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    Egyptian Art case – Egyptian Art c. 3500 – 30 BC Essay

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    Ancient Egyptian civilization, like the civilizations of Sumer and the Indus Valley, grew up along a great river (Nile) that provided irrigation for agriculture and also a thoroughfare for transport of men and materials. Largely a desert country crossed on a SN axis by the Nile river


    • Central role in Egyptian economy
    • Annual floods –constant & dependable occurrence (the flood water carried rich slit which was eventually deposited over the alluvial plain –agriculture) • Nile not only shaped their lives, it shaped their beliefs

    Along with Nile the Sun was also worshiped. Sun = Re, father of the gods in Egyptian art, nearly everything had a specific or indirect religious significance, and illustrated the special response the people of the Nile valley to their environment. Predictability of life >> rising and setting of sun, annual flooding of Nile gave the Egyptian people a sense of order and inevitability & sense of continual rebirth. Egyptian art: conservative & formulaic

    Kingdom of the Two Lands

    Sometimes around 3000 BC, the Lower and Upper Egypt were unified –through conquest.

    The time preceding, the unification is called Predynastic • the period of time right after the unification –about 3 dynasties – Early Dynastic. After that the classification of Egyptian history is split into 3 main categories : Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom. The periods between the kingdoms are called Intermediate Periods. These intermediate periods were characterized by economical and political instability and consequently civil strife – largely due to drought caused by low levels of the Nile inundation, which resulted in a drier climate and lower crop yields.

    An exception to the rule is the Amarna period which is part of the New Kingdom but because of its distinct features and ideology needs to be known on its own.

    Palette of King Narmer, from Hierakonpolis, Predynastic

    • Marks transition from prehistoric to historical period
    • It is one of the earliest historical records
    • Commemorative rather than funerary
    • Records Narmer’s victory over the a city or a region in Lower Egypt –it was believed to record the unification of the two regions into “the kingdom of two lands”

    Elaborated version of a utilitarian object commonly used in for mixing pigments for eye makeup –used by Egyptian as protection against sun glare.

    Establishes formula for figure representation which will last for 3000 years. Formal organization of the elements on the 2d surface into a pattern is derived from writing. -surface split into registers framed by lines. Very clear indications of how the palette should be read: the main character is at the center of the action and bigger in size than the other figures (hierarchy of scale). Narmer’s name is repeated through out the surface by the hieroglyph showing a – Nile catfish and chiselTwo of the occurrences of his name appear on the very top register in the Hieroglyph showing a palace – means Narmer is in the palace –aka the king. Narmer’s figure = standard representation of human anatomy – the artist did not mean to render human body anatomically correct, instead he took the body parts from their most recognizable position and constructed a body that could be recognized as a human body : frontal view of the feet could be ambiguous –profile view very specific –no mistake.

    The same thing with the torso –from profile could be ambiguous but not so from a frontal view – eye frontal as well. This is a standard representation of human figures in Egyptian art and it will be seen as such to the end. Back:King is accompanied by an attendant who carries his sandals (barefoot = sacred). King Narmer is more than 2X height of attendant (hierarchy of scale indicates the order of importance)Narmer has a bull tail = indicates god-like status –associated with the Egyptian rulers; endowed with animal features as a way of expressing his power bowling pin like crown. – Upper

    Egypt crown

    • Attendant stands on his own ground line
    • Below the king are two fallen enemies
    • Human-armed falcon, Horus, sky god/protector of Narmer – (divine sanction)
    • Papyrus – symbolic plant of Lower Egypt.– Hawk symbol of Horus – on top of papyrus = capturing of Lower Egypt.
    • for Egyptians the king was an earthly manifestation of Horus.


