Egyptian Art History – Ancient Egypt’s painting and sculpture

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Fishing in the swamps on the edges of the Nile River - Egyptian art history

Egyptian art: Fishing in the swamps on the edges of the Nile River from the tomb of the astronomer Nakht Sixth Dynasty (New Kingdom, ca. 1400 BC)

Egyptian art comes from African art

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. By about 3000 BC artists were able to work longer and harder and make bigger, fancier pieces of art than other African artists. Egyptian art became better and better.

West Asian art influenced Egyptian art too

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.

An ancient Egyptian family

Egyptian art: An ancient Egyptian family

New Kingdom art is looser and less precise

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.

After 1000 BC, Egypt was poorer and there was less Egyptian art.

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 Greeksand 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 Art
Egypt’s 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 Art
And more about Egyptian pottery
More about Ancient Egypt home

By |2018-04-08T11:24:57+00:00May 19th, 2017|Africa, Art, Egypt|2 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Egyptian Art History – Ancient Egypt’s painting and sculpture. Study Guides, May 19, 2017. Web. December 16, 2018.

About the Author:

Dr. 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, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.


  1. Herb O. Buckland October 25, 2018 at 3:31 am - Reply

    This is an instructive page. It is of some interest to note that in most paintings and some sculptures it appears that the perspective of the ancient Egyptians had not obtained the technique of rending a side profile very well. Hence, the body is portrayed in a twisted manner. Cognitively speaking, one must wonder whether the perception of ancient Egyptians also saw the world in a “twisted” fashion. From a developmental Anthropological and Psychological interest, this suggests a different type of brain structure… at least in this singular representation.

    • Karen Carr October 26, 2018 at 7:39 am

      Sorry, no it doesn’t. Ancient Egyptians were developing the art of painting while nobody else was even attempting it, so yes, their stuff does look earlier, because it *is* earlier. But no, we don’t have to wonder whether ancient Egyptians had some inherent brain difference or eye difference. They didn’t; that’s evolutionarily impossible. And we ourselves also draw distorted bodies – think of Picasso, or El Greco, or Matisse. Art is not the representation of what things look like to our eyes; it’s a representation of what things look like to our souls.

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