The artworks of old Egypt have actually fascinated human being for countless years. The at an early stage Greek and also later roman artists were affected by Egyptian techniques and also their art would inspire those of other societies up to the existing day. Countless artists are well-known from later on periods but those the Egypt are fully anonymous and for a really interesting reason: their art was functional and also created for a practical purpose whereas later art was intended because that aesthetic pleasure. Useful art is work-made-for-hire, belonging to the individual that commissioned it, when art produced for pleasure - even if commissioned - enables for better expression of the artist"s vision and also so acknowledgment of an separation, personal, instance artist.

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A Greek artist like Phidias (c. 490-430 BCE) absolutely understood the valuable purposes in creating a statue of Athena or Zeus but his main aim would have actually been to do a visually satisfaction piece, to make "art" as civilization understand that word today, no to create a practical and also functional work. Every Egyptian art offered a handy purpose: a statue held the spirit of the god or the deceased; a tomb paint showed scenes from one"s life on planet so one"s spirit can remember the or scene from the heaven one hope to obtain so one would know exactly how to get there; charms and also amulets safeguarded one indigenous harm; figurines warded off evil spirits and also angry ghosts; hand mirrors, whip-handles, cosmetics cabinets all served handy purposes and also ceramics were used for drinking, eating, and storage. Egyptologist gay Robins notes:

As much as we know, the old Egyptians had no native that synchronized exactly come our abstract use of words "art". They had words because that individual varieties of monuments that we this day regard as examples of Egyptian art - "statue", "stela", "tomb" -but over there is no factor to believe that this words necessarily contained an aesthetic measurement in their meaning. (12)

"art for art"s sake" was unknown & would have actually probably been incomprehensible to an ancient Egyptian who understood art as functional above all else.

Although Egyptian arts is highly regarded today and continues to it is in a good draw for museums special exhibits, the old Egyptians themselves would certainly never have thought of their work in this same method and certainly would find it strange to have these different species of works shown out of paper definition in a museum"s hall. Statuary to be created and placed for a details reason and the same is true for any kind of other sort of art. The principle of "art for art"s sake" to be unknown and, further, would have actually probably to be incomprehensible to an old Egyptian who construed art as functional over all else.

Egyptian Symmetry

This is not to say the Egyptians had no feeling of aesthetic beauty. Also Egyptian hieroglyphics were written with aesthetics in mind. A hieroglyphic sentence can be created left to ideal or appropriate to left, as much as down or down to up, depending completely on just how one"s an option affected the beauty, beauty of the perfect work. Merely put, any kind of work essential to it is in beautiful however the motivation to develop was focused on a practical goal: function. Even so, Egyptian arts is repetitively admired for its beauty and also this is because of the value old Egyptians placed on symmetry.

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


It is for this reason that Egyptian temples, palaces, homes and also gardens, statuary and also paintings, signet rings and also amulets were all developed with balance in mind and all reflect the worth of symmetry. The Egyptians thought their land had actually been do in the picture of the human being of the gods, and when someone died, they visited a paradise castle would uncover quite familiar. As soon as an Egyptian tower was made the was constantly created and raised v an similar twin and these 2 obelisks were believed to have magnificent reflections, made at the same time, in the soil of the gods. Holy place courtyards were purposefully laid out to reflect creation, ma"at, heka (magic), and also the afterlife with the very same perfect the opposite the gods had initiated at creation. Art reflected the perfection the the god while, in ~ the exact same time, serving a useful purpose top top a day-to-day basis.

Historical Progression

The art of Egypt is the story the the elite, the ruling class. Throughout most of Egypt"s historical periods those of more modest means could no afford the luxury of artworks come tell your story and it is greatly through Egyptian arts that the background of the people has come to be known. The tombs, dig paintings, inscriptions, temples, even most that the literature, is pertained to with the stays of the top class and also only by method of telling these stories are those the the reduced classes revealed. This paradigm to be already set prior come the written history of the culture. Art begins in the Predynastic period in Egypt (c. 6000 - c. 3150 BCE) v rock drawings and ceramics yet is totally realized by the early Dynastic period (c. 3150 - c. 2613 BCE) in the famed Narmer Palette.

The Narmer palette (c. 3150 BCE) is a two-sided ceremonial key of siltstone intricately carved with scenes of the marriage of Upper and Lower Egypt through King Narmer. The prestige of the opposite is noticeable in the ingredient which functions the top of 4 bulls (a price of power) in ~ the peak of each side and balanced representation of the figures which tell the story. The occupational is taken into consideration a masterpiece of at an early stage Dynastic duration art and also shows how progressed Egyptian artists were at the time.

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Narmer color board
Unknown Artist (Public Domain)

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

During the Old Kingdom the Egypt (c. 2613-2181 BCE) art came to be standardized by the elite and figures were produced uniformly come reflect the tastes the the funding at Memphis. Statuary of the late early Dynastic and early Old Kingdom periods is remarkably comparable although other art creates (painting and writing) show more sophistication in the Old Kingdom. The biggest artworks of the Old Kingdom space the Pyramids and good Sphinx the Giza which quiet stand now but an ext modest monuments were developed with the same precision and beauty. Old Kingdom art and also architecture, in fact, was very valued through Egyptians in later eras. Some rulers and nobles (such as Khaemweset, 4th son that Ramesses II) purposefully commissioned functions in Old Kingdom style, also the eternal residence of your tombs.

