Kim Jackson, an art writer for the San Diego Examiner has an excellent article on the function of beauty in ancient Egyptian art. Her article is beautifully illustrated with pictures from Egyptian monuments. The following is an excerpt from the article:
The Egyptians were a highly religious race of people, whose lives were lived based on strict religious principles. Many of the works of art that have come to light in the previous centuries depict a wide variety of gods, goddesses and Pharaohs, who were considered appointed by the gods to rule on earth. Ancient Egyptian art is characterized by the idea of order. Crisp, cleanly delineated forms combined with simple shapes and flat areas of color helped to create a sense of order and balance in the art of Ancient Egypt. The artists of the time used vertical and horizontal reference points in order to maintain the correct proportions in their work. Political and religious as well as artistic order was faithfully maintained over the years. In order to clearly define the social hierarchy of a situation, figures were drawn to sizes based on their importance rather than their distance from the painter’s point of view. For example, the Pharaoh would be the largest figure in a painting (see above left), no matter where he was situated; a “greater” god would be composed on a larger scale than a “lesser” god; or a mere man being compared to a god.
Symbolism also played an important role in establishing a sense of order. Symbolism, ranging from the Pharaoh’s regalia (which symbolized his power to maintain order) to the individual symbols of Egyptian gods and goddesses, was omnipresent in Egyptian art. Animals were also considered symbolic figures. The most prevalent of these would be the cat, an animal strongly revered in those days, and representative of the cat goddess, Bastet.
Colors were also symbolic; blue and green represented the Nile and life, yellow stood for the sun god, and red represented power and vitality. As stilted as some of the human figures appear to us now in this day and age, the artists in Ancient Egypt show a sophisticated knowledge of anatomy and a close attention to detail, especially in their renditions of animals.
Read the article in its entirety by clicking here.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary