In this article, we’ll examine the different forms of Egyptian Art and discuss the main themes that are prevalent in its artwork. Some of the themes that you’ll notice are Naturalism, Symbolism, Symmetry, and Movement. But, before we look at the different Egyptian art forms, let’s briefly go over some of the most common types. Here, we’ll also talk about the basic principles that make Egyptian Art so interesting.
Table of contents
Introduction to Egyptian Art: Naturalism
Egypt’s ancient culture has been influenced by naturalism throughout its history. Its earliest examples date back to the late Eighteenth Dynasty when Akhenaten made the capital city of Tel el-Amarna his capital. Amarna art is characterized by the sensual, subjective perception of reality. Amarna paintings often incorporate overlapping figures in an effort to create an effect of crowding.
In the earliest examples of Egyptian Art, artists used gestures and pose to portray their subjects’ meaning. They did not attempt to reproduce the actual world, but they did manage to achieve an eerie dialogue between the three-dimensional world and the painting. The Egyptians also used position to convey depth. A sculpted statue’s face, for example, is curved and accentuates the nose. This gives the appearance of an older woman.
The first three-dimensional Egyptian painting, known as the “Nefertari” portrait, was found in a tomb during the Dynasty IV period (2680-2565 BC). The paintings were so detailed that they could be placed outside a wall and seen from two sides. The carved statues were placed in a tomb for the ka portion of the deceased’s soul, and later, the skeletons of famous pharaohs and nobles were enshrouded inside them.
The late Twelfth Dynasty represents a renaissance in Egyptian Art. Its Art and culture flourished for nearly a millennium after the Twelfth Dynasty. The quality of artistic production reaches a high point during this period and is rarely surpassed by any other period. The quality of materials used for both private and royal monuments indicates Egypt’s wealth.
Introduction to Egyptian Art: Symbolism
The ancient Egyptians used symbolic images to tell stories of life and the afterlife. In many artworks, symbols like the scarab beetle, a symbol of the sun god Khepri, were placed on the clothing of the pharaohs. In addition to being worn as an amulet, the beetle was also placed over the dead to make their passage through the underworld easier.
Symbolism in Egyptian Art also refers to the way in which a principal and subject were presented side by side. The king was represented in the form of a statue, and the king was often shown as the smallest figure in the image. However, this small size did not mean that the Pharaoh was weak. The king, or ‘cherub’, was revered for his strength and fertility, and he was often depicted as a smaller, horned woman. Moreover, the king’s children were often depicted as smaller than their parents, which is intentional and symbolic.
The use of hieroglyphics is a great example of this. Hieroglyphics is a type of pictorial writing that includes alphabetic elements, symbols, and gestures. Each of these elements has a different meaning. This is a very important part of understanding Egyptian Art. Hieroglyphics were used to represent the different things and events of ancient Egypt. These symbols did not translate the meaning of an object, but they represented specific sounds.
Introduction to Egyptian Art: Symmetry
The ancient Egyptians placed great importance on symmetry and balance. They believed that their land was crafted in the image of the world of the gods. As a result, all structures and artwork were deliberately arranged in symmetry. The Egyptians’ obelisks, for example, were always created with identical twins. It was believed that these mirrored images contained divine reflections. Likewise, the Egyptians’ tombs and temples reflected their religious belief in symmetry.
The Art of ancient Egypt began in the Predynastic Period, a timeframe spanning from 6000 BCE to 3150 BCE. While there are few specific examples of artwork from this time period, the Egyptians influenced the Art of civilizations that followed. The most famous Egyptian work is the tomb of Tutankhamun, who became Egypt’s first king at age nine. He was part of the New Kingdom’s 18th dynasty.
During the late Twelfth Dynasty, the quality of artistic production reached its peak. The quality of materials used for royal and private monuments reflected the prosperity of the nation. This high quality of production never again reached such high levels. While the artwork of this period is not as distinctive as that of the Old Kingdom, it is still highly impressive and represents the finest examples of Egyptian Art. And as a bonus, Smarthistory’s free digital content allows students to explore the history of Egyptian Art at their leisure.
Introduction to Egyptian Art: Movement
The style of its composition can categorize an Egyptian art piece. The Egyptians, like other ancient cultures, used axiality, or the placement of the figures on an axis. The figures were also symmetrical, with their proportions related to the hand’s width. The use of faces did not occur, although the work of Egyptian artists did emphasize them. During the Middle Kingdom, there was a great deal of religious Art.
The importance of Art is evident in the earliest history of Egypt. A civilization must meet basic human needs, including food, shelter, community law, religious belief, and artwork. These things happen simultaneously. The first images in Egypt were inscribed on rock walls, and while they were crude in comparison to later Egyptian Art, they nonetheless conveyed an important value: balance. A brief introduction to the Egyptian art movement becomes essential to understanding the culture of Egypt.
During the New Kingdom, there were many changes in Egypt’s culture and Art. In the New Kingdom, the emphasis on life on earth was continued, as the representations of kings and nobles ceased to be idealized and began to resemble caricatures. Many pictures of kings were adorned with the golden disc of the god Aten, which became a symbol of piety and power. As time went on, the Egyptian art movement continued to flourish.
Introduction to Egyptian Art: Power
Despite the ancient civilization’s rapid decline, the Power of Egyptian Art survives today. The Egyptians regarded Art as magical and believed that it gave immortal life. They viewed it as a way to maintain order, grant immortality, and appeal to the various gods who governed the world. Egyptian Art can speak volumes about a culture, whether it was a sculpture, mural, or tomb. Listed below are some of the most important pieces of Egyptian Art.
The Power of Egyptian Art reflects an idealized worldview that often neglected the unideal aspects of life. They also incorporated myths and fiction to express a greater truth. For example, Egyptian temple art depicted the king as presiding over rituals. In other pieces, the king was substituted by a priest who led the rituals. Yet these elements are a defining feature of Egyptian Art.
Pharaohs possessed various symbols to represent their power and wisdom. The crooked staff symbolized rulership, while the uraeus headband signified divine wrath. Besides the crooked staff, the Pharaoh was adorned with a false beard representing wisdom. The power of Egyptian Art is visible in every detail, making it a must-see for anyone who visits the Pyramids.
Introduction to Egyptian Art: Anonymity
Anonymity in Egyptian Art is a key concept in this ancient art form. Egyptian artists rarely included their names on their work, and the vast majority remain anonymous to this day. This is because they considered Art a function rather than an individual’s identity. Furthermore, the Egyptian society didn’t care much about the identity of its artists, so the artwork was a collective effort rather than a single person’s work.
In ancient Egypt, anonymous artists were referred to as sesh qedut, meaning “scribe of outlines.” The office was hereditary and passed from father to son. Apprentices learned to copy earlier works by making copies of them on walls or ostraca. These copies were then corrected in black by the master. This process was repeated for generations, as each new artist was expected to learn from the master.
Anonymity in Egyptian Art was also a key feature of ancient Egyptian culture. These ostraca, limestone flakes, depicted both humans and gods on a flat surface. These flakes were also used as notepads, including private letters, purchase records, and literary works. Despite this, some Egyptologists viewed these anonymous works as “illustrated” Art because they depicted animals acting humanlike. Regardless of what the creator thought, the Art of these people was incomplete and upset the gods.