By the end of this module you will be able to:
- Identify and describe the form, content, and context of key Egyptian works
- Define critical terms related to Egyptian art
- Describe differences in Predynastic, Old, Middle, and New Kingdom, and Ptolemaic art
- Explain the significance of the Nile River Valley on Egyptian Culture
- Outline ancient Egyptian beliefs about time and death
Ancient Egyptian art is the painting, sculpture, and architecture produced by the civilization in the Nile Valley from 5000 BCE to 300 CE. In Ancient Egypt, the Bronze Age began in the Protodynastic period circa 3,150 BCE. The hallmarks of ancient Egyptian civilization, such as art, architecture, and many aspects of religion, took shape during the and lasted until about 2,686 BCE. During this period, the pantheon of the gods was established and the illustrations and proportions of their human figures developed; and Egyptian imagery, symbolism, and basic hieroglyphic writing were created. During the Old Kingdom, from 2686-2181 BCE, the Egyptian and other more natural sculptures were built. The first-known portraits were also completed. At the end of the Old Kingdom, the Egyptian style moved toward formalized seminude figures with long bodies and large eyes.
Ancient Egyptian art reached considerable sophistication in painting and sculpture, and was both highly and symbolic. Much of the surviving art comes from tombs and monuments; hence, the emphasis on life after death and the preservation of knowledge of the past. In a narrower sense, Ancient Egyptian art refers to the art of the second and third dynasty developed in Egypt from 3000 BCE until the third century. Most elements of Egyptian art remained remarkably stable over this 3,000 year period, with relatively little outside influence. The quality of observation and execution began at a high level and remained so throughout the period.
Egyptian Art can be divided into five periods:
- Pre-Dynastic and Early Dynastic Periods (c. 3500–2575 BCE)
- Old Kingdom (c. 2575–2134 BCE) the “age of pyramids”
- Middle Kingdom (c. 2040–1640 BCE)
- New Kingdom (c. 1550–1070 BCE)
- Late and Ptolemaic Period (c. 1070-30 BCE)
Ancient Egypt was able to flourish because of its location on the Nile River, which floods at predictable intervals, allowing controlled irrigation, and providing nutrient-rich soil favourable to agriculture. Most of the population and cities of Egypt lie along those parts of the Nile valley north of Aswan, and nearly all the cultural and historical sites of Ancient Egypt are found along riverbanks. The Nile ends in a large delta that empties into the Mediterranean Sea. The settlers of the area were able to eventually produce a surplus of edible crops, which in turn led to a growth in the population. The regular flooding and ebbing of the river are also responsible for the diverse natural resources in the region.
Natural resources in the Nile Valley during the rise of ancient Egypt included building and decorative stone, copper and lead ores, gold, and semiprecious stones, all of which contributed to the architecture, monuments, jewels, and other art forms for which this civilization would become well known. High-quality building stones were abundant. The ancient Egyptians quarried limestone all along the Nile Valley, granite from Aswan, and basalt and sandstone from the wadis (valleys) of the eastern desert. Deposits of decorative stones dotted the eastern desert and were collected early in Egyptian history.
- Ancient Egyptian art reached considerable sophistication in painting and sculpture and was both highly stylized and symbolic.
- The Nile River, with its predictable flooding and abundant natural resources, allowed the ancient Egyptian civilization and culture to thrive sustainably.
- Much of the surviving art comes from tombs and monuments; hence, the emphasis on life after death and the preservation of knowledge of the past.
- Most elements of Egyptian art remained remarkably stable over this 3,000 year period, with relatively little outside influence.
- Much of Egyptian art revolved around the theme of permanence, as artists endeavoured to preserve everything from the present as clearly and permanently as possible.
- Symbolism, ranging from the pharaoh’s regalia (signifying his power to maintain order) to depictions of goddesses, gods, and animals, is omnipresent in Egyptian art.
- Colours also served symbolic purposes to suggest concepts such as youth, royalty, or divinity.
Adapted from “Boundless Art History” https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-arthistory/chapter/introduction-to-ancient-egyptian-art/ License: CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike
The period in Egyptian history immediately following the unification of Lower and Upper Egypt, c. 3100 BC; generally taken to include the First and Second Dynasties.
An ancient massive construction with a square or rectangular base and four triangular sides meeting in an apex, such as those built as tombs in Egypt or as bases for temples in Mesoamerica.
Art that is not naturalistic, yet not distorted enough to be abstract.