Egyptian Art and Architecture

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Egyptian Art and Architecture

Egyptian Art and Architecture, the buildings, paintings, sculpture, and allied arts of ancient Egypt, from prehistoric times to its conquest by the Romans in 30 bc. Egypt had the longest unified history of any civilization in the ancient Mediterranean, extending with few interruptions from about 3000 bc to the 4th century ad. The nature of the country, fertilized and united by the Nile, and its semi-isolation from outside cultural influences, produced an artistic style that changed little during this long period. Art in all its forms was devoted principally to the service of the pharaoh, who was considered a god on Earth, to the state, and to religion. From early times a belief in a life after death dictated that the dead be buried with material goods to their ensure well-being for eternity. The regular patterns of nature—the annual flooding of the Nile, the cycle of the seasons, and the progress of the Sun that brought day and night—were considered gifts from the gods to the people of Egypt. Egyptian thought, morality, and culture were rooted in a deep respect for order and balance. Change and novelty were not considered important in themselves; thus the style and representational conventions in Egyptian art that were established early in the development of that civilization continued virtually unchanged for more than 3,000 years. To the modern eye the Egyptian artistic idiom may seem stiff and static; its underlying intention, however, was not to create an image of things as they appear in reality, but rather to capture the essence of a person, animal, or object for eternity.


The early prehistoric dwellers on the Nile inhabited the terraces or plateaux left by the river as it cut its bed. Tools and implements left by these early inhabitants of Egypt show their gradual development from seminomadic hunter-gatherers to settled agriculturists. By 4000 bc the civilization of Egypt was in its earliest formative stages; the Predynastic period, which lasted until about 3100 bc, had begun.

Evidence of organized settlements dating from this period has been found, and artefacts produced are mainly associated with burials. Objects were put into the grave with the body for the use of the spirit in the next life; thus a great quantity of such personal goods as pottery, tools, and weapons has been preserved. The pottery is often decorated with painting that reflects the life of the time. Recurring motifs include images of birds and animals common to the land bordering the Nile, and, dating from the latter part of the Predynastic period, elaborate depictions of many-oared Nile boats. Copper was used in limited quantities for beads and simple tools, but most implements were knapped from stone. Palettes made of stone were used for grinding eye paint. Small sculptures and figurines were either carved from ivory and bone or modelled in clay.


The Old Kingdom of Egypt, ruled by the 3rd to the 6th dynasties, spanned the five centuries between about 2755 bc and 2255 bc. In about 3100 bc the country was united under one rule by strong chieftains from the south. The idea, however, that Egypt was divided into two distinct parts—Upper Egypt in the south and Lower Egypt in the north—persisted. The unification of Egypt, or one of the stages leading to it, is commemorated on the carved stone Palette of King Narmer (c. 3100 bc, Egyptian Museum, Cairo), on which the king, wearing the crown of the south, is shown subjugating peoples of the north.

A Architecture

At Abydos and Saqqara tombs for the kings of the early dynasties were built in imitation of palaces or shrines. The large amounts of pottery, stonework, and ivory or bone carving found in these tombs attest to a high level of development in Early Dynastic Egypt. Hieroglyphic script (picture writing), the written form of the Egyptian language, was in the first stages of its...
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