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What Are Common Characteristics of Egyptian Art?

By Geisha A. Legazpi
Updated May 23, 2024
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Ancient Egyptian art aimed at preserving order and stability, or the prevailing relationships between the king, people, and the gods. To do this, ancient Egyptian art followed certain rules or a style that made it distinctive and unmistakable. Additionally, ancient Egyptian art was heavily influenced by religion, specifically the belief in life after death so that ancient Egyptian artists developed funeral art to an amazing degree. Egyptian temples and pyramids, and the paintings and sculpture found inside them, have become treasures of the entire art world and human civilization itself.

During the age of pharaohs and dynasties, Egypt was fertile and productive, politically stable, and under little threat of foreign invasions. Its artists and artisans could draw on rich supplies of minerals and fine jewels for their work. Egyptian artists all followed specific rules collectively known as style. Ancient Egyptian art tried to preserve the universe, not as it actually existed, but in idealized and more enduring and lasting symbols.

Artistic conventions dictated by Egyptian style, especially in sculpture and paintings, were very precise and strictly followed. Statues were viewed as physical representations of gods and goddesses, as well as divine kings and queens. Male statues had to be darker in color than female statues. Human figures followed a definite pattern; heads were usually viewed from the side while torsos were viewed from the front. The goddess Anubis was always portrayed with a jackal’s head.

Although Egyptian artists were keen observers of details, they were not after exact copies of the things and people that they saw. Artists were not expected to do something new, but to repeat exactly what has already been done. They tried to achieve a sense of order, stability, and continuity by using clear, precise, and simple shapes and lines mixed with flat areas of color. The human figure and the world were recognizable, although ancient Egyptian artists did not try to achieve exact replicas but idealized representations.

Such strict compliance with style made Egyptian art unmistakable and different from art from other countries and civilizations, even in the same art era or period. The preoccupation with death and with funeral art is now turning out to be a great help to the fields of Egyptian archeology and Egyptian mythology, as well as to other scientists and artists. Funeral art is revealing more and more secrets about health, trade, food, and other aspects of life in ancient Egypt with the use of cutting edge technology.

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Discussion Comments
By whiteplane — On Dec 24, 2012

Why are there so many images in Egyptian art of human bodies with animal heads? Also, why are they always doing that one pose. You know the one, where one hand it pointing up high towards the front and the other is pointing low towards the back. It inspired that song Walk Like An Egyptian.

By jonrss — On Dec 24, 2012

One thing that is interesting to consider in the context of Egyptian art is that perspective, creating images with realistic depth, is a fairly recent discovery. If you look at Egyptian art, or really all art from that era, it is completely flat. People, animals, buildings and landscapes are all presented as if they were on the same plain. It was not until over 1000 years after the end of the Egyptian empire that we were able to draw with realistic space and volume.

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