    • Narmer wearing the combined Upper and Lower Egypt crown
    • Narmer = larger scale and isolated, deified figure (barefoot)
    • He marches in solemn procession of standard bearers
    • To right, beheaded bodies of captives, shown from above, head btw legs
    • Below = bull knocks down rebellious city >> symbol of Narmer’s power
    • Fallen nude denotes inferiority
    • Center (mysterious): 2 male figures hold leashes of long-necked fantastic animals

    The fact that the king is represented on one side wearing the crown of Upper Egypt, and on the other side the combined crown of Lower & Upper Egypt is very often seen as proof that the Upper-Egyptian Narmer was the one who successfully conquered Lower Egypt or part thereof. In short:

    • Gods and nature are unchanging, eternal
    • King is divine and thus eternal
    • Style: formal characteristics which were to last for the next 3000 years Strong sense of orderClarity (legible)
    • Conceptual composite representation >> showing most characteristic parts Surface divided into horizontal bands

    Stepped Pyramid tomb of King Zoser, c. 2650 BC, III Dynasty, Saqqara

    • Early Dynastic
    • Architect = Imhotep
    • Imhotep = dual role: master of state building; high priest of the sun cult
    • The center of sun cult was in Heliopolis in today’s Cairo area
    • Imphotep role as a high priest had an impact on the design of the pyramid
    • Part of a funerary complex

    Djorser’s pyramid begun as a mastaba each of its faces oriented toward one of the cardinal points dual function to protect the mummified king and his possessions to symbolize by its gigantic size= the god like powers of the king • the stepped shape – suggests step way to go up – Djoser resuscitated to join the gods • the pyramid is a reiteration of the funerary message

    Old Kingdom

    Gizeh pyramid complex increased association of the kings with the power of sun god ra – led to the birth of the pyramids (4th Dynasty – pharaoh assumed the title of Son of Ra, a god on earth) and located across the River Nile from Cairo on the West Bank on an area that is called Gizeh.

    Their shape is not a refinement of the stepped pyramid derived from Ben Ben –emblem of the cult of Re – cult object – its pyramidal shape reflects the physical manifestation of the sun shining down on earth. In other words it symbolizes the light of god. Change in symbol – from stairway to heaven –to manifestation of god. Originally highly polished outer casting capped by a bronze ben ben- which reflected the sun rays thus evoking an association with sun god Ra. The pyramids were not just the pharaohs’ final resting place but also served as a reminder of the absolute power of the pharaoh. The pyramids were just one part of a complex of buildings: a mortuary temple, a valley temple and a causeway that connected them.

    Valley temple – the place where ceremony begun – the body of the king transported via water. Cause way –covered – single whole in the roof provided slight illumination Mortuary temple – where offerings were made to the dead king and ceremonies took place in his honor

    Old Kingdom sculpture

    The large number of statues that survive from the old kingdom were found in tombs and other funerary buildings. These statues usually represented the deceased person and the people accompanying them in the afterlife. Statues served as substitute homes for the KA – the Egyptian concept of LIFE FORCE.

    The Egyptians also believed that the ka was sustained through food and drink. For this reason food and drink offerings were presented to the dead. The ka as a spiritual double was born with every man and lived on after he died as long as it had a place to live. The ka lived within the body of the individual and therefore needed that body after death.

    This is why the Egyptians mummified their dead. If the body decomposed, their spiritual double would die and the deceased would lose their chance for eternal life. The materials used for these sculptures included clay, wood, and stone – but stone was used only for the funerary statues of the pharaohs and the noblesKhafre enthronedFormal

    • one of a series of similar statues from the pharaohs Valley temple
    • made of diorite – a very hard
    • Khafre wears a simple kilt, ceremonial headdress and beard
    • Rigidly upright


    • Throne formed of two stylized lion bodies – the same symbolism as in the Sphinx
    • Between throne’s legs – Intertwined lotus and papyrus plants – duality used in depiction of pharaohs – symbolic of the two kingdoms (papyrus = upper Egypt, lotus = lower Egypt)
    • A falcon is standing on his had – symbol of Horus (the pharaoh is a manifestation of Horus)
    • Idealized body and face – the intention was to proclaim the divine nature of the pharaoh and not to record his distinctive features.
    • Everything points to permanence, – ideal body (no decay, so sign of aging); rigid stance (no movement suggested); straight forward glance (determination)
    • Compactness of the statue (no protruding breakable parts);

    The form manifests the purpose: to last an eternity

    Represents a standard that will be repeated over and over in the Egyptian sculpture. Seated Scribe, from a mastaba tomb at Saqqara, 5th Dynasty, c. 2500-2400 BC, Another facet of the Egyptian statuary in which some traditions are preserved and others transformed to suit the figure depicted.

