Ancient Egyptian Art & Music
Ancient Egyptian art was a practical and necessary part of the lives of ancient Egyptians; it wasn’t just for pleasure or beauty – though it certainly can be considered very beautiful. They carved and painted tomb walls with religious images and texts to bless the dead on their journey to the afterlife.
The tomb wall art may also be a romanticized story of the deceased’s accomplishments in life. The paintings and carvings on temples were a form of religious worship – they told of the myths and stories of the gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt.
Still, you can tell a lot about ancient Egyptian history by deciphering its art…
Hieroglyphics, the sacred writing system of ancient Egypt, looks like a type of ancient Egyptian art.
The glyphs are little images of things such as snakes, water, vultures and women. Their combinations and directions had different meanings and they were a major part of wall reliefs – explaining stories and relaying incantations.
Egyptian papyrus art nowadays tries to replicate some of the gorgeous paintings and images onto papyrus paper made in pretty much the same way as it was made thousands of years ago.
Ancient Egyptian pottery is another archeological goldmine that helped us put many pieces of ancient Egyptian history together – it was an art form with many important uses.
Plus, the broken pottery was used like scrap-paper for art students to work on and get corrected by their teachers!
And although Egyptologists deciphered many historical events through ancient Egyptian art, it is not really an honest depiction of what really happened.
The ancient Egyptians hardly recorded the lives of anyone other than royalty and elites – and with those they usually exaggerated or even made up stories.
One of the earliest forms of propaganda!
Understanding Ancient Egyptian Art
The large ancient Egyptian art compositions were organized into registers (or parts). Each register would have its own base line which represents the floor or ground.
Then you have larger scenes and figures that are usually placed on the ends of the walls and can take up several registers.
Pharaohs, for example, are usually depicted much larger than other Egyptians.
Another very unique trait of ancient Egyptian art is the way the figures are shown, which is of course unrealistic – I’ve tried to “walk like an Egyptian” but could only get my shoulders to move slightly towards profile.
In ancient Egyptian art, the human body’s arrangement goes as follows:
- Head in profile, with the features clear
- Shoulders and chest facing you, the viewer
- Nipple or breast in profile
- Arms, hips and legs in profile
- Hands in full view
Also, sometimes the hands and feet are on the opposite arms and legs… but this wasn’t a mistake – the artists did that to make sure the hand is in full view in certain positions (such as when carrying weapons).
Sadly, we don’t know as much about ancient Egyptian music and dance – but we do have information on the instruments and musicians themselves.
Being an ancient Egyptian artist was a tough job. You had to train from childhood, usually following your father’s path. You were taught and then supervised.
At first, you had to practice on pieces of broken pottery and stones; then your teacher would correct you with a different color.
Some say that correcting mistakes with the color red like we do today (or at least during my school days) came from the ancient Egyptians! Many students’ papyri were found with red corrections… how cool is that?
You had to work in a team and you were ultra specialized in a particular skill and area. You had to follow a very strict work plan and you couldn’t let your creativity get carried away with you.
Ancient Egyptian art was produced in something like a production line, with a team of approximately 30 workmen. A team was made up of:
- The master craftsman who designs the composition and supervises the work
- The plasterers who prepared the walls for painting
- The stone masons who prepared the wall for carving
- Outline scribes who drew the outlines
- Sculptors that carved the outlines
- Painters who did the painting.
Check out this page for more information on ancient Egyptian painting techniques.
Of course, you had a whole different set of tools and skills for making ancient Egyptian sculptures.
Here’s a fun tip: try your hand at making your own ancient Egyptian-style art – it’s so much fun trying to follow their rules!
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