Ancient Egyptian art has provided us with tons of information about Ancient Egyptian civilization.
It’s given scientists and scholars clues about what Ancient Egyptians looked like, what activities and jobs they did, what was important to them, what clothing they wore, and more.
Colors and Materials
Ancient Egyptians used six colors in their art: white, black, red, yellow, green, and blue. These colors, or pigments, came from local minerals.
To make paint, Ancient Egyptians ground the minerals into a powder then mixed them with a plant or animal-based glue, so they would stick to surfaces like walls.
Although they didn’t use many colors, Ancient Egyptians did use a variety of materials.
Artists created their work with stone, wood, ivory, limestone, copper, bronze, gold, silver, and even lapis lazuli (a beautiful blue stone).
Types of Ancient Egyptian Art
Ancient Egyptian artwork included:
- Painting (especially on tomb walls)
The Ancient Egyptians creating many famous giant sculptures, usually of gods or pharaohs (who were considered very powerful and god-like).
Giant sculptures can be found at pyramids, in temples, and sometimes in Ancient Egyptian palaces.
Their giant sculptures are most famous, but Ancient Egyptians created smaller sculptures too. The pharaoh Tutankhamen’s funerary mask is one example.
It was made from blue glass, semiprecious stones, and 24 pounds of solid gold! Other sculptures were created from limestone, wood, ivory, basalt, alabaster, and other materials.
Most Ancient Egyptian paintings that survived to modern times were found on tomb walls. The Ancient Egyptians believed that these paintings could help people in the afterlife.
Many of the paintings show people with their loved ones, passing into the afterlife, or feeling happy in the afterlife.
A relief is a sculpture carved into a wall or other structure. Ancient Egyptians often carved them into the walls of tombs and temples.
They would make the carving, smooth the surface with a layer of plaster, and then paint it. Some elements might only be painted and not carved.
Characteristics of Ancient Egyptian Art
In most societies, art changes and evolves over time. But in Ancient Egypt, the art remained mostly the same for over 3000 years. Characteristics of Ancient Egyptian paintings included:
- People drawn larger based on social status. For example, if a pharaoh was in a painting, he was always larger than any other person in the illustration.
- Pharaohs are also illustrated as serious and formal. Other people appear more natural and relaxed in Ancient Egyptian paintings.
- Paintings are always drawn two-dimensional, or flat, with no depth perception.
- People in Ancient Egyptian paintings are almost always seen in profile, or from the side.
Ancient Egyptian sculptures shared characteristics such as:
- Figures facing forward
- Figures very formal and upright, whether they were sitting or standing
- If sitting, figures had hands on their knees.
- Sculptures of males are always darker than sculptures of females.
- Realistic human faces
Purpose of Ancient Egyptian Art
What’s interesting about Ancient Egyptian art is that most of it was never meant to be seen. Their artwork had a different purpose.
The Ancient Egyptians were very religious, so most of their artwork had to do with religion. This is why artwork is found in the temples, in tombs to guide people to the afterlife, and in the palaces of pharaohs, who were considered god-like.
Statues of gods were often the subjects of religious rituals. Statues of royalty and other elites were seen as messengers between people and the gods.
Ancient Egyptian art was about more than beauty. It was meant to serve a purpose that benefited someone—usually gods, royalty, or the dead.
Fun Facts About Ancient Egyptian Art
- Ancient Egyptian art almost always included text. On statues or sculptures, text often appears on the base or back pillar identifying the subject. Relief usually has captions explaining the scene.
- One reason Ancient Egyptian art survived so long is Egypt’s dry climate. However, most of the art in the tombs was eventually stolen by thieves.
- Ancient Egyptians used a lot of symbolism in their artwork. For example, beetles represented transformation, while hawks represented wisdom.
- Even colors symbolized meaning: green was new life, red was victory or rage, black represented death and resurrection, yellow was eternity (since the sun is yellow), white represented authority or purity, and so on.
- Ancient Egyptian arts and crafts included jewelry, pottery, and tapestries. Jewelry often featured nature symbols like garlands of flowers and fruit.
- In Ancient Egyptian paintings, scenes were displayed in horizontal rows called registers.
More Ancient Egypt facts.