Egyptian Art Facts

Ancient Egyptian art is very important to historians for learning about the culture of the time.

By examining how the artists of the time depicted their pharaohs and gods, we can learn a lot about the way they saw the world.

Just like everywhere else, Ancient Egypt had its own unique style of art and imagery.

Firstly, it’s important to know that Ancient Egyptian art was often made in service of their king, or “pharaoh.” The art was made to show their king as a god, and usually gave Egyptian royalty a divine, or holy, appearance.

They were frequently painted with animal characteristics (such as wolf heads, or cat tails) to show their connection to nature.

Egyptian Art Facts for Kids

  • Their paintings were mainly blue, black, red, green, and gold.
  • The pharaohs are depicted a lot in Egyptian art.
  • Egyptian paintings survived for 1000’s of years because of the dry climate.
  • To show how important he was, the Pharaohs were drawn bigger.
  • People were drawn sideways for fear they would come alive if they were too realistic.

The Pharaohs

Pharaohs were painted as being larger than other people to show how important they were.

Egyptian artists would use limestone for their paintings.

They would cover the limestone with plaster, and paint pictures on them using a mixture of red, blue, green, black, brown, and yellow pigments.

The pigments (colored dyes or substances) came from minerals local to Egypt, and some were imported from abroad.

Different Colors

The colors used in Egyptian paintings were very important, with some colors seen as unlucky to use.

Red pigments weren’t used much, as the color red was seen as being evil. Red was the color of sand, infertile soil, and the symbol of Set, the god of chaos.

Yellow colors are seen a lot in Ancient Egyptian art because yellow was quite a lucky color in their culture.

Yellow was the symbol color of Ra, the sun god, and the color of eternity and immortality.

The color blue symbolized water and health, the color green symbolized the harvest, and the color black represented death.

Men and women were painted in different colors in Egyptian art.

Men were usually painted dark brown to show that they worked outside in the sun.

Women were painted yellow to show that they spent less time in the sun and more inside the house.

When Egyptians drew people, they always drew them side-on – this is why, in Ancient Egyptian drawings, it looks like they’re walking sideways.

This is where the expression “walk like an Egyptian” comes from nowadays! Egyptians drew people sideways because they were afraid that if they drew them normally, the images would be too life-like, and that they’d come to life.

To avoid this, Ancient Egyptian artists always made sure to draw people a little differently from how they looked in real life; so that they’d be safe if they ever came to life.

Tomb Walls

Different types of pottery items were deposited in tombs of the dead. The tomb walls were crafted with cones of pottery, about 15 to 25 cm (6 to 10 in) tall, which contained legends relating to the dead occupants of the tombs.

The earliest appearance of tomb paintings or mural decoration is in tomb 100 at Hierakonpolis, dated to the early Gerzean (Naqdah II) period. The beginnings of the dynastic tradition can be found in tombs of the 3rd dynasty, such as that of Hesire at aqqrah.

The Old Kingdom mural decoration is found as early as the 4th dynasty, and its glory is found in the low-relief work in the royal funerary monuments of the 5th and 6th dynasties.

In the Middle Kingdom, fine painting continued, with the best examples being found at Beni Hasan and Thebes. Karnak has the best relief work of the era.

The 18th dynasty saw Egyptian painting reach its highest achievement in the tombs of the nobles at Thebes. The paintings were more formal but still crammed with unusual detail.

The 18th dynasty reliefs at Thebes and Abu Simbel are breathtaking in execution, and the 19th and 20th dynasties reliefs in temples are also impressive.

Paining the Afterlife

When a pharaoh died, their tomb was decorated with many paintings showing the pharaoh living a happy afterlife.

They were usually depicted with a lot of slaves around them, in the hopes that their king would be served well in the afterlife. One of the most famous of these paintings is the painting of “Nefertari.” Nefertari was a queen of Egypt who was made a god after death.

She was painted using black pigment to show that she had a strong connection to the underworld, and was a patron of the dead.

Aside from paintings, the Ancient Egyptians also made a lot of sculptures. Some of the most famous – like the Great Sphinx of Giza – are still standing today.

Much of what we know about Ancient Egyptian clothing, particularly the kind peasants wore, comes from the statues remaining from the time.

Statues were very important to Egyptians, for religion and for culture. Skillful depictions of gods were seen as holy and were used often in religious worship.

When looking at Egyptian art, it’s important to remember that it was not supposed to be seen by “normal people.” Art at the time was a very sacred thing and was nearly always used as part of a ritual.

That’s why so many Ancient Egyptian paintings use a similar style – they were following a set of religious rules about what they could and could not show!

What did you learn?

Where did Ancient Egyptians get the colors for their paintings?
From local minerals (rocks) or from minerals they imported from abroad.

Why did Ancient Egyptians draw their pharaohs bigger than everybody else?
To show how important they were.

What was an unlucky color in Ancient Egyptian art?

Why did Ancient Egyptians draw people sideways?
To stop the paintings from coming to life.

Name a famous sculpture from Ancient Egypt.
The Great Sphinx of Giza