The Art of the Ancient Kingdoms



The Golden Age

With the re-establishment by the Theban princes of pharaonic authority and the tradition of the king's divine descendancy, Thebes became the magnificent capital of the New Kingdom (18th-20th dynasties, с 1570- 10б9вс). The splendour and extravagance of the art of this period is exemplified in an exceptional variety of pictorial and plastic forms. The descriptive realism that had marked the configurations of the Middle Kingdom was revived, particularly in funerary painting, which now depicted naturalistic scenes of daily life. Although still inspired by the traditional style, figures were released from their ancient static rigidity and painted more freely than ever before. The portrayal of the land of Punt (an area on the coast of eastern Africa) in the funerary temple of Queen Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri devotes minute attention to the plants, homes, and people of Punt, sealing forever the memory of the expedition to that exotic place. Scenes and reliefs of an official and commemorative nature are much more conventional. From the reign of Hatshepsut's successor. Tuthmosis III. is the the oldest surviving monumental relief - on the south wall of the seventh pylon of Karnak.
The classic scene of the victorious pharaoh defeating the many enemies of Egypt is treated here on a gigantic scale, ascending the full height of the pylon. Carved in relief, the group of Asiatics, whom the king is dragging by the hair, is structured in an ordered, almost graphic manner, with some heads shown in profile and others frontally. Courtiers, plants, and sacred animals appear alongside religious symbols and hieroglyphs in the polychrome reliefs of the chapel of Tuthmosis III, dedicated to the goddess Hathor. Typical of the decoration of such sanctuaries, it places repeated emphasis on ritual sacrifices offered by the king to the gods. After the political and religious revolution that characterized the age of Amenhotep IV (ruled 1379-1 Зб2вс) and the ensuing restoration under Tutankhamun, the Ramesside pharaohs (19th-20th dynasties.) moved the capital to Pi-Ramesse in Lower Egypt. They nonetheless continued to erect temples and sanctuaries in the region of Thebes and Nubia. Building activity was intense during this period: at Abydos, the city sacred to Osiris, Seti I began the construction of a vast temple complex, which was completed by his son, Ramesses II. There, for the last time, space was given on the interior wall decorations to bas-reliefs; this would soon be replaced by less costly sunk reliefs. Ramesses II, the greatest builder of the New Kingdom, was responsible for the forest of columns in the hypostyle hall of Karnak, the Ramesseum at Thebes, and the temples of Abu Simbel -works that are still breathtaking to visitors for their sheer majesty. The reliefs that cover the walls represent an entirely new concept in Egyptian art: they deal with historically identifiable events in which the king, no longer portrayed as a generic ritual figure, acts in a specific context. Statuary of the time is also notable for its monumental proportions. Perhaps the most impressive piece is the seated effigy in black granite of Ramesses II, with his wife Nefertari and eldest son carved on a smaller scale.
Stories of the battle with the "Sea Peoples" (who tried to invade Egypt from the north) are recounted in the temple of Medinet Habu, near Thebes, built by Ramesses III, the last powerful ruler of the New Kingdom. This complex, which appears as an impregnable fortress, marks the ideal conclusion to the first cycle of Egyptian art.


Ritual Figure, Dynasty 12
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York



Slab stela of Prince Wep-em-nefret
Fourth Dynasty, reign of Khufu
Painted limestone
Hearst Museum of Anthropology, Berkeley


Painted limestone relief showing
Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and the princesses under the rays of Aten.
Staatiche Museen, Berlin


Gold death mask


outer coffin


Artistic production acquired new strength during the brief l17-year reign of Amenhotep IV, following the death of his father, Amenhotep III. in about 1379bc. In his fifth year of rule, Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten to accord with the religious changes that he initiated. He was a heretical monotheist who eliminated the cult of the god Amun, recognizing the solar disc of Aten as the supreme divinity and establishing Akhetaten (present-day Tell el-Amarna) as the new capital. The secularization imposed by the sovereign resulted in a new realism of artistic representation, evident both in statuary and carvings. Figures were rendered with extreme naturalism, and individual features were emphasized. In relief carving and paintings, artists depicted tender scenes of domesticity, showing the king with his wife Nefertiti or bouncing his daughter on his knee. The delicately rendered portrait of Queen Nefertiti, found during excavations at Amarna in 1912, is arguably the most memorable work of art from New Kingdom Egypt.

Staatiche Museen, Berlin



Nut greeting Tutankhamun;
Opening of the Mouth ritual, performed on Tutankhamun as
Osiris by Ay

In 1922, the English archaeologist Howard Carter discovered in the Valley of the Kings the tomb of the boy pharaoh, Tutankhamun, complete with its fabulous hoard of treasure. The royal mummy, its face covered by a mask of gold, was placed inside three priceless coffins in a burial chamber adorned with paintings. In an adjoining room were golden statuettes, necklaces, and jewelled coffers. The furnishings were of a richness that exceeded anything displayed in tomb and chapel decoration since the end of the fourth dynasty. Chairs, beds, and couches exhibited a wealth of magic symbolism: the legs of these pieces, sometimes inlaid with gold and ivory, were carved in the form of animal feet.
intended to serve the dead person as a celestial vehicle for eternity. The throne of Tutankhamun is a work of masterly refinement, covered with gold, silver, and vitreous paste. The back-rest is adorned with figures of the young royal couple, and the armrests are protected by a winged uraeus (the sacred cobra symbol). The reign of Tutankhamun, who succeeded Akhenaten and restored the cult of Amun, represented a transitional phase in ancient Egypt, and this is evident in the repertory of figures and choice of subjects. Alongside the tender discourse of the royal pair on the throne is a coffer with battle scenes that depict the pharaoh fighting the Asiatic and Nubian foes.

Tutankhamun's chair
The "Golden Throne"


Discuss Art

Please note: site admin does not answer any questions. This is our readers discussion only.

| privacy