Painting In Ancient Egypt

Plus Minor Arts and Music

Section targeting

In Egypt, except during the reign of the Ptolemies and under the influence of Greece, ancient Egypt painting never rose to the status of an independent art.



ancient egypt painting



Painting remained an accessory to architecture, sculpture and relief, the painter filled in the outlines carved by the cutting tool.

But though subordinate, it was ubiquitous; most statues were painted, all surfaces were colored.

It is an art perilously subject to time, and lacking the persistence of statuary and building.

Very little remains to us of Old Kingdom painting beyond a remarkable picture of six geese from a tomb at Medum; but from this alone we are justified in believing that already in the early dynasties this art, too, had come near to perfection.

In the Middle Kingdom we find distemper paintingt of a delightful decorative effect in the tombs of Ameni and Khnumhotep at Beni-Hasan, and such excellent examples of the art as the "Gazelles and the Peasants, and the "Cat Watching the Prey" here again the artist has caught the main point that his creations must move and live.

Ancient Egypt Painting, Minor Arts and Music

Under the Empire the tombs became a riot of painting. The Egyptian artist had now developed every color in the rainbow, and was anxious to display his skill.

ancient egypt painting


On the walls and ceilings of homes, temples, palaces and graves hetried to portray refreshingly the life of the sunny fields birds in flight through the air, fishes swimming in the sea, beasts of the jungle in their native haunts.

Floors were painted to look like transparent pools, and ceilings sought to rival the jewelry of the sky.

Around these pictures were borders of geometric or floral design, ranging from a quiet simplicity to the most fascinating complexity.

The "Dancing Girl," so full of orig inality and esprit, the "Bird Hunt in a Boat," the slim, naked beauty in ochre, mingling with other musicians in the Tomb of Nakht at Thebes these are stray samples of the painted population of the graves.

Here, as in the bas-reliefs, the line is good and the composition poor; the participants in an action, whom we should portray as intermingled, are represented separately in succession;2 superposition is again preferred to perspective;

the stiff formalism and conventions of Egyptian sculpture are the order of the day, and do not reveal that enlivening humor and realism which distinguish the later statuary.

But through these pictures runs a freshness of conception, a flow of line and execution, a fidelity to the life and movement of natural things, and a joyous exuberance of color and ornament, which make them a delight to the eye and the spirit.

With all its shortcomings Egyptian painting would never be surpassed by any Oriental civilization until the middle dynasties of China.

Ancient egypt painting


The minor arts were the major art of Egypt.

The same skill and energy that had built Karnak and the Pyramids, and had crowded the temples with a populace of stone, devoted itself also to the internal beautification of the home, the adornment of the body, and the development of all the graces of life.

Weavers made rugs, tapestries and cushions rich in color and incredibly fine in texture; the designs which they created passed down into Syria, and are used there to this day.

The relics of Tutenkhamon's tomb have revealed the astonishing luxury of Egyptian furniture, the exquisite finish of every piece and part, chairs covered gaudily with silver and gold, beds of sumptuous workmanship and design, jewel-boxes and perfume-baskets of minute artistry, and vases that only China would excel.

Tables bore costly vessels of silver, gold and bronze, crystal goblets, and sparkling bowls of diorite so finely ground that the light shone through their stone walls.

The alabaster vessels of Tutenkhamon, and the perfect lotus cups and drinking bowls unearthed amid the ruins of Amenhotep Ill's villa at Thebes, indicate to what a high level the ceramic art was raised.

Finally the jewelers of the Middle Kingdom and the Empire brought forth a profusion of precious ornaments seldom surpassed in design and workmanship.

Necklaces, crowns, rings, bracelets, mirrors, pectorals, chains, medallions; gold and silver, carnelian and felspar, lapis lazuli and amethyst—everything is here.

The rich Egyptians took the same pleasure as the Japanese in the beauty of the little things that surrounded them; every square of ivory on their jewel-boxes had to be carved in relief and refined in precise detail.

They dressed simply, but they lived completely.

And when their day's work was done they refreshed themselves with music softly played on lutes, harps, sistrums, flutes and lyres. Temples and palaces had orchestras and choirs, and on the Pharaoh's staff was a "superintendent of singing" who organized players and musicians for the entertainment of the king.

There is no trace of a musical notation in Egypt, but this may be merely a lacuna in the remains.

Snefrunofr and Re'mery-Ptah were the Carusos and De Reszkes of their day, and across the centuries we hear their boast that they "fulfil every wish of the king by their beautiful singing."





"Ancient Egypt Painting, Minor Arts and Music"




You may also be interested in...



From Painting, Return to Life in Ancient Egypt

Return Home