Lesson 3: Ancient Egyptian Art 

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What You Will Learn:

  • Explore All Art Movements and Periods

    You will learn about all the leading art movements and periods, such as primitive art, ancient Greek art, the Renaissance, Romanticism, Impressionism, Modernism, and contemporary art. There is also a lot of attention to non-Western art, such as Islamic Art, Hindu Art, Chinese Art, Oceanic Art and African Art, and the globalization of the art world.

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    Our courses also focus on the study of the cultural, social, political, and economic contexts in which artworks are created.

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    You will explore different art forms and techniques, such as painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, and digital art.

Introduction to this course:

In both primitive art and pre-Columbian art, as described on other web pages on this website, magic played a significant role. Magic and religion also played a dominant role in the art of the ancient Egyptians. It’s no wonder that these Egyptians called their sculptors “seanch,” meaning “men who bring to life.” The statues they created possessed magical powers and ensured that the deceased could continue to live on even after death.

De Pyramides van Gizeh in Egypte met op de achtergrond de ondergaande zon.
Image: The pyramids of Giza in Egypt with the setting sun in the background. During the fourth dynasty (2551-2472 BC), the pharaohs of that time were buried in the three large pyramids of Giza. It is the only wonder of the ancient world that has survived for posterity. The pyramid of Cheops is the rear pyramid in the image and is also the oldest and largest pyramid. In the middle, you can see the pyramid of Khafre, easily recognizable by its smooth, preserved limestone top. The other pyramids were also once covered with a similar limestone layer. The three smaller pyramids in the foreground are known as the queen’s pyramids, as the wives of the pharaohs were laid to rest here. To the east of the pyramids stands the Great Sphinx of Giza, although it is not visible in this image.
Location: The pyramids of Giza are located approximately eight kilometers southwest of the city of Giza, a suburb of the Egyptian capital, Cairo.

In other words, through magical means, paintings and statues came to life in ancient Egyptian art. The statues of servants and handmaidens of the deceased dignitary were placed in the tomb so that they could continue to perform their duties in the afterlife. Other statues, including those of gods and pharaohs, were placed in temple complexes. During that time, the statues and reliefs were painted. Unfortunately, the passage of time has stripped most of these statues of their colors.

Een knap bewerkt kalkstenen reliëf van de broer van vizier Ramose, genaamd May, en zijn vrouw Werel in Thebe. Ramose was vizier onder de farao’s Amenhotep III en Amenhotep IV (later Achnaton) tijdens de 18e dynastie. Werel heeft haar arm om de schouder van haar man geslagen. May draagt een fraaie pruik en een sierlijke halsketting met brede kraag die rond zijn nek en schouders is gewikkeld. In zijn armen draagt hij een bos bloemen die hij voor zijn broer heeft meegebracht. Het reliëf stamt uit ongeveer 1370 voor Chr..
Locatie: Dit kalkstenen reliëf bevindt zich in het graf van vizier Ramose in Thebe, het huidige Luxor, op de oever van de Nijl in Egypte. Zijn tombe bevindt zich in de Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, een deel van de necropolis van Thebe, op de westelijke Nijloever. 
Image: A finely carved limestone relief of May, the brother of vizier Ramose, and his wife Werel in Thebes. Ramose served as vizier under the pharaohs Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV (later Akhenaten) during the 18th dynasty. Werel has her arm around her husband’s shoulder. May wears an elaborate wig and an ornate collar necklace that is wrapped around his neck and shoulders. In his arms, he carries a bouquet of flowers that he brought for his brother. The relief dates from around 1370 BC.
Location: This limestone relief is located in the tomb of vizier Ramose in Thebes, modern-day Luxor, on the banks of the Nile in Egypt. His tomb is situated in Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, a part of the Theban necropolis, on the west bank of the Nile. ©Ronnie Rokebrand.

The body of the king was also preserved as best as possible to prevent decay. It’s no wonder that they mummified the body, placed the organs in jars in the tomb, and placed a lifelike mask on the mummy.


