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Characteristics of Egyptian Art

The combination of geometric regularity and keen observation of nature is characteristic of all Egyptian arts. Everything had to be represented from its most characteristic angle. Egyptian crafts in all the statues, paintings, jewelry and pottery seem to fall into place as if they obeyed one law. No one wanted anything different, no one asked him to be 'original'. On the contrary, he was probably considered the best artist who could make his artistic work most like the admired crafts of the past. Everything that was considered good and beautiful in the age of the pyramids was held to be just as excellent a thousand years later, the mode of representing man and nature remained essentially the same through thousands of years.

Egyptian Art Forms

  1. Architecture

    - The style developed during the Pre-dynastic period remained unchanged for 2000 years
  2. Crafts & Sculpture

    - Symbolic elements were widely used and strict laws were applied
  3. Paintings

    - The pictures found in Egyptian tombs were connected with the idea of afterlife
  4. Literature

    - Characterized by it's diversity in a wide array of topics
  5. Music

    - Had considerable attention since the 1st Dynasty

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Video: The Style of Ancient Egyptian Art

A description of the rigid style used in Ancient Egyptian art, how people were depicted and why the style didn't change at all over the course of several mil......

Timeline of Artistic Developments

Dynastic Period Summary Developments in Arts
Early Dynastic Period
  • Formation of cultural identity
  • Stone Artifacts
  • Mud minor arts, pottery, vases and bowls
  • Brick architecture - not survived time
In the course of the Early Dynastic Period, artisans and civil servants working for the central government fashioned the highly sophisticated traditions of art and learning that thereafter constituted the basic pattern of Pharaonic civilization. craftsmen used brick, giving birth to the typical Ancient architecture. The art of this period is known from funerary offerings, consisted largely of painted pottery and figurines, ivory carvings, slate cosmetic palettes, and finely worked flint weapons. In painting, a monumental treatment was given to designs like those drawn in red on buff-colored pottery from Hierakonpolis. Toward the end of the Pre-Dynastic Period, sculptors began to carve monolithic figures of the gods from limestone, such as the mine at Coptos. The craftsmanship of the finely worked stone bowls and vases of these periods is particularly remarkable.
Old Kingdom The most remarkable change was the transition of Step Pyramids to 'true' pyramids with smooth surfaces. This transition was the result of technical skills. The 'true' pyramid was considered as a solar symbol. there was a rapid development of the stylistic conventions that characterized Egyptian art throughout its history. In relief sculpture and painting, the law of frontalism was used. The reliefs were very low, relief and shallow intaglio are often found in the same piece. A relief masterpiece from the I dynasty is the Narmer Palette. It represents animal and human forms in scenes of battle with the ground divided into registers and with emphasis on silhouette in the carving.

In statuary various standing and seated types were developed, but there was strict adherence to the law of frontalism and a tendency to emphasize symmetry and to minimize suggestion of movement. Outstanding Old Kingdom examples of sculpture in the round are the Great Khafre, in diorite, the Prince Ra -hetep and Princess Neferet, in painted limestone, the Sheik-el-Balad (mayor of the village), in painted wood, and the Seated Scribe, in painted limestone (Louver). Probably because of its relative impermanence, painting was little used as a medium of representation; it appears to have served principally as accessory to sculpture. A rare example is the painting of geese from a tomb at Meidum. Religious beliefs of the era held that the happy posthumous existence of the dead depended on the continuation of all phases of their earthly life. The artist's task was therefore to produce a statement of reality in the most durable materials at his command. Tombs were decorated with domestic, military, hunting, and ceremonial scenes. Entombed with the deceased were statues of him and of his servants and attendants, often shown at characteristic occupations.

Middle Kingdom It was a new age of experiment and invention that grew out of the turbulence of the First Intermediate Period (2185-2055 BC). The forms of the Old era were retained, but the unity of style was broken. Increasing formalism was combined with a meticulous delicacy of craftsmanship. The paintings of the rock-cut tombs at Beni Hasan (e.g., slaves Feeding Oryxes and Cat Stalking) are outstanding for freedom of draftsmanship. In sculpture the sensitive portraits of Senusret 3 and Amenemhet 3 are exceptional in Egyptian art, which at all other times showed a reluctance to portray inner feeling.
-2nd Intermediate
  • Bronze introduced by Hyksos
  • Minor Arts
  • Developments in chariots and Weapons
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New Kingdom
  • Emphasis is on bulk and solidity
  • Durable materials - sandstone, basalt and granite
  • Colossal Statuary
    - Impressive temples
  • Amarna Revolution and counter-revolution
This period can be viewed as the final development of the classic Egyptian style of the Middle era, a combination of the monumental forms of the Old and the drive and inspiration of the Middle. The paintings of this period are noted for boldness of design and controlled vitality. In sculpture the emphasis is on bulk, solidity, and impersonality.

During the Amarna era a free and delicate style developed with many naturalistic tendencies and a new sense of life and movement. In sculpture the new style was carried to the point of caricature, e.g., in the colossal statue of Akhenaten. The outstanding masterpiece of this period is the painted limestone bust of Queen Nefertiti (Berlin Museum.). The delicacy, sophistication, and extreme richness of this style in its late stages is best exemplified by the furnishings from the tomb of Tutankhamen.

The Ramsesside era (19th Dynasty) saw an attempt to return to the classic formalism of the earlier New Kingdom, but the vitality that characterized that time could not be recovered. The sculpture, both in relief and in the round, became monotonous and even overbearing except in the numerous battle scenes.
Late Kingdom The Kushite Pharaohs of the 26th Dynasty, with their conservative tastes for classical standards, wanted to return to the glory of the past, they thought to be the instigators of the antiquarian study of the past which is a feature of the following dynasties. There is a large amount of effort to recapture Egypt's splendor. Much of the sculptures and art styles of this time appear to imitate the Old Kingdom and Middle Kingdom, and by the introduction of satirical and often cynical drawings in the papyri.
Minor arts continued to flourish, alabaster vases, faience pottery, glass, ivories, and metalwork were produced with the ancient skill and in the traditional Egyptian style.
Ptolemaic Period
  • Greek elements introduced
    - Architectural public buildings
  • Boosting textiles, pottery and metal vessels industries
  • Glass and paper industries
Alexandria became a base of palaces and gardens, it gained fame in architecture. thanks to its famous Pharos lighthouse which was considered by the Hellenes among the Seven Wonders of the World. The colossal Library of Alexandria housed a million papyrus rolls. It was the tradition that every visiting scientist should present to Alexandria a copy of his works; hence, the number of books in the University reached more than 700,000. The Ptolemies a took interest in sports, building a gymnasium, a theater and a horse race track in Alexandria.

Photos: Egyptian Art Museum Collections

  1. Ashmolean

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  2. Treasures

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  3. Louvre

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  4. Petrie

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  5. British

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  6. Cairo

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  7. Luxor

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Poll: After reviewing the photos of Egyptian art in museum collections, which dynastic period in ancient Egypt produced the most interesting and beautiful art forms?

Answers:
4%
8 votes

8%
14 votes

6%
10 votes

8%
14 votes

2%
4 votes

3%
6 votes

3%
6 votes

13%
22 votes

49%
81 votes

Total votes:
165

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By Ayman Fadl - Copyright © 2001-2014