Ancient Egyptian art has survived for more than 5,000 years and continues to fascinate people all over the world. The ancient starting point has become a modern reality: art is the path to eternal memory.
In ancient Egypt, art was the magical thing. Whether it was painting, sculpture, carving or manuscript, art had the power to maintain universal order and give immortal life by invoking the various gods to act on man’s behalf, both in life and in death.
From 4,500 BC onwards, Egyptian symbolic art was part of public buildings, such as temples and palaces. The art was based on symbols that were perceived as protection against evil in this life and the next. It is not surprising that art was also an important part of the elaborate tombs in which the mummified remains were kept.
Funerary art was seen as a point of contact between the land of the living and the land of the dead. By following certain guidelines of artistic creation and praying to the right gods, all Egyptians, from rich to poor, could hope to end their earthly life, pass the dangerous exorcism and enter the blessed afterlife.
Egyptian tombs were like secret art galleries, never meant to be seen. Instead, these astonishing works of art attracted only the elite, the gods.
When depicting human figures in tomb art, it was important to show the gods as much of the body as possible. Therefore, a frontal and a profile image were combined in the same figure. It was not intended to be naturalistic, but to function as a sign denoting ‘man’. This method helped the gods to identify man and made the figure the recipient of ritual activities.
Kings were depicted larger than life to symbolise the divine powers of the ruler and thus his importance in the afterlife. In the same way, the tomb owners, who were the main object of tomb design, were depicted on a larger scale. Wives and children, servants and animals, on the other hand, were drawn less, indicating that they were less important.
Colour was considered to be a kind of universal language used to convey the meanings of the Egyptian gods. Certain colours were associated with particular powers or qualities associated with different gods. So an object can have great power if it is made or painted with important colours. For example, green and blue were the colours of plants, water and the sky and symbolised fertility and prosperity. Gold was the colour of the sun and the skin of the gods and was associated with immortality.
The most direct way for the tomb owner to communicate with the gods was through Egypt’s complex hieroglyphic system. The pictographs had a very specific function: to ensure that certain gods were worshipped and rituals performed forever. Hieroglyphs were written in both columns and rows and could be read from the left or right, depending on the structure of the text.
Ancient Egyptian artifacts
Ancient Egyptian civilisation lasted for over 3,000 years and during this time they created many artifacts that we can still see today. Their culture revolved around a religion based on gods and goddesses and thanks to the Nile they were able to live in the desert.
Over the years, many archaeologists and Egyptologists have visited Egypt and found everything from huge monuments and sculptures to the smallest and most beautiful jewellery worn by the ancient Egyptians. These objects, large and small, are called artifacts.
Most visitors from other countries were in the habit of taking many objects home with them.
This is one of the reasons why there are museums all over the world that house important artifacts.
At one point in England’s history, there was a tendency to take mummies home, and the wealthy organised ‘mummy parties’ where guests were invited to watch the mummy being dismantled.
Most objects exported from Egypt were small, so that they could be easily transported.
Many of the artefacts were made of wood or clay and were objects that the ancient Egyptians used in their daily lives.
Others were based on their religious beliefs and were statues of their gods and goddesses. Some of them have been and still are for sale to collectors.
The Rosetta Stone is one of the most important artefacts ever discovered. Before its discovery, no one knew how to translate ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.
When the Rosetta Stone was examined, it revealed a message with three different writings. This allowed experts to understand and read the hieroglyphics.
The ancient Egyptians buried their pharaohs with all the objects they needed to enter the “afterlife”. These tombs were often looted, so archaeologists did not know what kind of objects they would have contained.
King Tut’s tomb was found and had not been opened since it was sealed. It was full of amazing artefacts, and because he was a king, they were of the highest quality.
These objects were sent to many museums around the world so that people could see the fine craftsmanship and beauty of ancient Egypt.
The ancient Egyptians were very skilled artists, and the artifacts they left behind covered many skills.
They were skilled at painting, carving, metalworking, shaping gold, creating jewellery, building huge monuments and temples and statues of their gods, goddesses and pharaohs.
The artefacts discovered show what life was like in ancient Egypt, including life along the Nile. They fished, hunted and sailed, transported goods and took part in battles.
Ancient Egypt had many animals, and the religions of the ancient Egyptians can be traced back to a mixture of nature and their gods.
Many of the artefacts are images of animals and their gods and goddesses. The Egyptians’ favourite animal was the cat, and there are many images of their lives and their cats. They loved their cats so much that they mummified them when they died.
Many of the smaller artefacts found include make-up jars, jewellery, pieces of game boards, statues, mirrors, headrests and storage containers.
The sculptures seem quite simple, but the ancient Egyptians loved colour, and most of them were originally painted with bright colours. Although the paint has faded over the years, there are still drawings and pictures on other painted tombs.
What are ancient Egyptian paintings and drawings?
