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Art and Architecture

Egyptian Art and Architecture

reason, themes, art, books, bc

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Egyptian Art and Architecture, the buildings, sculpture, painting, and decorative arts of ancient Egypt from about 5000 bc to the conquest of Egypt by Rome in 30 bc.

Today, we look at Egyptian art primarily in museums or in books. For the Egyptians, however, the objects now regarded as art were made to serve a particular purpose, usually a religious one. For example, temples were decorated with paintings and filled with statues of gods and kings in the belief that doing this served the gods, showed devotion to the king, and maintained the order of the universe. The Egyptians wore jewelry and amulets (charms) not only as decoration, but because they believed these items protected them against harm. They buried their dead with jewelry and amulets for the same reason: to protect against the perils of the afterlife.

Most Egyptians never saw the art that is now displayed in museums, because only kings and members of the ruling elite were allowed to enter temples, tombs, and palaces. But the Egyptians had in mind another audience for their art: the gods and, for the art in tombs, the spirits of people who had died.

Artists in ancient Egypt joined workshops and worked in teams to produce what their patrons—the king and the elite—needed. For this reason, few works can be attributed to individuals. Religious beliefs largely dictated what artists created, especially the paintings and statues that filled Egyptian temples and tombs. Artists endlessly repeated the same themes and subjects, changing them only when beliefs changed. (A rare change came around 1350 bc, for example, when the sun god Aton gained more prominence than ever before.) The style of depicting these themes and subjects, by contrast, changed from one generation of artists and patrons to the next. For example, during the 18th dynasty (1550-1307 bc) there was a shift from painting the human figure in a rather stiff and rigid posture to using curved lines and varied poses. But most of the changes were more subtle.


Robins, Gay, B.A., D.Phil.

Professor, Art History Department, Emory University. Author of "The Art of Ancient Egypt".

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