Background or foreground? - Ancient Egypt Projects
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Background or foreground?

old kingdom relief carving
Shrine of Sesostris
Old Kingdom Egypt

Egyptian artists used different carving techniques in the Old Kingdom (about 3000-2000 BC) than they did in the New Kingdom (about 1500-1000 BC). This project shows you how much harder some ways of carving are than other ways.

First try making a picture the way the Old Kingdom Egyptians did it. Old Kingdom artists carved away the background of their reliefs and left the figures standing out. You can try drawing a picture by coloring in the whole background but none of the figures.

new kingdom relief carving
Ramses Killing a Libyan, New Kingdom Egypt

Next, try painting a picture the way they did it in the New Kingdom. New Kingdom artists decided to cut corners by carving out the figures and leaving the background uncarved. You can try coloring the figures and leaving the background alone. Which way is faster? Why? Which method do you like better? Why do you think the Egyptian artists changed the way they carved their reliefs?

More about Egyptian painting

Bibliography and further reading about Egyptian art:

More about Egyptian art
A day in Ancient Egypt
More fun projects
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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