Ancient Egyptian Art

Highly recognizable and rich with symbolism, the art of the ancient Egyptian people is comprised of painting, sculpture, decorative objects, and architecture. It generally refers to the time span between 5000 B. C. and 300 A.D. As this period is extensive, it covers many styles. The best-known ancient Egyptian art typically dates to roughly 3000 B.C. through the third century. The art of ancient Egypt was largely composed with minor outside influence. Nature and geometric depictions characterize much of ancient Egyptian art.

Ancient Egyptian art is typically subdivided in accordance with the following periods: Predynastic, Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, New Kingdom, Amarna, Late Period, and Ptolemaic. Artistic symbolism was a common thread running throughout the various periods. Art conveyed a plethora of Egyptian symbols that had to do with the Egyptian people, regional animals, gods and goddesses, and the pharaohs. Even foreigners were represented symbolically to demonstrate their place of origin. In this way, certain forms, like the representation of man, remained nearly unchanged for thousands of years. Egyptian artists also revered and tried to maintain the artistic forms from previous generations of artists so that the art of various periods had many characteristics in common.

Ancient Egyptian artists used a variety of mediums for their art such as paper and pottery. Paper was made in Egypt using the papyrus plant. Artists covered sheets of papyrus with decorative hieroglyphics. Historians have identified roughly seven hundred specific symbols used in the hieroglyphic system. Scrolls typically depicted scenes from Egyptian life. A famous work from the ancient period is known as the Book of the Dead which was written on papyrus. Ancient Egyptian pottery was also decorated with Egyptian symbols. Artisans additionally used steatite to create vases, small statuary (deities as well as animals), and amulets. Additionally, Egyptians frequently covered their pottery with enamel.

Sculpture was an important component of ancient Egyptian art. The sculpted heads of pharaohs like Amenhotep III have been uncovered by archaeologists and housed in the world’s most prestigious museums. Statues ranged from small figures to monumental sculptures. Statuary was important to Egyptian religion and artists were accustomed to sculpting figures in accordance with strict design principles. For example, specific gods like Horace had to be depicted with the head of a falcon. Sculpture, as well as other forms of Egyptian art, supported religious beliefs concerning the afterlife.

The dry climate of Egypt has preserved a large amount of Egyptian painting. Preserved works often demonstrate journeys to the afterlife and are characterized by positive deities. Painting was an important part of funerary art and is often found on the walls of ancient tombs. Artists most often painted with a palette consisting of black, red, green, gold, and blue. Ancient Egyptian artists also designed furniture, jewelry, ceramics, glass, and metalwork.