    Despite rigid frontality of the head and body –the color lends a life like quality to the statue  deviation from the highly idealized statues of the pharaoh, although the scribe occupied a position of honor in a largely illiterate society the scribe was nonetheless a much lower person that the pharaoh, whose divinity made him superhuman.  Formality is relaxed and realism increased : the scribe is portrayed with sagging muscles and a protruding belly, his face show individualized features – example of statuary depicting common /non divine people Ti watching a Hippopotamus Hunt, wall painting, Tomb of Ti c. 2400, Saqqara. The painted limestone relief that decorates the walls of the mastaba of Ti – fifth dynasty official –typifies the subjects favored by Old kingdom patrons for decorating their tombs. These subjects were derived from activities associated with provision gathering (hunting and agriculture). The choice of subject (the scenes of agriculture and hunt) that adorned the walls of the tombs is not a reflection of the activities in which the patron engaged in everyday life but represent symbolic provisioning for KA.

    The scenes of hunting have a double meaning: provisioning for Ka and also in ancient Egypt success in the hunt was a metaphor for triumph over the forces of evil, triumph over death. Ti, his men and his boats move slowly through marshes, hunting for hippopotami and birds. The vertical lines suggest the papyri stalks (they are in the marshes) that fan out– at the top of the image into a commotion of the birds and stalking foxes. The water is signified by a pattern of vertical waving lines, and is populated by a variety of fish as well as by some hippos • Above the water Ti stands rigidly upright somewhat remote from the activities going on around himAs in Narmer’s palette the size of the figure indicates the hierarchy of importance.

    Ti is the largest figures. In comparison all the others are half his size and unlike the rigid stance of Ti these figures are more naturalistically rendered. Ti’s remoteness suggests that he is not part of the hunt. The significance of Ti is underlined both through size and his immobility. As in pharaohs statuary the figure of Ti is idealized. This translated into relief means profile legs, frontal torso, profile head, frontal eye.

    Middle Kingdom: 11th – 13th dynasties

    Sculpture:In most respects middle kingdom artists adhered to the conventions that were established in the Old Kingdom. There were some notable innovations. The sculptors of Old Kingdom represented the rulers as gods on earth. During the Middle kingdom the surviving fragments of royal statues show a line of rulers who had achieved their divinity by their own power and strength of personality. The aloof and solitary nature of kingship appears on their portraits, but it is combined with an awareness of a human personality beneath the trappings of royalty. The heads and statues of these Middle kingdom rulers give the impression of being real portraits.

    The sculpture of the Middle Kingdom is often described as a new attempt at realism. ArchitectureThe most characteristic funerary monuments in the middle kingdom are the rock cut tombs. These tombs which also existed during the old kingdom became prevalent in the Middle Kingdom and largely replaced the mastaba as the standard Egyptian tomb type. Rock-cut tombs, Beni Hasan, EgyptTypical of Middle Kingdom tombs Cut into rock cliffs and provided with sheltering porticos (a structure consisting of a roof supported by columns or piers, usually attached to a building as a porch.

    ) From the portico /porch one went into a columned hall and then into the burial chamber. The column shafts are fluted – rounded groove incised as a decorative motif on the shaft -similar to those found later in Greece and it is very probable that the Greeks took their inspirations from the Egyptian fluted columns.

    The New Kingdom

    The middle kingdom was terminated by the arrival of the HYKSOS, shepherd-kings who may have come from Asia. With the expulsion of Hyksos came New kingdom which was characterized by an invigorated dynastic line of pharaohs and increasingly powerful hereditary priesthood who brought Egypt to new heights of political and cultural brilliance. At this time, Egypt extended its borders by conquest. At the same time the capital moved to –Thebes in the Upper Egypt.

    Mortuary temple of Hatshepsut –Deir el BahriThe temples of the New kingdom are derived from the rock cut tombs of the Middle Kingdom • were often build to honor pharaohs as well as gods provided the rulers with a place to worship the gods during the lifetime and then served as temple in their own honor after their death. Ramps led up from the valley to three broad terraces, each defined by colonnades, which also serve as retaining walls for the next level. The terraces are connected by ramps on the central axis. Axial arrangement –throughout Egyptian architecture.

    Post & lintel building system

    Temple of Ramses II

    Another example of grandiose architecture in New Kingdom, derived from the rock cut tombs of the middle kingdom The temple was carved out of a hillside next to the Nile and dedicated to three great New Kingdom gods. It was also a tribute to the power and military might of Egypt and the divine pharaoh himself – (many campaigns to restore the empire).

