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Artistic Style of Ancient Egypt

The art of ancient Egypt is both unique and unmistakable. People can always recognize Egyptian art because it is quite different from the art in other countries. Egyptian art and style has its specific features which are not accidental. Ancient artists of Egypt had always followed the specific rules to make their art understandable for others. It may be quite a riddle for modern people to get the adequate understanding of Egyptian art, but at those times people could read much more from the painting thanks to rich symbolism of the latter. Egyptian artists tried to convey as much information using the picture as they could. Not only were they covered with hieroglyphs but all the structure of paintings had its sense. When the artist wanted to depict the marriage, there would always be two crowns painted. Though the details of the picture one could assume who were the people on the picture, what was their age, status and place of living. Still even more attention was paid to the portraits of the people. As far as Egyptians believed in the afterlife, they cared a lot about the depicting of the dead. They believed that the people would resurrect one day and would need a perfect body to live again. In the first turn, they did their best in making mummies. However, in case that the mummy would be damaged for some reason, they tried to paint perfect pictures. That is the first peculiarity that one should know considering the Egyptian art. Although the artists were not concerned about realistic image, they followed a system called the Canon of Proportions. It was their way to reflect a perfect version of reality. In doing so, they were also taking into account other characteristics of this style. These characteristics included:

  1. The canon of proportion
  2. The scale
  3. The color
  4. The distinction between men and women
  5. The roles and gestures
  1. The canon of proportion. Ancient Egyptians calculated the perfect ratio for the human body in the painting art. They were dividing figures into 18 equal units. One unit was usually measured from the sole of the foot to the ankle. There was also one more, the 19th unit that contained the area above the hairline, but was not usually visible because of the headdress. As far as artists stuck to the canon they had to paint the navel at the 11th unit. They had also to make their figures two-dimensional. That meant that head and legs were always depicted in profile, but the torso had to be depicted in the front view. There was a particular logic in this kind of painting. When one painted a face in the side view, he could draw a nose properly and show at least one ear. The details, as mentioned before, were vitally important in the Egyptian art. The feet were depicted in the profile because it is easier for an artist to illustrate them from that side than vice versa. It also allowed showing the knees and muscles. Comparing to the head and legs the torso was always twisted to a frontal view. In that way, both arms and hands could be visible. The artists did not forget to draw the fingers, as well.
  2. The scale. One can easily notice that figures in Egyptian murals differ in size. There is an important reason for that. The higher status the person has the bigger it should be painted. Thus, Gods and Goddesses are always the largest. Next come pharaohs and then all the rest. If the picture does not have any gods or pharaohs in it, the biggest figure would be the head of the household who paid for it. Children are always shown the smallest. They can be depicted as having a finger in their mouth.
  3. The color. The color was also used by Egyptian artists in a symbolic way. They had specific limitations in choosing colors so that the colors would not affect or change the meaning of the picture. As a rule, pharaonic artists used principal colors. Almost every color had its meaning. For instance, red could mean life, victory, anger or fire. Then yellow color was associated with gold. It was considered to be a protective color. Next, black and green were associated with the resurrection and fertility. White color meant omnipotence. Hence the crown of the Upper Egypt was white.
  4. The distinction between men and women. Men figures were always depicted with a darker skin tone while women were recognized by the lighter tone. At some stage in the Old Kingdom, artists depicted men with red skin and women with yellow. Men and women were deprived of specific individual features, but they had to be young. Women were usually depicted with both feet together, whereas men had their left foot stepped forward.
  5. The roles and gestures. Because of this rigidity in the canon, some figures’ poses and postures may appear inflexible and not natural. Nevertheless each figure had a particular role that depended upon its status. Their roles were determined by their clothes, their actions, their location and position, their surrounding on the picture, and their specific gestures. For instance, scribes were always depicted with crossed legs, mourning people – with an open hand near their face.

The examples of canon of proportion can be noticed in almost every mural. I can name a mural showing a funeral Procession, in the Tomb of Ramose Vizier and Governor of Thebes. The example of scale characteristic can be seen in scenes of the Book of the Dead. The example of color usage is well seen in the images of Osiris and Ptah, that are depicted with green skin to show resurrection (Osiris on a frieze on a wall of a tomb). Men and women are well disposed in the painting of the tombs either. (Sennefer and his wife of 18th Dynasty nobility). Gestures are well seen in Dancing Women painting.



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