The artworks of ancient Egypt have actually fascinated world for thousands of years. The early on Greek and later roman inn artists were affected by Egyptian techniques and their art would certainly inspire those that other cultures up to the existing day. Many artists are known from later periods but those that Egypt are totally anonymous and for a very interesting reason: their arts was functional and also created because that a valuable purpose whereas later on art was intended for aesthetic pleasure. Functional art is work-made-for-hire, belonging come the individual who commissioned it, if art created for pleasure - also if i was delegated - permits for better expression of the artist"s vision and also so recognition of an separation, personal, instance artist.

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A Greek artist choose Phidias (c. 490-430 BCE) certainly understood the handy purposes in producing a statue the Athena or Zeus yet his major aim would have actually been to do a visually pleasing piece, to make "art" as civilization understand that word today, no to create a practical and also functional work. All Egyptian art served a practical purpose: a statue held the spirit of the god or the deceased; a tomb painting showed scene from one"s life on earth so one"s spirit could remember the or scene from the heaven one hope to achieve so one would know exactly how to acquire there; charms and also amulets defended one from harm; figurines warded off angry spirits and angry ghosts; hand mirrors, whip-handles, cosmetics cabinets all served valuable purposes and also ceramics were provided for drinking, eating, and also storage. Egyptologist gay Robins notes:

As far as we know, the ancient Egyptians had actually no word that coincided exactly come our abstract usage of words "art". They had actually words for individual varieties of monuments that we today regard as examples of Egyptian arts - "statue", "stela", "tomb" -but over there is no reason to believe that this words necessarily included an aesthetic measurement in your meaning. (12)

"art for art"s sake" was unknown & would have probably been incomprehensible to an old Egyptian who understood art together functional over all else.

Although Egyptian art is extremely regarded today and continues to be a an excellent draw for museums featuring exhibits, the old Egyptians themselves would certainly never have thought of their occupational in this same way and definitely would uncover it strange to have actually these different varieties of works shown out of paper definition in a museum"s hall. Statuary was created and placed because that a specific reason and also the very same is true for any type of other kind of art. The ide of "art because that art"s sake" was unknown and, further, would have actually probably been incomprehensible to an old Egyptian who understood art as functional over all else.

Egyptian Symmetry

This is no to to speak the Egyptians had actually no feeling of aesthetic beauty. Even Egyptian hieroglyphics to be written with aesthetics in mind. A hieroglyphic sentence might be composed left to best or right to left, up to down or down to up, depending entirely on how one"s choice affected the beauty beauty of the finished work. Merely put, any work necessary to be beautiful however the an ideas to develop was concentrated on a practical goal: function. Also so, Egyptian art is repetitively admired for its beauty and this is because of the value old Egyptians put on symmetry.

The perfect balance in Egyptian art shows the cultural value that ma"at (harmony) which was central to the civilization. Ma"at to be not only universal and social order but the very fabric of development which came right into being as soon as the gods made the ordered cosmos out of regardless of whether chaos. The concept of unity, that oneness, was this "chaos" but the gods introduced duality - night and day, female and male, dark and also light - and also this duality to be regulated by ma"at.


It is thus that Egyptian temples, palaces, homes and gardens, statuary and also paintings, signet rings and also amulets were all produced with balance in mind and all reflect the worth of symmetry. The Egyptians believed their land had actually been do in the photo of the civilization of the gods, and also when someone died, they checked out a paradise they would uncover quite familiar. As soon as an Egyptian pillar was made the was always created and raised with an identical twin and these two obelisks were thought to have magnificent reflections, made in ~ the exact same time, in the soil of the gods. Temple courtyards were purposefully laid out to reflect creation, ma"at, heka (magic), and the afterlife with the same perfect symmetry the gods had initiated in ~ creation. Art reflected the perfection that the gods while, at the exact same time, serving a useful purpose top top a everyday basis.