    His power is most obviously stated by placing four colossal images on himself on the temple façade Interior of the temple of Ramses IIMain gallery -32 –foot tall figures of Ramses in guise of Osiris facing each otherThe figures are attached to pillarsThey have no weight bearing function because like the columns in the tomb at Beni-Hasan they were carved from the rock cliff. (The statue column reappears through out the history of art – the male figure columns are called atlantids, the women figure ones are called caryatids. )

    Model of the hypostyle hall from the Temple of Amen Re, Karnak, Egypt

    • a roofed chamber filled with columns and lit by clerestory
    • post & lintel
    • enormous columns -the columns have bud-cluster or bell-shaped capitals resembling lotus or papyrus plants (the plants of Upper & Lower Egypt).
    • All columns were carved and painted
    • The raised roof supported by the taller central columns permitted clerestory lighting
    • This is where coronations would have taken place

    Banquet Scene -Wall Painting from Tomb of Nebamun, Thebes

    • the burial ceremony of the new kingdom included a ceremonial meal that his family would partake in his tomb following his funeral and then once a year.
    • This fresco shows three noble women watching two almost nude dancers. They are involved in the action through both gestures and the music that one of them creates.
    • scene depicts a ceremonial banquet in the honor of the dead.
    • These scenes are testimony to the life of the Egyptian upper class and at the same time, they have symbolical connotations.
    • As in the Old Kingdom relief showing Ti watching a Hipopotamus hunt, the successful hunt is a metaphor for the triumph over death ; Music and dance were sacred to Hathor –who among other obligations – was the goddess that aided the dead in their passage to the other world.

    Amarna period

    Egyptian religion remained remarkably uniform throughout its more that 3000 years – with one exception. For about 2 decades at the end of the 18th dynasty Akhenaton promoted a view of the world that challenged the traditional Egyptian beliefs and traditions. The pharaoh’s original name was Amenhotep IV– and changed later to Akhenaton to reflect his devotion to Aton. (the name Amenhotep included the name of the god Amun in its content). Akhenaton claimed that the he had a vision in which Aton himself dictated the need for religious reform.

    . Akhenaton’s changes affected most aspects of the Egyptian culture. He replaced the multitude of Gods that the Egyptians worshiped with a single God – Aton – a minor god until now, elevated at this time as the sole creator of the universe. Akhenaton – closed all temples dedicated to other gods proclaimed himself the high priest of Aton all worship was done through the king and the royal family Priests that until now represented a wealthy powerful class were stripped of their influence and source of wealth.

    This of course left them disgruntled which probably brought about the end of Akenatons rule – after about 17 years. Akhenaton’s religious reform had a political impact as well. – Some argue that the reasons for his religious reform were entirely political. By the time of Akhenaton’s reign, the god Amun had risen to such a high status that the priests of Amun had become even more wealthy and powerful than the pharaohs. In the fifth year of his reign he chose Amarna as the site for an entirely new place of royal residence where temples to the Aton and palaces for the Royal Family could be built unchallenged by the works of the past.

    He called the new place Akhetaton, “The horizon of the Aton”.

    Akhenaton portrait

    • Deliberate artistic reaction against established canon
    • all straight lines were eliminated , a bizarre sense of proportions / head dress curved, kilt under protruding belly, skinny hands
    • this it is not naturalism, it is a deliberate exaggeration
    • many scientists sought to find a medical explanation for the disproportions of his body
    • Reflects the fundamental changes in the ideology.
    • Aton was seen as the universal creator of all life – he split into a male and female and proceeded to populate the world.
    • Akhenaton portraits are propagandistic –proclaiming him embodiment of Aton on earth – hence the rather effeminate aspect.

    Akhenaton and Nefertiti with their three daughters

    Intimate view of the royal family – unusual in the Egyptian depiction of pharaoh. By showing Nefertiti on the same formal level as Akhenaton, it is implied that Nefertiti shared the rule with her husband.

    Emphasis on the internal workings of the royal family who are part of Aton. – offers a glimpse into Aton through the royal family. Aton’s image was the disc from which many rays descended, each one ending in a little hand, holding symbols. – the ones extended above Akhenaton and Nefertiti are the hieroglyphs for life.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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