Art of Ancient Egypt

First things first ….

At the time of uploading this content, newspaper headlines reflect the state of civil turmoil in present day Egypt.  When the class looked at objects and sites from Prehistory and the Ancient Near East, they may have discussed architecture and design as statements of power and control.  Ancient leaders used art and architecture to demonstrate their dominance, as did more contemporary figures likes Saddam Hussein in the 1980s during border wars with Iran. During the Arab Spring, and in its still-unstable aftermath, the role of the artist is still important giving voice to political opinion, and both stabilizing and subverting power.

You might begin the lesson by asking the students what they know about the Arab Spring, or about the activities in Tahrir  Square. The students will have seen prehistoric cave paintings by this point, and might look at wall paintings in the interior of mastabas and pyramids during this lesson. Compare and contrast ancient motivations for creating visual imagery on walls (communication of ideas, ritual, tradition, commemoration, status) with, for example, Arab Spring graffiti (and further examples from the Occupy movement) to demonstrate that wall art continues, and still means some of the same things.

As this article on artists in the midst of civil unrest suggests, “prior to the [Arab Spring] uprising, graffiti wasn’t much in evidence in [Cairo] … ‘The wall was not for [the] people’ …. The simple reclaiming of these public surfaces was an act of defiance in itself against the government. ‘This public space wasn’t public and that’s why graffiti appeared so quickly after the revolution, because people wanted to occupy that space.’

Images and Readings ….

PPT Images

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Page from the Met Museum educator guide

Background reading might include your survey textbook, and another one of the comprehensive educator guides from the Met Museum. The Met’s guide cuts to the chase and highlights key images with short, explanatory texts on each one. Egyptologist Kara Cooney describes in a nutshell why we’re all still fascinated with Ancient Egypt today.

Other resources include Smarthistory’s excellent Ancient Egypt section, in particular the opening essay which highlights some of the key themes for this content area: Longevity, Constancy & Stability Geography, and Time.

There are at-home readings for students in the AHTR online syllabus.

Content suggestions ….

You might start by telling your students you’re going to begin by discussing how we prepare for major life events, posing the following questions to them:

How many of you prepare for going out on a weekend night (getting dressed up, inviting friends over, deciding where to go out)? Chances are, many of your students will be able to relate to this.

How many of you prepare for your birthday or help prepare for the birthday of a great friend or family member (getting a cake, candles, gifts, arranging a party)? Again, it’s very probable that most students will have planned a birthday event.

How many of you have made plans for when you die, your funeral, and your trip into the afterlife (having a tomb or coffin built, deciding what to have buried with you, figuring out what the afterlife might look like)? It is less probable – although not completely unlikely! – that your students will have given this major life event much thought.

Ancient Egyptian culture was predicated in large part on a very close relationship to death, and to understand much of the material culture in this lesson, students need to understand from the beginning that Ancient Egyptians thought about death and what happened after death in a radically different way than we do today. Death was always just around the corner for the peoples of the Ancient Near East as there was so much civil unrest. It was quite opposite in Ancient Egypt, where the ruling dynasties of kings and pharaohs created a stable atmosphere where people could plan for the end of their lives and their afterlife, much the same way some people have 401Ks and retirement plans today.

Our chronology for this content area begins around 3000 BCE with the beginning of this “dynastic period” under King Narmer. The Narmer Palette, c. 2950-2775 BCE, is a great place to start discussion in a class on Ancient Egypt as it highlights some key ideas: leadership (Narmer is huge = hieratic scale = leadership and status); society (this object visualizes and commemorates the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, and the beginning of Dynastic Egypt); and Ancient Egyptian visual conventions (separating space using registers, and depicting human figures using simplified contours and twisted perspective).