Historical Progression

The arts of Egypt is the story of the elite, the ruling class. Throughout most of Egypt"s historic periods those of much more modest way could no afford the high-end of artworks to tell their story and it is mostly through Egyptian arts that the background of the human being has involved be known. The tombs, dig paintings, inscriptions, temples, also most that the literature, is concerned with the stays of the top class and only by means of informing these stories room those of the lower classes revealed. This paradigm was already set prior come the written background of the culture. Art starts in the Predynastic period in Egypt (c. 6000 - c. 3150 BCE) through rock drawings and ceramics yet is completely realized by the early Dynastic period (c. 3150 - c. 2613 BCE) in the well known Narmer Palette.

The Narmer color board (c. 3150 BCE) is a two-sided ceremonial bowl of siltstone intricately carved with scenes of the marriage of Upper and also Lower Egypt by King Narmer. The prestige of the opposite is obvious in the composition which functions the top of four bulls (a price of power) in ~ the top of each side and also balanced depiction of the figures which tell the story. The job-related is thought about a masterpiece of early Dynastic duration art and also shows how advanced Egyptian artists were at the time.

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Narmer color pension
Unknown Artist (Public Domain)

The later work that the architect Imhotep (c. 2667-2600 BCE) ~ above the pyramid the King Djoser (c. 2670 BCE) mirrors how far artworks had advanced since the Narmer Palette. Djoser"s pyramid facility is intricately designed through lotus flowers, papyrus plants, and djed signs in high and low relief and the pyramid itself, that course, is evidence of the Egyptian ability in working in rock on monumental artworks.

During the Old Kingdom the Egypt (c. 2613-2181 BCE) art ended up being standardized by the elite and figures were developed uniformly to reflect the tastes that the resources at Memphis. Statuary that the late at an early stage Dynastic and also early Old Kingdom periods is remarkably similar although other art develops (painting and also writing) show much more sophistication in the Old Kingdom. The best artworks the the Old Kingdom space the Pyramids and great Sphinx of Giza which quiet stand this day but more modest monuments were produced with the very same precision and also beauty. Old Kingdom art and architecture, in fact, was highly valued by Egyptians in later eras. Some rulers and also nobles (such together Khaemweset, 4th son that Ramesses II) purposefully commissioned functions in Old Kingdom style, also the eternal residence of your tombs.

In the first Intermediate period of Egypt (2181 -2040 BCE), complying with the please of the Old Kingdom, artists to be able to express individual and regional visions an ext freely. The lack of a strong central government commissioning works expected that ar governors might requisition pieces reflecting their home province. These various districts likewise found lock had an ext disposable income due to the fact that they to be not sending as much to Memphis. More economic power locally inspired much more artists to produce works in their own style. Massive production began during the very first Intermediate period also and this brought about a power in a given region"s artwork i m sorry made it at once distinctive but of lesser quality than Old Kingdom work. This readjust can finest be watched in the production of shabti dolls for grave items which were previously made through hand.

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Shabti Dolls
koopmanrob (CC BY-SA)

Art would certainly flourish throughout the middle Kingdom of Egypt (2040-1782 BCE) i m sorry is generally thought about the high point of Egyptian culture. Colossal statuary started during this period as well together the good temple that Karnak in ~ Thebes. The idealism that Old Kingdom depictions in statuary and paintings was changed by realistic representations and also the lower classes are additionally found represented much more often in art 보다 previously. The center Kingdom gave means to the 2nd Intermediate period of Egypt (c. 1782 - c. 1570 BCE) during which the Hyksos held big areas that the Delta an ar while the Nubians encroached from the south. Arts from this duration produced in ~ Thebes retains the attributes of the middle Kingdom while that of the Nubians and also Hyksos - both of whom admired and also copied Egyptian art - differs in size, quality, and also technique.

New Kingdom arts is defined by high high quality in vision & an approach due greatly to Egypt"s communication with neighboring Cultures.

The new Kingdom (c. 1570 - c. 1069 BCE), i m sorry followed, is the best-known period from Egypt"s background and developed some of the finest and most renowned works that art. The bust the Nefertiti and also the golden death mask of Tutankhamun both come native this era. New Kingdom arts is identified by high top quality in vision and technique due mostly to Egypt"s communication with bordering cultures. This to be the era of Egypt"s empire and the metal-working approaches of the Hittites - who were now thought about allies if not equals - greatly influenced the production of funerary artifacts, weaponry, and also other artwork.