The Concept of the Soul for the Ancient Egyptians 

So, the statues, tomb paintings, and mummies played a crucial role in the period after someone’s last breath. To understand this, I will delve further into the concept of the soul that the ancient Egyptians knew. According to them, the soul consisted of three components: the Ka, the Ba, and the Ach.

The Ka, the Consciousness

The Ka was equivalent to what we call consciousness. It symbolized the unity of body and mind during the pharaoh’s life. The Ka was believed to be infused by the gods with the baby’s first breath at birth and departed from the body with the last breath at the moment of death. That’s why you can see a lifelike image of the deceased in every tomb. This so-called Ka statue ensured that it spiritually consumed the offerings and other objects, so that the pharaoh would have a good afterlife.

Nefertiti was de vrouw van farao Achnaton, die regeerde aan het begin van het Nieuwe Rijk, van 1352 voor Chr. tot 1338 voor Chr. (18de dynastie), tijdens de Amarna-periode. Haar naam Nefertiti betekent `De mooie is gekomen'. Nefertiti wordt gezien als het schoonheidsideaal. Het paar kreeg veel dochters, maar geen zoon. Nefertiti was dus niet de moeder van hun beroemde zoon Toetanchamon. Op basis van DNA onderzoek neemt men aan dat Toetanchamon een kind was van farao Achnaton en zijn zus. Men kende in die tijd nog niet de nadelen van inteelt. De buste van Nefertiti werd in 1912 gevonden tijdens een opgraving in Tell el Amarna in centraal Egypte. De opgraving werd geleid door de Duitse egyptoloog en bouwkundig onderzoeker Ludwig Borchardt (1863-1938). Vandaar dat deze buste in Berlijn terecht kwam. Borchardt schreef in zijn dagboek over de buste van Nefertiti: `Het heeft geen zin om het te beschrijven, kijk ernaar!' Het 49 cm hoge beeld is gemaakt van kalksteen, geverfd stucwerk (gips) en een oog van zwartgekleurde bijenwas met een hoornvlies van dungemalen bergkristal. Wat de buste zo bijzonder maakt zijn de uniek bewaard gebleven kleuren en de vitale uitstraling van dit meesterlijk vervaardigde sculptuur beeld.
Locatie: De buste van Nefertiti staat in het Neues Museum (onderdeel van de Staatliche Museen zu Berlin) op het grote eiland in de rivier de Spree in de Duitse hoofdstad Berlijn. 
Image: The bust of Nefertiti. She was the wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten, who reigned at the beginning of the New Kingdom, from 1352 BC to 1338 BC (18th Dynasty), during the Amarna Period. Her name Nefertiti means ‘The Beautiful One Has Come.’ Nefertiti is considered the epitome of beauty. The couple had many daughters but no sons. Therefore, Nefertiti was not the mother of their famous son, Tutankhamun. Based on DNA research, it is believed that Tutankhamun was a child of Pharaoh Akhenaten and his sister. They did not yet understand the drawbacks of inbreeding at that time. The bust of Nefertiti was discovered in 1912 during an excavation in Tell el Amarna in central Egypt. The excavation was led by the German Egyptologist and architectural researcher Ludwig Borchardt (1863-1938). That’s why this bust ended up in Berlin. Borchardt wrote in his diary about the bust of Nefertiti: “It is pointless to describe it, look at it!” The 49 cm high sculpture is made of limestone, painted stucco (gypsum), and an eye made of black-colored beeswax with a cornea made of finely ground rock crystal. What makes the bust so exceptional are the uniquely preserved colors and the vital expression of this masterfully crafted sculpture.
Location: The bust of Nefertiti is located in the Neues Museum, part of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, on the large island in the River Spree in the German capital, Berlin. The photo was taken by Philip Pikart. License: Commons: GNU Free Documentation License, version 1.2.

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