Art, when examined on a grand scale can be interesting. Looking into an entire era of art–whether it spans decades, centuries or more–can give a taste of the culture and beauty of a civilization as a whole. But truly bringing yourself in touch with the art and culture of a time can be achieved more easily by narrowing your focus. Sometimes, narrowing your focus means down to an artist, sometimes it’s just one culture within an era of art. Since breaking down art history into its five distinct categories in a recent post, it comes time to dive more deeply into each era individually, exploring the intricacies of what made ancient art ancient, or what makes modern art modern.
Each month I will choose a new era or specific culture’s art, and dive into the history and intricacies of what made their artform unique and noteworthy.
Last month, in the first installment of my monthly outline of different periods of art, I reviewed Ancient Rome, replete with the paintings, sculptures and architecture that defined an era of artwork in Rome.
This month, we’ll take a step a bit further back in time–even before Rome–and a little to the south to tackle Ancient Egypt, one of the most fascinating cultures and time periods in artistic history.
What sort of imagery do those words conjure up for you? If you’re anything like most people, immediate images come to mind of vast, almost endless desserts peppered with immense pyramids and Sphinx statues. These are the hallmarks of Egypt, the pieces that everyone knows that has served to define the era of artwork for thousands of years, and will continue for millennia to come.
Like the Roman Art I wrote about last month, the term Ancient Egypt spans more than just a few years (or a few hundred years!) Various periods of Ancient Egyptian art exist spanning from pre-3000 BC to roughly 100 AD. If you’re keeping track at home, that’s well over 3000 years of culture contained and cultivated through art.
One of the most fascinating and beneficial facets of art appreciation is the history contained within each and every piece. This can be said even more so for Ancient Egypt, as their art is highly engrainedin keeping the memories, people and beliefs of the past alive through artwork.
One of the most commonly-found and highly notarized and replicated forms of Egyptian art are the two-dimensional artwork featuring a profile-view of all subjects. This unique form of art features people, places and things flattened, seen only in profile, which comes in stark contrast to other forms of art which have presented their subjects in a more 3D light.
A large portion of the artwork in Ancient Egypt focused heavily on the divine. Because the Egyptians were, by and large a religious people, many paintings depicted Gods and other positions of power, such as the Pharaoh on a larger scale than citizens or slaves. The artwork was kept simple and linear,using size to make the hierarchy of power in society evident through their paintings.
Examining the interior of the various tombs found throughout Egypt tips us off to one large fact about some of Egypt’s art: the Gods may not have just been the subject of the art, they may have been the intended audience.
Artwork found inside burial chambers within tombs was intended only as rituals and pieces to appease the Gods, not for people like you or me to see and appreciate.
Wood, Stone & Metal
While a good bit of the art recognized today were relief carved into walls, then painted, Egyptians did work with materials such as a wood and stone in their art. Stone statues were commonly carved intricately, then painted to appear more lifelike.
Woodworking was more varied, in that carved pieces were created to depict scenery and high ranking members of society, as well as used for coffins and tombs. These were often encrusted with metal and jewels and made incredibly ornate with paintings and hieroglyphs. Metalworking in Egypt was primarily used as jewelry, and were reserved for those in higher society.