Following the brand-new Kingdom, the third Intermediate duration (c. 1069-525 BCE) and also Late duration of old Egypt (525-332 BCE) attempted with much more or much less success to proceed the high standard of brand-new Kingdom arts while likewise evoking Old Kingdom layouts in an effort to recapture the declining stature the Egypt. Persian affect in the Late duration is replaced by Greek tastes during the Ptolemaic empire (323-30 BCE) which additionally tries to suggest the Old Kingdom requirements with new Kingdom technique and this paradigm persists into Roman Egypt (30 BCE - 646 CE) and the finish of Egyptian culture.

Types of Art, Detail, & Symbol

Throughout all these eras, the types of arts were as countless as human need, the resources to make them, and also the capability to pay because that them. The wealthy of Egypt had ornate hand mirrors, cosmetic cases and jars, jewelry, decorated scabbards for knives and swords, intricate bows, sandals, furniture, chariots, gardens, and tombs. Every facet of any of these creations had actually symbolic meaning. In the same means the bull motif on the Narmer color board symbolized the strength of the king, for this reason every image, design, ornamentation, or information meant other relating to its owner.

Among the most obvious examples of this is the golden throne the Tutankhamun (c. 1336-c.1327 BCE) i m sorry depicts the young king with his wife Ankhsenamun. The couple is represented in a quiet domestic moment together the queen is rubbing ointment onto she husband"s eight as he sit in a chair. Their close relationship is created by the shade of your skin, which is the same. Males are usually shown with red skin since they spent an ext time outdoors while a lighter shade was offered for women"s skin together they were much more apt to stay out that the sun. This distinction in the shade of skin tones go not stand for equality or inequality however was simply an effort at realism.

In the case of Tutankhamun"s throne, however, the method is used to express an essential aspect of the couple"s relationship. Other inscriptions and artwork make clear that they spent many of their time together and also the artist expresses this with their mutual skin tones; Ankhesenamun is simply as sun-tanned together Tutankhamun. The red supplied in this composition also represents vitality and also the energy of your relationship. The couple"s hair is blue, symbolizing fertility, life, and also rebirth when their clothes is white, representing purity. The lift is gold, the color of the gods, and all of the complex details, consisting of the crowns the numbers wear and also their colors, all have their very own specific definition and walk to phone call the story of the featured couple.


A sword or a cosmetic situation was designed and also created v this very same goal in mind: story-telling. Even the garden the a residence told a story: in the center was a swimming pool surrounded by trees, plants, and flowers which, in turn, were surrounding by a wall surface and one entered the garden native the residence through a portico of decorated columns. Every one of these would have been arranged closely to call a story which was far-reaching to the owner. Although Egyptian gardens are long gone, models do of them together grave items have been discovered which display the an excellent care which entered laying them out in rigid form.

In the case of the noble Meket-Ra that the 11th Dynasty, the garden was designed come tell the story the the journey of life come paradise. The columns the the portico were shaped choose lotus blossoms, symbolizing his residence in upper Egypt, the pool in the facility represented Lily Lake i m sorry the heart would need to cross to with paradise, and also the much garden wall was decorated through scenes indigenous the afterlife. Every time Meket-Ra would certainly sit in his garden he would certainly be reminded the the nature that life together an eternal journey and this would certainly most likely lend him view on whatever circumstances might be troubling at the moment.


The paintings on Meket-Ra"s walls would have been done by artists mix colors make from naturally arising minerals. Black color was made from carbon, red and yellow native iron oxides, blue and green native azurite and malachite, white native gypsum and also so on. The minerals would certainly be blended with crushed organic material to different consistencies and also then further mixed v an unknown substance (possibly egg whites) to do it difficult so it would certainly adhere come a surface. Egyptian repaint was so long lasting that countless works, also those not safeguarded in tombs, have remained vibrant after end 4,000 years.

