Art in Ancient Egypt
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Art in Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egyptian Wall painting
New Kingdom wall painting

September 2016 - The earliest Egyptian artists clearly learned their art from even earlier African artists. But, thanks to the Nile River, a strong state government, and being in a good spot for trading with India and West Asia, Egypt was richer than other parts of Africa, and by about 3000 BC artists were able to work longer and harder and make bigger, fancier pieces of art than other African artists.

Another thing about Egypt being closer to West Asia than any other part of Africa was that Egyptian artists were able to trade ideas and skills with West Asian artists. Slowly Egyptian artists figured out how to build big buildings like the Pyramids, how to make glass and metal, how to use a pottery wheel, and how to carve big stone statues that could stand up on their own.

But by about 1500 BC, in the time of the New Kingdom, the Pharaohs and other rich Egyptians wanted more and more art, and they couldn't really afford to have their art so carefully made. Some of the art became loose and sloppy. Or, maybe that's just the style that people liked in the New Kingdom.

By about 1000 BC, though, Egypt's government had collapsed and Egypt became much poorer than it had been before. Soon the Persians conquered Egypt, and then the Greeks and the Romans. Egyptian artists continued to work, and they did interesting mixes of their own art with the styles of each of these conquerors, but they didn't have the time or the money to make the big, beautiful buildings, paintings, and statues they had made before.

Learn by doing: Drawing your portrait
More about Old Kingdom Egyptian Art
Egyptian art comes back - the Islamic period

Bibliography and further reading about ancient Egyptian art:

Eyewitness: Ancient Egypt, by George Hart. Easy reading.

Ancient Egyptian Art, by Susie Hodge (1998). Shows kids how Egyptian art relates to Egyptian religion and culture.

Hands-On Ancient People, Volume 1: Art Activities about Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Islam, by Yvonne Merrill and Mary Simpson. Art projects for kids, though the directions are really aimed at teachers or parents.

The Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt (Yale University Press Pelican History of Art), by William Stevenson Smith and William Kelly Simpson (revised edition 1999). The standard for college courses.

Egyptian Art, by Cyril Aldred (1985). Another standard.

More about Old Kingdom Egyptian Art
More about Egyptian pottery
More about Ancient Egypt
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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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