021].

PWN (2007). Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych, p. 281. Kubalska-Sulkiewicz K., Bielska-Łach M., Manteuffel-Szarota A. eds. Wydanie piąte. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.