Although home, garden, and also palace walls were generally decorated with level two-dimensional paintings, tomb, temple, and monument wall surfaces employed reliefs. There to be high reliefs (in i beg your pardon the figures stand out from the wall) and also low reliefs (where the photos are sculpted into the wall). To develop these, the surface ar of the wall would be smoothed with plaster which was then sanded. An artist would develop a job-related in minature and also then attract grid currently on it and this grid would then be attracted on the wall. Utilizing the smaller job-related as a model, the artist would have the ability to replicate the image in the exactly proportions on the wall. The scene would an initial be drawn and then outlined in red paint. Corrections to the work would it is in noted, maybe by one more artist or supervisor, in black color paint and also once these to be taken care of the scene to be carved and painted.

Paint was also used on statues which to be made the wood, stone, or metal. Stonework first developed in the beforehand Dynastic period in Egypt and became more and more refined over the centuries. A sculptor would work from a solitary block of rock with a copper chisel, wood mallet, and finer devices for details. The statue would certainly then it is in smoothed through a rubbing cloth. The stone for a statue to be selected, just like everything else in Egyptian art, come tell its very own story. A statue that Osiris, because that example, would certainly be made of black schist to signify fertility and also rebirth, both associated with this certain god.


Metal statues to be usually small and made of copper, bronze, silver, and also gold. Yellow was specifically popular because that amulets and also shrine figures of the gods since it was thought that the gods had gold skin. These figures were do by casting or sheet metal work end wood. Wooden statues were sculpted from different pieces the trees and then glued or pegged together. Statues of wood room rare yet a number have actually been preserved and show incredible skill.

Cosmetic chests, coffins, model boats, and toys were made in this very same way. Jewel was commonly fashioned utilizing the technique known as cloisonne in which thin strips of steel are inlaid ~ above the surface of the work and also then fired in a kiln to forge them together and create compartments which are then in-depth with jewels or painted scenes. Among the ideal examples of cloisonne jewelry is the center Kingdom pendant offered by Senusret II (c. 1897-1878 BCE) to his daughter. This occupational is fashioned of thin gold wires attached come a solid gold backing inlaid with 372 semi-precious stones. Cloisonne was likewise used in make pectorals for the king, crowns, headdresses, swords, ceremonial daggers, and also sarcophagi among other items.



Although Egyptian arts is famously admired it has come under criticism because that being unrefined. Critics case that the Egyptians never ever seem to have mastered perspective together there is no interplay of light and shadow in the compositions, castle are constantly two dimensional, and also the numbers are emotionless. Statuary portraying couples, the is argued, show no emotion in the faces and the same holds true for fight scenes or statues that a king or queen.

These objections fail to acknowledge the usability of Egyptian art. The Egyptians construed that emotional says are transitory; one is not repetitively happy, sad, angry, content throughout a offered day much much less eternally. Artworks current people and deities formally without expression because it was assumed the person"s spirit would require that representation in order come live ~ above in the afterlife. A person"s name and image had actually to endure in some form on earth in order for the soul to proceed its journey. This to be the reason for mummification and also the elaborate Egyptian burial rituals: the spirit needed a "beacon" the sorts to return to once visiting earth for sustenance in the tomb.


The spirit might not acknowledge a statue the an upset or jubilant version of themselves however would identify their staid, complacent, features. The lack of emotion needs to do through the eternal purpose of the work. Statues to be made to be regarded from the front, usually v their backs versus a wall, so that the heart would identify their former selves easily and this was additionally true of gods and goddesses who were believed to live in your statues.

Life was just a small part of an eternal trip to the ancient Egyptians and also their art shows this belief. A frostbite or a cosmetics case, a wall surface painting or amulet, whatever form the artwork took, it to be made to last far beyond its owner"s life and, more importantly, tell that person"s story as well as reflecting Egyptian values and also beliefs together a whole. Egyptian art has served this objective well as it has ongoing to phone call its tale now for hundreds of years.

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Editorial ReviewThis write-up has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and also adherence to scholastic standards prior to publication.


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A freelance writer and former part-time Professor of philosophy at Marist College, new York, Joshua J. Mark has actually lived in Greece and Germany and also traveled through Egypt. He has actually taught history, writing, literature, and also philosophy in ~ the university level.