Egypt: Art Work


The University of Memphis Institute of Egyptian Art and Archaeology


Why did they draw and sculpt that way?

The Ancient Egyptians did not have a word that corresponds to our word 'art'. They do not seem to have made statues or paintings to collect or to hang on the walls of museums and art galleries. But they loved to be surrounded by beauty in life and in death. Their homes often had paintings on the walls, and royal palaces had elaborately painted floors and ceilings. Tombs were filled with as many statues, and as much carving and painting, as the owner could afford.

It may seem strange to think that some of the most beautiful images we have of Ancient Egypt in fact come from tombs, and would have seldom or never been seen by living people. Why would anyone go to the trouble of making fine statues of himself or herself, and then bury these where no one could see them?

Egyptian statues, wall paintings and carved stele were all functional. The images we see of humans and gods, animals and plants, had a religious intention. They were almost always part of the cult of a god or of the dead. Statues were places where gods or deceased humans could manifest themselves, places where a spirit could dwell. For non-royal people, the images in the tombs were places of contact between the world of the dead and the world of the living. The spirit of the dead could enter into an image and thus be aware of, and partake of the food offerings left by the living.

Images of battles, of hunting, of farming or family life, beautifully carved into the walls of temples and tombs, ensured that these things would continue forever. Scenes of religious rituals on the walls of temples meant that, even if for some reason the king or the priests could not perform the holy rites of the gods, these essential actions would still go on.


Since the making of images was so important to Ancient Egyptian society, artists and craftsmen were often privileged persons, enjoying a much higher standard of living than farmers or craftsmen such as potters.

As far as we know, most of the Ancient images we see were made by men. Boys would become their father's apprentices, and gradually learn their father's craft and art. As in any society, there were highly skilled craftsmen, and those who were not quite as good. When we visit Museums and Art Galleries, and look into books on Egyptian Art, we tend to see the work of the most skillful, paid for by the richest members of society. It's important to remember, though, that less wealthy people also commissioned statues and carvings. This work may be less appealing to us, less 'beautiful' but it was just a functional, just as useful to the owner, as the most wonderful statues made for kings and royal wives.


Introduction to Egyptain Art


Ancient Egyptian Pottery


Egyptian Art Relief Painting

Andrea Mulder-Slater

Ancient Egyptian art and culture never cease to intrigue and amaze us. The relief painting "Ti Watching a Hippopotamus Hunt" was painted in the year 2400 B. C. This was during the time of the Old Kingdom -- Dynasty V, when Egyptians were constructing their mastabas (or tombs) out of limestone.

In ancient Egypt, there was a strong belief in the afterlife. Death was considered a necessary transition to the next world where the dead would lead a life similar to life as they knew it. This belief was the reason for the embalming of bodies, the abundance of funerary offerings, the statues, the relief carvings, the inscriptions and, of course, the paintings. The Egyptians built their mastabas as comfortable homes for the dead to live in during the afterlife. These tombs were filled with many treasures, paintings and messages. The painting "Ti Watching a Hippopotamus Hunt" is from one such tomb at Saqqara ... the Mastaba of Ti. For those who never knew him, Ti was the royal hairdresser during the early V Dynasty, as well as the controller of the farms and stock that belonged to the royal family. As it turns out, Ti was a rather necessary fellow to have around.

The many paintings that have been found in Egyptian tombs tell of who (and how) the deceased was in life, so that he/she would continue this lifestyle in the hereafter. In these paintings, the important people portrayed were given a large, out of scale size. The overlapping of outlines was avoided and all parts of the body were represented as flatly as possible. There's a very good reason for all of this beyond the fact that the Egyptian artist was as unaware of foreshortening as he was of perspective. You see, it was believed that by showing the Egyptians in this way [Profile of the face; Frontal view of the eye; Frontal view of the upper body; Arms - one in front, one at the side; A profile of the legs] all the body parts needed in the afterlife would be properly expressed and thus, available to the deceased.

The aptly named "Ti Watching a Hippopotamus Hunt" depicts Ti ...watching a hippopotamus hunt. Because of his notability, Ti is shown as being much larger than the other figures in the painting. He stands away from the action of the hunt - almost supervising - yet not involving himself in the event that is taking place. At the top of the relief painting, the ever-important papyrus flowers appear, as do animals and birds. At the bottom of the relief, water and hippopotamus can be seen.

The piece is a relief carving out of limestone. Egyptian stone carvers would first cut the pictures carefully and then, these carvings would be painted. The raised surface around the carving helped to protect the colors from various elements through the years. This system proved very successful. Even so, originally, paintings such as this one found in Ti's tomb, would have been alive with bright color which have since been worn away.

If we examine this relief painting we notice that many different types of lines were used in the creation of the work. However, it's the vertical lines that are used to show the papyrus in the background, that tend to stand out the most. Vertical lines invoke feelings of stateliness and importance -- quite appropriate for this picture. There isn't a great deal of light and shade, even though there were at one time bold colors in the piece which (almost accidentally) gave the impression of shadows. Many patterns exist in the Ti picture. The water is expressed with a number of zig zags, the papyrus stems are shown as vertical lines and everything is very orderly. The work is computationally organized with the large simple figure of Ti balanced out by the smaller, more intricate figures on the right.

The style of relief carvings is invariably the same throughout Egyptian ruins. The people were generally depicted in the same way, the paintings were highly stylized and they were, for the most part, narratives. There was a strong sense of order and form and symbols played a very large role in the artwork. The papyrus plant in particular had both practical and political importance for the Ancient Egyptians (which helps to explain why it appears so often). "Ti Watching a Hippopotamus Hunt" is at first sight a rather simple and "primitive" work of art. However, upon further investigation and exploration of the various aspects of the work, we see the historical importance of this painting.

"Ti Watching a Hippopotamus Hunt" offers us a glimpse into the lives of those who lived and worked in this North African region so many thousands of years ago. It's another reminder of the importance of art. Think about it. How would we possibly know our collective past ... the rulers of our lands, the landscapes of long ago times and the importance of hairdressers in ancient times, if not for art such as this?


Images of Egyptain Art