The Black Pharaohs, Part 3



Gregory Manchess

This is the 3rd and final painting of the series, a portrait of Piye, featured in the procession painting in Part 2. They wanted to showcase a close portrait of the man they had substantial sculptures and some paintings of.

Apparently, it was their intention to put this painting of Piye, known as Taharqa, on the cover. But I didn’t believe them. They’re primarily a photography magazine, and over recent years, they have practically stripped the magazine of any illustration, whether diagrams or narrative scenes (especially narrative). They were no longer interested in using artwork to illuminate a scene. If it couldn’t be photographed, why bother? That was “old Geographic.”

This line of thinking didn’t last too long. Not because they suddenly had an epiphany that painting was cool, but mostly they just ran into the problem naturally. The Black Pharaohs is a good example. How do you show the grandeur of such powerful points in history? Like this: you use your imagination as art and science come together. This, I believe, is what stimulates readers.

Again, I started with thumbnails. Jeff Osborn and I worked closely together to present Taharqa against a background of pyramids. But as I found out later, these were not your run-of-the-mill pyramids. They were designed by the black pharaohs. Their shapes were more severe, more angular, and quite a bit smaller. There is a site with a number of these as well.




I started my search to find the right model, but to get started, I worked from a silicon head that was used for a portrait I painted for the Real Pirates: the Untold Story of the Whydah, From Slave Ship to Pirate Ship exhibit.

Adjustments were made to Taharqa’s features that NGS requested I make by looking at several sculpted heads of him from the era. I had to add a slight almost-smile.

While working these up, I happened to run into my friend, Willy Gilmore, who works at my Oregon apartment complex. He was perfect. I asked him if he ever wanted to be a pharaoh. Of course he was curious. I set up a shoot to use him as reference for the final piece. I told him there was a slight chance that it would be a cover painting.

I got this far, and I still didn’t believe they would use it. I told them as much. It meant that if I got a painting on the cover of National Geographic Magazine, I would be one of only about five guys over the past thirty years that had the privilege. No way the Photo Dept. would go for it. (Secretly, I crossed my fingers.)

Now I needed to find some cheetah hide. The best place to find that was… the Halloween Store. Yes, that little bit of animal fur indication on the final painting is the panties portion of a ‘Sexy Kitten’ outfit.





A color comp that I brushed up, then had to adjust the pyramid shapes. Shown here in b/w.


There were minimal changes to the final piece, and once completed, the entire series had taken only three months. Very fast work for a process that usually takes a year and a half. Hats off to NGS for hustling at every turn to get me the information needed.


Two months later, while walking through LaGuardia airport on my way back to Oregon, I spotted the Feb. 2008 issue on a rack. I fumbled getting my cell phone camera out quick to shoot it. I was afraid it would disappear.

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