Egyptian Art Characteristics And Functions
There's something extremely fascinating about ancient Egypt that we are often lured to revisit its mysterious past, time and time again.
Aside from the baffling architecture and mystifying mummification process, the Egyptians are also known for their elaborate art that remains to be one of the most influential in human civilization up to this day.
Ancient Egyptian art has been around for a very long time. It spans almost 2800 years of history which officially started from the time of Egypt's unification in the year 3100 BCE.
To put things into perspective, the great pyramids, as well as Egyptian art, were already ancient even before Cleopatra was born.
In order to better appreciate the most striking art form in human history, let's take a look at the characteristics of Egyptian art and its main functions for the ancient dwellers of the Nile.
It is one of the most important characteristics of Egyptian art because it effectively shows the hierarchy in each artistic composition. This is where mathematics and art form a beautiful marriage in order to create elaborate depictions of each figure and tell a compelling story through art.
Using mathematical equations, Egyptian artists would depict the gods, goddesses, or divine pharaohs in larger forms by lengthening their legs.
On the other hand, artists would shorten the torso of the officials or servants so that they would appear smaller for they belong in the lower hierarchy.
The size of the figures indicates the relative importance of each figure in an artistic composition.
If you take a look at the Narmer Palette which is a significant Egyptian archeological find, you will see the depiction of a tall King Narmer in the center register along with the smaller figures off to the side which all portray their respective hierarchical position.
The twist perspective is one of the most important characteristics of Egyptian art as it depicts a more detailed figure by combining both the side and frontal view of the subject in a single representation.
In the cartouche of King Tut, you will see that the pharaoh's head is turned to the side, so it only shows one side of the subject's face. Although you can only see one of his eyes, the eye was depicted as a whole that it even appears as if it's looking at its observer.
It is also common to see a subject with the legs and feet turned to the side but with torsos that are facing forward. This technique doesn't only provide a more detailed description of the subject, but it also serves an aesthetic purpose as well.
Geometry exists everywhere and is the reason why geometric design is one of the common characteristics of Egyptian art. To the ancient Egyptians, geometry carries the spiritual information which is necessary for one's ascension to another realm. It is the reason why their arts are filled with triangular shapes.
They further believe that the three edges and three vertices of a triangle hold the key to the secret of the universe.
If you look closely at their art, you will notice that the torso, as well as the broad shoulders of their subjects, are formed using triangular shapes but in a very subtle way.
Aside from triangular shapes, cylindrical shapes are also used especially in the subject's legs, hat, and staff.
The ancient Egyptians depicted their subjects based on idealized representations which were juxtaposed to reality.
They were not creating art based on what they saw but based on the aesthetic standards that have been agreed upon since the unification of Egypt. Idealized representation is a vital characteristic of Egyptian art for it delivers order and continuity.
This is the reason why the figures represented in their arts were athletic and youthful as it portrays the everlasting forms of their subjects.
In every artistic rendering, the Egyptians needed to clearly showcase strength and bravery, especially if the artistic composition depicts a god, goddess, or pharaoh. It was the aesthetic standard that Egyptian artists should follow in order to create uniformity in all their arts.
It was very necessary for ancient Egyptian artists to heavily infuse power symbols in depicting their pharaohs, gods, and goddesses in order for them to truly stand out in each artistic composition.
These power symbols are visible in the subject's clothing, headdress or regalia, scepters, and others. The symbols of power were not only depicted to highlight important characters, but they served a different purpose as well.
These depictions helped in maintaining order during ancient Egyptian times because they served as a reminder for people of the authority and power of their pharaohs.
What are the main functions of Egyptian art?
The ancient Egyptians were very religious people and religion is the primary function of their art. They were polytheistic people and most of their arts were linked to their mythology or religion.
One of the most fascinating things about the ancient Egyptians was their obsession with death and the afterlife.
This obsession is the reason why a great number of their art were found buried in tombs.
They believed that the paintings on the tomb walls can guide and protect the dead on the journey to the afterlife. Aside from the tombs, art was also present in all their temples for it was also their way of glorifying their gods.
Art Was Used to Record Important Events
Since it was paramount to the ancient Egyptians to keep records of important events, writing down these events on a daily basis became one of the most important functions of Egyptian art.
When it comes to record keeping, the Egyptians made use of hieroglyphics which were considered a writing system and monumental art.
A hieroglyph refers to a character or a stylized picture of an object that represents a specific word.
By writing hieroglyphs on temple walls and papyrus scrolls, the Egyptians were able to preserve their records of information for over three thousand years.