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Egyptian Art

Posted on: 23rd March 2015 By: David Thorold

The Ancient Egyptian civilisation was a wealthy and cultured one, so it is no surprise that it developed its own artistic style.   Much of what survives from the reign of the Pharaohs is either monumental or funerary in its design, or both. 

Human figures are represented in a very characteristic way.  They are shown in profile with both shoulders and a single eye displayed as if facing towards the viewer.  Similarly, buildings and objects are also broken down into their abstract parts into a visual language similar to written hieroglyphs.  This is not to say that Egyptian artists had no awareness of the naturalistic form.  For instance many ostracons (waste pieces of broken pottery with illustrations or writing on them) include doodles that are often more full of life than the officially sanctioned images that appeared in the tombs.

Sculpture, serving its own purpose as propaganda to the Pharaohs is equally formal, although art in the round meant that the Picasso-like merging of different viewpoints was never required in statuary.

Probably the most remarkable artworks of Ancient Egypt stem from the reign of the Rebel Pharaoh Akhenaten. Born Amenhotep IV, Akhenaten spurned the traditional gods of Egypt, following a single god, who took the form of the sun – the Aten. During his reign, art became much more naturalistic and flowing with a greater sense of movement. Akhenaten’s religious and artistic ideas did not last long after his reign. His son Tutankhaten eventually renounced the religion that formed part of his name and took the more traditional god Amun’s name, becoming Tutankhamun. His tomb when discovered in 1922 was filled with the traditional artistic works rather than the daring excesses of his father.

If you are interested in finding out more about the meaning of art in Ancient Egypt Dr Campbell Price will be giving a talk at the Museum of St Albans on Saturday 28th March 2015.