This lesson provides a brief look at the exquisite art of the Ancient Egyptians. Egyptian art contains images of people and deities that represent the culture in which they lived.
Ancient Egyptian Art
Have you ever wondered what life was like in Ancient Egypt? The study of this culture is very interesting because of the many remnants the Egyptians left for us. The Egyptians created exquisite and vivid works of art that modeled their way of life and beliefs. Egyptian art from this time period we will see in this lesson (stretching from 3000 BCE until around 300 BCE) has been found in the forms of pottery, sculptures and colorful hieroglyphics in burial tombs. Much of the art centers on their gods and preparation for eternal life after death. One of the themes that became dominant during this time period is the idea that the king is the son of a god and goddess. Egyptian art often represents this belief.
Egyptian paintings were intended to help lead the dead into the afterlife.
Paintings were created to decorate tombs with the intent of assisting the deceased in sustaining their lives in the afterlife. Images often depicted the deceased completing daily tasks. The Egyptians believed they would continue many of these activities in the afterlife. They were created with pigments made of minerals. Commonly used colors were red, black, blue, green and gold. The dry temperatures in the area and lack of sun in the tombs allowed many images to survive into modern times. Paintings generally depicted people or animals with a profile, or side view, of the head. The body, however, was shown from a front view.
Although the most well known sculptures from Egypt are the monumental sculptures, small sculptures and reliefs have also been found. Sculptures were made of stone, wood and bronze. Statues of gods were often a mixture of a human body with the head of an animal. For example, the god Horus was represented as a human male with the head of a falcon.
Egyptians also created pottery out of clay. Pottery held images of gods, animals and people. Subjects were depicted in the same manner as people in paintings, with a profile of the head and a frontal view of the body. Some pottery included hieroglyphics, which was an ancient form of writing in Egypt. Within this writing system, pictures and symbols were used to represent words or sounds. Ancient Egyptians also created canopic jars. These funerary jars were made of stone, bronze, wood or gold. The jars were used to preserve organs removed during mummification for the afterlife.
Much of the clay pottery displayed images of people and animals.
Division of Art into Time Periods
Ancient Egyptian art has different qualities determined by the time in which it was created. We will now look at the qualities of art during a few time periods. The period of time between 2649 BCE to 2150 BCE is referred to as the Old Kingdom. Art during this time period consisted of early portraits and life-sized statues created in stone, copper and wood. Artists also began making relief carvings of plants, landscapes and animals. The purpose of these images was to ensure a person would continue his or her life in the next world after death. It also ensured the person would have all necessities readily available in the next life.
During the time referred to as the Middle Kingdom (around 2030 BCE to 1640 BCE), a division that had occurred between Upper and Lower Egypt was resolved, uniting Egypt and its culture. During this time, a massive mortuary complex was created for a ruler named Mentuhotep II, who was credited with uniting Egypt. The statues of royalty constructed during this time period were unique in their design. Also during this time, block statues became popular. Block statues depicted a person with his knees drawn to his chest, forming an almost block shape.
The third era of Egypt is referred to as the New Kingdom and spans from about 1550 BCE to 1070 BCE. As Egypt began to gain control of more land, the ruling kings gained wealth quickly. They created more mortuary temples and filled tombs cut into rock with beautiful paintings and painted reliefs. Many of these paintings and reliefs contained text related to the afterlife. During this time of economic growth and stability, artists created many statues and monuments to the gods.
Examples of art from the New Kingdom era.
The Intermediate Period of Egyptian history ran from about 1070 BCE to 712 BCE. During this time, power was divided among rulers from different areas and conflict developed. The majority of art produced during this time consisted of bronze statues of gods, kings and temple officials. The Late Period of Egypt spans from around 712 BCE to 332 BCE. This was a time of turmoil, as Egypt faced invasions from surrounding cultures, including the Assyrians, Babylonians and, eventually, the Persians. Along with the traditional statues of gods and royal figures, a new tradition of creating works focusing on non-royals became popular. Many statues were made of bronze.
Egyptian art provides an excellent resource for understanding Egyptian culture. The images included and materials used indicate changes in the economy and political climate. Carvings and paintings celebrated the success of kings. However, the overarching theme remains an undying devotion to the afterlife and the gods.
When the video concludes, you should be able to:
- Analyze Ancient Egyptian art
- Recognize the intent behind paints, sculptures and pottery
- Understand the differences between the Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, New Kingdom, the Intermediate Period and the Late Period