Ancient Egyptian art was produced in a variety of media, including wall drawings, murals, sculptures, papyrus drawings and jewelry. Many of the surviving works come from tombs and monuments and provide an insight into Egyptian beliefs and practices related to the afterlife.
Ancient Egyptian civilisation existed in the Nile region for more than 3,000 years, from the 31st century BC to the 4th century AD. It therefore stretches from the Early Dynastic period to the Christianisation of Roman Egypt.
The ancient Egyptians do not seem to have had a word for “art”. What we now call works of art were created to give permanence to an object, such as a pharaoh. Moreover, there were no movements or trends in their artistic production as there are today.
For more than three thousand years, Egyptian art did not change drastically, because it served a strict and broader purpose as part of their religious beliefs. This meant that new artists tended to imitate the styles of their predecessors.
Why teach children about ancient Egyptian art?
Much of what we know about the ancient Egyptians comes from preserved artefacts and works of art. These relics give historians clues about what the ancient Egyptians looked like, how they dressed, what professions they had and what they valued as culture.
In primary school, history subjects offer many opportunities for learning that span several subjects. If you decide to include an in-depth study of Ancient Egypt as part of a lesson on the achievements of early civilisations, this fascinating subject is a great way to introduce it into other parts of the curriculum, such as art and English.
What kind of art did the ancient Egyptians have?
Because of the close connection between religion and what we call ‘art’, works of art in ancient Egypt were usually kept in the tombs of the pharaohs, the highest leaders who were like kings or emperors. These people acted as political and religious leaders and were given god-like status.
Pharaoh was the royal palace in ancient Egypt, meaning “great house”, and the pharaoh was a powerful ruler. The Pharaoh’s wife, the Queen of Egypt, was also considered powerful. The pharaoh’s son usually inherited her title, but there are some documented pharaohs, such as Sobekneferu and Hatshepsut.
Historians divide the ancient Egyptian era into different dynasties, periods when a particular pharaonic family ruled and held power. The pharaohs were seen as a link between the common people and their many gods.
During their lifetime, many pharaohs built temples in honour of their gods, including statues, gardens, monuments and places of worship.
The ancient Egyptians believed in life after death. When people were alive, they had a life force, “ka” and “ba”, which was like their soul. If these elements are combined after death, the person lives on. Therefore, the ancient Egyptians embalmed the bodies by mummifying them.
This is why the tombs of the pharaohs were full of drawings, paintings and carvings. This was because they believed that they would help the pharaohs in the afterlife.
Ancient Egyptian drawings
Archaeologists have discovered ancient Egyptian drawings on papyrus. This type of writing material is made from the seeds of the papyrus plant, which produces something similar to thick paper. Papyrus leaves were also bound together into scrolls, an early form of book.
Drawings of animals engaged in human activities, such as chariot driving or wrestling, have been found on papyrus. They often contain humour. Humour, however, was never used in ancient Egyptian drawings of humans.
Artists had a unique way of drawing or painting people. On the other hand, the ancient Egyptians drew heads, eyes, feet and legs as if they were being observed from the side. This is called a profile.
On the other hand, they drew the shoulders and chest as if they were seen from the front. This makes their drawings and paintings very characteristic. In addition, men were usually drawn in dark colours and women in light colours.
Although their civilisation lasted for more than 3,000 years, ancient Egyptian drawings and art in general did not change much during this time. It was common for artists to follow the conventions and traditions of their predecessors. This also meant that there were a number of popular themes and features.
Paintings from Ancient Egypt
Another feature of the tombs was ancient Egyptian painting. These murals were also said to help the deceased in the afterlife. They usually depict a person entering the afterlife and happy scenes, such as family and hobbies. Reliefs, or sculptures that form part of a wall or structure, are also found in temples and tombs and were also painted.
Ancient Egyptian paintings are also found on the walls of palaces and temples. They were also used to paint wooden and stone objects and even coffins. The pigment, or dye, used to paint was made from minerals found in the earth. These minerals were ground into a powder which was then bound together with a kind of rubber to create a paint. Because of the minerals available, the colour palette of the ancient Egyptian painters was dominated by red, yellow, green, white and black. Blue was also created by mixing different ingredients. The ancient Egyptians painted with brushes made of reeds or grasses tied together with string.
Sculptures from ancient Egypt
Many people are familiar with the sculptures of ancient Egypt because of its legacy of giant sculptures. Among them is the Great Sphinx of Giza, a mythological creature with the body of a lion and the head of a man. In this case, it is believed to be the head of Pharaoh Khafra. Sphinx statues like this one protect important religious sites such as tombs and temples.
Ancient Egyptian carvings also include less decorative objects. They can be carved from a variety of materials, including wood, limestone, ivory, ivory, alabaster, semi-precious stones, glass and sometimes solid gold. A common carved object was the ‘funeral mask’ or ‘death mask’. It was created to help the soul recognise the body in the afterlife and return to it. It also protected the deceased from evil spirits. If you are interested in turning this idea into an art project, see the lesson on how to make Egyptian clay masks.