Ancient Egyptian Art
Through interconnections between art and writing, the ancient Egyptians communicated with images. In ancient Egypt art was not made just as creative expression for aesthetic appreciation or entertainment. Art was functional, sometimes fulfilling extremely important purposes. Yet, whether for two-dimensional relief carvings on walls, three-dimensional sculpture, or small objects, excellent crafting, form, and style were highly valued. Often artistic representations were created to have very real effects, either in the world of the living or in the afterlife. On temples and palaces, royal scenes of victories in battle and smiting enemies were meant not just to commemorate important events, but also to offer magical protection to the sacred interior spaces of those buildings. Scenes of kings’ devotion to Egyptian gods and goddesses fulfilled their royal responsibilities as highest priests in the land. On tomb walls – such as at Giza – artistic representations of everyday activities, of food production, and of offerings were supposed to become “real” for the dead in the afterlife, providing them with comfort for eternity. Statues, then, could be vessels for a deceased person’s spirit to receive offerings from the living. Religious “books” with illustrations, included in some later tombs, aimed to help deceased Egyptians transition successfully into the eternal afterlife, envisioning a journey with fraught with severe dangers along the way. Two-dimensional art was made with a perspective that is readily identifiable as ancient Egyptian – and perhaps somewhat strange to the modern eye. Artists aimed to produce a sense of a whole object, which could lead them to render some parts as though seen from the front, yet others as though viewed from the side. Three-dimensional sculpture, on the other hand, was often much truer to visual reality. Artists did not “sign” their works, so art historians must study details of style and manufacture to identify artist or workshops. Artistic styles and preferences changed with the times, so details can also help scholars date them to specific historical periods.