The palette was found in Hierakonpolis, the ancient Pre-Dynastic capital located in the south of Egypt, by a British archaeologist in the late nineteenth century. Find out more about it here and here.  The pre-Dynastic period just means the Neolithic settlement era in Egypt before Narmer came along and 5000-2950 BCE

  • -This stele announces the unification of Egypt and the beginning of the country’s growth as an important power and nation-state
  • -exhibits many of the visual conventions that would be important from this point on
  • -Narmer was first king of unified Egypt
  • -ruler’s name is in early form of hieroglyphics at center top of both sides of palette
  • -horizontal fish=nar + vertical chisel=mer, inside of a palace façade
  • palette=flat stone with circular depression on one side used for grinding paint
  • -men and women painted their eyes to help reduce glare and infection
  • -carved in low relief, larger than normal palette, therefore it might have been votive offering because it was found in temple to Horus (25 inches tall)
  • -Narmer wears crown of upper Egypt on one side and lower Egypt on the other

What is Narmer being depicted doing?

  • -shows him in power vignettes as a unifier, protector, conqueror, leader
  • -hieratic scale signifies status of people and groups within these vignettes, with Narmer always as the largest
  • -bull tail hangs from his waist- signifies strength
  • -barefoot (attendant holds his sandals on both sides of the palette)

Why might he be barefoot? He’s on sacred ground, he performs sacred acts, tie between king and gods.

  • -On the back of the palette, he bashes an enemy with a club while Horus (sky god, falcon-headed) holds rope around neck of a man whose head sprouts papyrus (grows on banks of Nile and symbolizes lower Egypt);
  • two other vanquished victims are in the lower register on this side
  • message is that Narmer has brought lower Egypt under his control
  • top register of opposite side: Narmer wears the Red Crown of Lower Egypt- ruler of both lands
  • attendant sandal-bearer behind him, his minister of state and four men are in front of him carrying standards that symbolize different regions of the country
  • decapitated bodies are arranged in two neat rows
  • center register: elongated necks of two feline creatures – symbolizes the ordering and taming of mythical figures, indicates the king controls nature and the cosmos
  • intertwining necks may refer to the union of upper and lower Egypt
  • bull menaces a fallen foe in the bottom register- bull symbolizes strength and virility; stand-in for Narmer

Slide: Close up of upper register of front of palette

What do we notice about the Human body in Egyptian art?

  • twisted perspective: a method of depicting the human body so as to represent each part from its most characteristic/aesthetically pleasing angle (*composite*)
  • heads in profile, which allows for the nose, forehead, and chin to be clearly delineated
  • BUT eyes are frontal
  • hips and legs are in profile, one leg in front of the other (this stance is very indicative of “power” in Egyptian statues) while torso is fully frontal
  • think of the 5 legged lamassau figure we saw last lesson – these figures are more conceptual than realistic
  • these conventions were almost always followed when depicting royalty and other dignitaries- persons of lesser social rank sometimes appear in more natural positions
  • similar conventions determine how architecture, objects, and animals are depicted: groundlines establish horizontal registers in which the uppermost register is the most distant
  • landscape combines the birds-eye view of a map with the depiction of elements such as the trees from the side

Canon of proportions

Slide: Egyptian Canon of proportions

Slide: Vitruvian Man (compare)


–       the set of mathematical proportions used to visually render the ideal image of the human form

–       fist a unit

–       Hands to measure a horse

Egyptian artistic conventions – A SET WAY OF REPRESENTING THE VISUAL WORLD:

–       conventions: customary ways of representing people and the world, generally used by artists and understood by patrons

  • images are based on memory rather than study from life (different from 18th – 21st C painting conventions)
  • mathematical formulas determine proportions
  • importance determines size (hieratic scale)
  • space is represented in horizontal registers
  • drawing and contours are simplified
  • colors are organized into clearly delineated planes of flat, solid, unvarying hues

Just like we saw with Naramsin, Sargon, Gudea and others in the Ancient Near East, depictions of rulers – royal portraits – were an important tool in conveying the importance, and power over a mass of subjects for the Ancient Egyptians.


Conventions allowed a critical mass of people to understand a shared visual language, and thus to comprehend the messages implicit in royal portraiture.