In the an initial Intermediate duration of Egypt (2181 -2040 BCE), following the fallen of the Old Kingdom, artists were able to express individual and regional visions an ext freely. The absence of a strong main government commissioning works expected that district governors might requisition pieces showing their residence province. These various districts likewise found castle had an ext disposable income due to the fact that they to be not sending as much to Memphis. An ext economic power in your ar inspired much more artists to develop works in their very own style. Mass production began during the first Intermediate period also and this brought about a power in a provided region"s artwork i m sorry made that at once distinctive however of lesser top quality than Old Kingdom work. This change can ideal be checked out in the production of shabti dolls because that grave products which were formerly made by 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 considered the high allude of Egyptian culture. Colossal statuary began during this period as well as the an excellent temple the Karnak at Thebes. The idealism the Old Kingdom depictions in statuary and also paintings was replaced by reality representations and also the lower classes are additionally found represented more often in art 보다 previously. The center Kingdom gave method to the second Intermediate period of Egypt (c. 1782 - c. 1570 BCE) during which the Hyksos held large areas the the Delta an ar while the Nubians encroached from the south. Arts from this duration produced at Thebes maintain the qualities of the center Kingdom while that of the Nubians and Hyksos - both of who admired and also copied Egyptian art - different in size, quality, and also technique.

New Kingdom arts is characterized by high top quality in vision & method due mainly to Egypt"s interaction with bordering Cultures.

The new Kingdom (c. 1570 - c. 1069 BCE), i beg your pardon followed, is the best-known duration from Egypt"s history and developed some the the finest and also most famed works of art. The bust the Nefertiti and also the gold death mask of Tutankhamun both come from this era. New Kingdom art is identified by high quality in vision and method due mainly to Egypt"s interaction with bordering cultures. This to be the era the Egypt"s empire and also the metal-working approaches of the Hittites - that were now thought about allies if not equates to - significantly influenced the manufacturing of funerary artifacts, weaponry, and also other artwork.

Following the brand-new Kingdom, the third Intermediate period (c. 1069-525 BCE) and Late period of old Egypt (525-332 BCE) test with an ext or less success to continue the high traditional of new Kingdom art while additionally evoking Old Kingdom layouts in an effort to recapture the declining stature of Egypt. Persian affect in the Late period is changed by Greek tastes during the Ptolemaic dynasty (323-30 BCE) which additionally tries to indicate the Old Kingdom criter with brand-new Kingdom method and this paradigm persists right into Roman Egypt (30 BCE - 646 CE) and also the finish of Egyptian culture.

Types the Art, Detail, & Symbol

Throughout every these eras, the varieties of art were as numerous as human being need, the resources to do them, and also the capacity to pay because that them. The affluent of Egypt had actually ornate hand mirrors, cosmetic cases and also jars, jewelry, decorated scabbards because that knives and swords, complex bows, sandals, furniture, chariots, gardens, and also tombs. Every aspect of any of these creations had actually symbolic meaning. In the same way the bull motif top top the Narmer palette symbolized the strength of the king, so every image, design, ornamentation, or detail meant something relating come its owner.

Among the most noticeable examples that this is the gold throne that Tutankhamun (c. 1336-c.1327 BCE) which depicts the young king with his wife Ankhsenamun. The couple is represented in a quiet residential moment together the queen is rubbing ointment onto her husband"s arm as he sit in a chair. Their close relationship is developed by the shade of your skin, i m sorry is the same. Males are usually portrayed with red skin since they spent much more time outdoors when a lighter color was offered for women"s skin as they were an ext apt to remain out that the sun. This difference in the shade of skin tones go not stand for equality or inequality but was simply an attempt at realism.

In the instance of Tutankhamun"s throne, however, the an approach is supplied to express critical aspect that the couple"s relationship. Various other inscriptions and also artwork make clear that they spent most of your time together and the artist expresses this with their mutual skin tones; Ankhesenamun is just as sun-tanned as Tutankhamun. The red offered in this composition likewise represents vitality and also the energy of their relationship. The couple"s hair is blue, symbolizing fertility, life, and rebirth when their clothes is white, representing purity. The lift is gold, the color of the gods, and every one of the complex details, consisting of the crowns the figures wear and their colors, all have their very own specific definition and go to call the story the the featured couple.


A sword or a cosmetic case was designed and also created through this very same goal in mind: story-telling. Also the garden of a home told a story: in the facility was a swimming pool surrounded by trees, plants, and also flowers which, in turn, were surrounded by a wall and one entered the garden native the house through a portico of decorated columns. All of these would have been arranged closely to tell a story which was far-ranging to the owner. Back Egyptian gardens are lengthy gone, models do of them together grave goods have been uncovered which display the good care which entered laying them out in stare form.

