Tag Archives: art in ancient egypt

The Purpose of Art in Ancient Egypt. II


The image in Ancient Egypt had a power in itself.

Why? Because in addition to evoking a reality, they made it arise. In Ancient Egypt everything that was depicted was also happening.

The Power of Scenes on Walls.

The mural scenes that we observe in the mastabas of the Old Kingdom depict very realistically scenes of daily life. However, they did not consist in the memory of an earthly world that the deceased wanted to take to the Hereafter. In the belief of Ancient Egypt those scenes were moments and situations that happened perpetually.

Making Bread. Mastaba of Ty in Saqqara. V Dynasty. Photo Mª Rosa Valdesogo. Ancient Egypt

Making Bread. Mastaba of Ty in Saqqara. V Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo.

The depictions of bread manufacture or agricultural and livestock activities provided food for the dead eternally. The iconographic environment surrounding the deceased was an ideal reality in which he would live forever and which was in his best interest.

In the same way, the ancient Egyptian reliefs that invaded the walls and columns of the temples (whether funerary or state) immortalized the rituals that took place in them. It was the way to make the rite always happen.

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The Purpose of Art in Ancient Egypt. I.


The physical space in which an ancient Egyptian plastic production is located is essential to analyse it.

Reliefs, paintings and statues of ancient Egypt we know come mainly from temples and / or tombs, that is, from sacred spaces impregnated with spirituality.

Serdab with the statue of Ti. Mastaba of Ti in Saqqara. VI Dynasty. Photo Mª Rosa Valdesogo. Ancient Egypt.

Serdab with the statue of Ti. Mastaba of Ti in Saqqara. VI Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo.

The art of Ancient Egypt was not “contemplated”.

The tombs were houses of eternity that remained closed in perpetuity (except for receiving the funerary cult) and the temples were sacred constructions to which only the royal house and the priesthood had access. Therefore, the mural scenes and sculptures of Ancient Egypt were not conceived for being contemplated.

Egyptian artists did not think of a spectator,..

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The Dead: An Observer in the Egyptian Art.


Perspective in Egyptian art was special. For us, perspective is the representation on a flat surface of reality how it is seen by human eye. That means that observer is an important element when the artists paints or draw something.

Coffin of Khonsu. XIX Dynasty. From Deir el-Medina. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Khonsu. XIX Dynasty. From Deir el-Medina. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

In Egyptian art the artists had to represent reality, not how it was seen, but how it was.  The Egyptian artisan did not think about depth or vanishing point when drawing, because ancient Egyptian art was not made for being contemplated, but it had a religious purpose.

However in some moment Egyptian art kept in mind the observer’s concept. When the anthropoid coffin appeared in Ancient Egypt, a new surface, with a new shape had to be decorated. This new object offered to the Egyptian artist different spaces for the iconography in the same object.

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Hair: a Resource in Ancient Egypt Art for Expressing Movement.


XVIII Dynasty tombs located in Luxor are especially rich in small details, some of them escaping easily from our sight, which give much information about Ancient Egypt.

This is the case of an image in the scene of the banquet in the tomb of Rekhmire (I have to express my gratitude to Dagmar Krejci, who called my attention on it).

Banquet in Rekhmire's tomb.Ancient Egypt. Egyptian Art

Banquet in Rekhmire’s tomb in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo

The whole scene shows many women during the Egyptian banquet being assisted by young girls. These servants are pouring drinks, offering floral necklaces and playing music. The Egyptian artist expressed the youth of those girls by means of their hairstyle, made by lateral fine plaits and a thicker back lock.

musician girls in Rekhmire's tomb. Ancient Egypt

Musician girl playing the long neck lute. Tomb of Rekhmire in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo courtesy: Dagmar Krejci.

We want to focus on one girl playing a long neck lute, whose hair covers her face. About this girl Dagmar Krejci and Peter Zamarovsky, from Czech Republic, already wrote something, paying especial attention to the lute she is playing.

What about her hair? Watching carefully, we realize that her hairstyle is the same one as her fellows’, with the lateral plaits and the back lock. However her face is covered by the plaits, while the black stroke in her front seems to be her back lock, which is now onwards. Why?

The answer could be in her gesture. This girls is slightly bended forwards for playing the lute. Maybe the Egyptian artist tried to find a way of expressing this position drawing her hair forwards.

However, some other girls in this same scene appear also bended, in many cases with a real nod, and their hairstyle has no changes. Then, which is the difference with our lute player?

We need to consider two things: 1) the long neck of the lute based on the ground and 2) the fact that she is playing while standing. Maybe for playing with this posture she needed to move and this movement was expressed by the Egyptian artist with the change in her hairstyle. So, she was not just playing, but also moving.

Rishi coffin. Right side with the funerary procession. On the left a common mourner shaking hair forwards. XVII-XVIII Dynasty. Thebes. Funerary ceremony in Ancient Egypt.

Rishi coffin. Right side with the funerary procession. On the left a common mourner shaking hair forwards. XVII-XVIII Dynasty. Thebes. Photo: www.metmuseum.org

The movement expressed by means of the hair forwards is not new for us. We have seen all over this blog that it was a resource in Egyptian art for depicting the movement of the Egyptian mourners. On the other hand, in Rekhmire’s tomb there are many new artistic solutions for expressing different things: the girl turning her back, the lateral perspective of the shoulders, the body spinning around, the dynamism of some workers…

Man spinning his body around. Tomb of Rekhmire. Ancient Egypt. Egyptian Art

Man spinning his body around. Tomb of Rekhmire in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo

Girl turning her back. Tomb of Rekhmire. Ancient Egypt. Egyptian Art

Girl turning her back. Tomb of Rekhmire in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo

The XVIII Dynasty was a moment of news in Egyptian art and the young lute player in the tomb of Rekhmire could be a sign of it. The Egyptian artist manipulating her hairstyle, tried to express as real as he could what the young girl was exactly doing: moving herself while playing the lute.