Today, we’re going to look at 1) conventions for royal portraits in Ancient Egypt, 2) link between gods and kings, often realized in temple architecture and 3) Ancient Egyptian belief in the afterlife, “ka,” which often manifested in funerary architecture


–       Primary aim of Egyptian representations in both two and three dimensions was to create images that would function as meaningful part of the cults of the gods and the dead.

–       The associated aim of these works was to consolidate the power and rule of the few over the masses. Only the rich could afford to have these works made. Not everyone had them. Indeed, few people did. Again, *theme*, the notion of objects as a visual manifestation of power and rule, both human and divine.

à Old Kingdom 2575-2150 BCE


Slide: Pyramids


The Old Kingdom is the phase around 300 years after Dynastic rule starts, after Narmer unites Egypt and power is handed down successively within ruling royal families.

–       growing wealth of the ruling families contributed to the increasing size and complexity of the tomb structures

–       often within these tombs are commissioned life-size or colossal royal portraits

–       upper-level govmt officials could also afford to have elaborately decorated tombs

How did the pyramids come to be structured in the way they were, and What are some of the term for Funerary Architecture of this period?


Slide: Funerary architecture

  • The first pyramid was Djoser’s Step Pyramid, built not long after Egypt had become a unified land (in approximately 3000 BC). The Great Pyramid of Khufu, at Giza, was raised a century later.
  • But these pyramids did not come from a technological void. A clear evolution can be traced from the most ancient prehistoric graves to the splendours of the Giza plateau.
  • There are 138 pyramids discovered in Egypt as of 2008. Most were built as tombs for the country’s Pharaohs and their consorts during the Old and Middle Kingdom periods



  • -most common tomb structure of Early dynastic Egypt, used by upper level of society
  • Egypt’s highest ranking Old Kingdom civil servants were interred at Saqqara, close to Memphis
  • -flat-topped 1 story bldg with slanted walls above and underground burial chamber
  • serdab-small sealed room with ka statue, chapel for mourning relatives and offerings and a shaft to a burial chamber where the mummy was encased in a sarcophagus or coffin surrounded by grave goods; chamber sealed after burial
  • the term “necropolis” was used for a collection of these, still used today for graveyards in cities

Djoser’s pyramid

  • Djoser’s pyramid has a stepped appearance. It is an extension of the mound found in mastaba tombs and is usually interpreted as a symbolic mound of creation, but can also be read as a stairway to heaven.
  • Djoser’s architect, Imhotep, built in stages. The tomb started life as an unusual square, solid mastaba, but a series of extensions saw it develop into a six-stepped pyramid with a rectangular ground-plan.
  • Below ground, a warren of tunnels, galleries and rooms surrounded Djoser’s burial chamber. Around the pyramid, his mortuary complex included courts and buildings, each with its own particular function

Meidum Pyramid

  • At Meidum, 30 miles south of Memphis, King Snefru (the first king of the 4th Dynasty, who came to the throne around 2613 BC) built Egypt’s first true, or straight-sided, pyramid. This started as a stepped pyramid, but as it neared completion the steps were packed with stone and the whole structure was cased in finest limestone. In its final form the pyramid stood approximately 311ft (95m) high.
  • Unfortunately the pyramid was unsound. Its heavy outer layers eventually slid downwards, leaving a square, three-stepped core standing in a mountain of sand and rubble and the ruins of the pyramid complex.



Slide: Pyramids at Giza

So, we come to the “iconic” image of Egyptian architecture and art


  • the first true pyramids were built during the 4th dynasty, (2575 BCE – 2450 BCE), the beginning of the Old Kingdom
  • -angled sides probably symbolized the rays of the sun; there are inscriptions within the monuments talk about pharaohs climbing up the rays to join the sun god Ra
  • -3 Great Pyramids of Giza built by 4th dynasty kings Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure (Men-Cow-Ray)
  • -Khufu’s is Oldest and largest (13 acres base), 481 feet tall (about 30 feet taller than today) with limestone veneer, then Khafre (his son) and then Menkaure,
  • -each pyramid has funerary temple next to it with causeway leading to Nile; when pharaoh died his body was ferried across the river to the West bank and was met with ceremonies, and taken into the chapel where his family fed the spirit and brought offerings; body entombed deep within the pyramid
  • -built so that the kings would never be disturbed: Khufu’s tomb chamber is at the end of a narrow, steep passage deep within the masonry of the pyramid, sealed with a 50-ton stone block; also 3 false passageways to deter grave looters.