In the instance of the noble Meket-Ra of the 11th Dynasty, the garden was designed to tell the story of the trip of life come paradise. The columns of the portico were shaped like lotus blossoms, symbolizing his house in upper Egypt, the swimming pool in the center represented Lily Lake i beg your pardon the soul would need to cross to reach paradise, and also the much garden wall surface was decorated through scenes indigenous the afterlife. Every time Meket-Ra would certainly sit in his garden he would be reminded the the nature the life as an eternal journey and this would most likely lend him view on everything circumstances can be troubling in ~ the moment.


The paints on Meket-Ra"s walls would have been excellent by artists mix colors do from naturally developing minerals. Black was make from carbon, red and yellow native iron oxides, blue and also green indigenous azurite and malachite, white from gypsum and also so on. The minerals would be mixed with crushed organic product to various consistencies and then more mixed v an unknown problem (possibly egg whites) to do it sticky so it would certainly adhere to a surface. Egyptian repaint was so resilient that numerous works, even those not safeguarded in tombs, have remained colorful after over 4,000 years.

Although home, garden, and palace wall surfaces were typically decorated with flat two-dimensional paintings, tomb, temple, and monument walls employed reliefs. There were high reliefs (in i m sorry the numbers stand the end from the wall) and low reliefs (where the images are carved into the wall). To produce these, the surface ar of the wall would be smoothed through plaster which was then sanded. One artist would produce a work in minature and also then draw grid present on it and this grid would then be drawn on the wall. Utilizing the smaller work as a model, the artist would have the ability to replicate the image in the exactly proportions on the wall. The step would very first be drawn and then outlined in red paint. Correction to the work would it is in noted, perhaps by an additional artist or supervisor, in black color paint and also once these to be taken treatment of the scene was carved and also painted.

Paint was additionally used ~ above statues which were made the wood, stone, or metal. Stonework very first developed in the early Dynastic period in Egypt and also became an ext and much more refined over the centuries. A sculptor would work-related from a solitary block of rock with a copper chisel, wooden mallet, and also finer devices for details. The statue would then it is in smoothed through a rubbing cloth. The rock for a statue was selected, just like everything rather in Egyptian art, come tell its own story. A statue of Osiris, for example, would be made of black schist to signify fertility and also rebirth, both linked with this certain god.


Metal statues were usually tiny and do of copper, bronze, silver, and gold. Gold was specifically popular because that amulets and shrine figures of the gods due to the fact that it was thought that the gods had golden skin. These numbers were made by spreading or sheet metal work end wood. Wood statues were sculpted from different pieces that trees and also then glued or pegged together. Statues of wood space rare yet a number have actually been preserved and show significant skill.

Cosmetic chests, coffins, model boats, and toys were made in this exact same way. Jewelry was frequently fashioned making use of the an approach known as cloisonne in which slim strips of metal are inlaid on the surface ar of the work and also then fired in a kiln to create them together and create compartments which room then comprehensive with jewels or painted scenes. Amongst the ideal examples the cloisonne jewelry is the center Kingdom pendant offered by Senusret II (c. 1897-1878 BCE) to his daughter. This work-related is fashioned of thin gold wires attached come a solid gold backing inlaid v 372 semi-precious stones. Cloisonne was likewise used in make pectorals because that the king, crowns, headdresses, swords, ceremonial daggers, and sarcophagi among other items.



Although Egyptian arts is famously admired it has actually come under criticism because that being unrefined. Critics insurance claim that the Egyptians never ever seem to have mastered perspective as there is no interplay that light and shadow in the compositions, they are constantly two dimensional, and the figures are emotionless. Statuary showing couples, it is argued, show no feeling in the faces and also the same holds true for fight scenes or statues the a king or queen.

These criticisms fail to acknowledge the use of Egyptian art. The Egyptians understood that emotional claims are transitory; one is not repeatedly happy, sad, angry, contents throughout a provided day much less eternally. Artworks current people and also deities formally there is no expression due to the fact that it was believed the person"s spirit would require that depiction in order to live ~ above in the afterlife. A person"s name and also image had to survive in some form on earth in order because that the spirit to proceed its journey. This was the factor for mummification and the sophisticated Egyptian funeral rituals: the spirit needed a "beacon" the sorts come return to when visiting earth for sustenance in the tomb.


The spirit can not recognize a statue the an upset or jubilant version of themselves yet would recognize their staid, complacent, features. The lack of emotion has to do through the eternal purpose of the work. Statues were made come be viewed from the front, usually v their backs against a wall, so the the soul would identify their previous selves easily and this was additionally true the gods and goddesses who were thought to live in your statues.

Life was just a small part of an eternal trip to the old Egyptians and their art mirrors this belief. A statue or a cosmetics case, a wall surface painting or amulet, whatever form the artwork took, it to be made to critical far past its owner"s life and, an ext importantly, tell that person"s story and reflecting Egyptian values and beliefs together a whole. Egyptian art has served this function well as it has ongoing to call its tale now for thousands of years.

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Editorial ReviewThis article has been reviewed because that accuracy, reliability and also adherence to academic standards prior to publication.


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