Today we stand in line and buy tickets to see the artwork of Ancient Egypt. We awe at it's beauty, it's ornate decoration of gold or jewels, and marvel at it's rich color.  This is ironic as most artwork created during the Egyptian period was never meant to be seen. It was created to serve the deceased as they crossed over to the afterlife. Statues faced forward to welcome the ritual. Scenes depicted on walls were organized by parallel registers as if they were meant to be read like lines in a book. Art created during this period was very purposeful, even down to the size of the figures depicted.  The bigger the figure, the more importance or significance it held in the artwork.

Did you know?
Most of the artwork we see in museums from the Egyptian time period was created in workshops owned or commissioned by kings and rulers. These workshops would create artwork in preparation for the passing of their rulers, however the rituals were practiced by the lower class as well, not just the elite. Many museums have basements full of artwork such as coffins, tombstones, small statues and other items needed to cross into the afterlife created by the lower status. These items tend to be less pristine and less perfect than as those created in the elite workshops, so they rarely get displayed, however they are still preserved and kept to study and learn from.

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Below is some basic information on Egyptian Art and its characteristics and influences. If you would like to print off a copy of this page along with samples of art from this period, you can download the Egyptian Art Summary above.

Tutankhamun Tomb & Mask
Tutankhamun Tomb & Mask

Tutankhamun became king of Egypt at age 9 during the 18th dynasty of the New Kingdom. This gold mask was discovered in 1922 in Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings. On the back of the mask there is a spell from the Book of the Dead, believed by Egyptians to be a road map for the afterlife. The hieroglyphs pictured were found on a wall in his tomb.

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The Palette of Narmer
The Palette of Narmer

The Palette of Narmer was discovered in 1898 by James Quibell and Frederick Green. It was found with a collection of other objects that had been used for ceremonial purposes and then ritually buried within the temple at Hierakonpolis.

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Nerfertiti Bust
Nerfertiti Bust

This bust sculpted by Thutmose made Nefertiti the most recognizable queen of ancient Egypt. Her name means “the beautiful one has come”. She was the wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten of the 18th Dynasty of Egypt and lived about 1370 B.C. to 1336 B.C.

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Quick Facts:
  • Art was created by paid craftsman (worked in teams with strict guidelines)

  • Art was both highly stylized and symbolic

  • Art wasn’t meant to be seen; it was created for the divine or deceased

Characteristics and/or Types of Art:
  • Wood sculptures (few still survive)

  • Art on papyrus

  • Jewelry

  • Tomb Paintings

  • Stone and ceramics

  • Highly religious civilization (multiple gods)

  • Belief in afterlife