What can the pyramids tell us about Egyptian society in terms of the move towards civilization and culture we have begun to talk about already in Chapters 1 and 2?

They are more than mathematical puzzles. They hold the key to understanding the structure of Egyptian society. The pyramids were built, not by the gangs of slaves often portrayed by Hollywood film moguls, but by a workforce of up to 5,000 permanent employees, supplemented by as many as 20,000 temporary workers, who would work for three or four months on the pyramid site, before returning home.

The bureaucracy that we know lay behind this operation is staggering. Not only did the workforce have to be summoned, housed and fed, but administrators also had to coordinate the supplies of stone, rope, fuel and wood that were needed to support the building work.

Pyramid studies confirm that a pre-mechanical society can, given adequate resources and the will to succeed, achieve great things. Pyramid building would have been impossible without strong government backed up by an efficient civil service.

Thus, the pyramids are, like Stonehenge or the Ziggurats at Ur, monumental structures that reveal and mirror the society that constructed them.

As with the contents of the ziggurats, these pyramids contained objects too:

  • Images of the dead ensured their survival in the next world, and their continuation of power.
  • These images provided crucial points of contact between the dead and the living: dead could receive the offerings brought by the living
  • An image depicting an offering being made to the dead meant that those represented items would be available in the next world (an extension of the cave paintings we looked at where the image of a successful hunt might engender success in real terms)

Slide: Khafre’s Pyramid and Sphinx, 2520 BCE

  • Khafre was a Fourth Dynasty King (reign approx 2550 BCE for 25 yrs)
  • -Khafre’s funerary complex is the best preserved:
  • pharaohs – like most leaders, it seems – commissioned lots of portraits of themselves
  • Khafre’s most famous image is the great Sphinx
  • 65 feet tall, combines his head with the body of a lion
  • As it is carved from a naturally occurring rocky outcrop, covered in places with a stone block veneer, the Sphinx shows differential weathering due to the three limestone strata included in its body.

à Q: Why did Egyptian rulers build such monumental tombs?


  • -Part of the reason was certainly to do with a bombastic display of power. However, Egyptians believed that essential part of every human’s spirit was life force or ka that lived on after death
  • -the ka needed a body to live in, like a sculpted likeness
  • it was important to provide a comfortable body for the king so he would live on and ensure well-being of Egypt
  • -this was part of the elaborate funerary practices to help the dead move on to the afterlife
  • -preserved bodies (mummified them) helped ensure the “ka” would live on in the same way the funerary statues would; the living also filled chambers with all the things the dead might need for eternity

Slide – Khafre’s statue

Khafre’s statue is one of these statues that were meant to help the dead person live after death through its image, and it was found inside his valley temple


  • -It’s my height (1.68m)
  • Carved of diorite (same as Gudea, hard)
  • -Khafre is depicted sitting on a throne with falcon god Horus perched on the back; Horus’ wings protect the king, enfolding his head within the wings
  • -lions are throne legs: symbols of regal authority
  • -intertwined lotus and papyrus leaves symbolize his rule over upper and lower Egypt (upper-lotus, lower-papyrus) – think Palette of Narmer
  • Their stems entwine around the hieroglyph for the windpipe and lungs, which can be read as ‘unite’. 
  • -wears traditional royal costume: short, pleated kilt, linen headdress with cobra symbol of Ra, false beard symbolizes royalty; holds cylinder (rolled cloth), sense of dignity, calm and permanence, all of which are meant to underline his power both in life and in death.
  • -arms pressed tightly to the body, which is anchored to the block of stone,

Slide: Menkaure and Khamerernebty (Camera-nebty) AND KHAFRE

Similar funerary statue to Khafre’s

  • -Menkaure was Khafre’s heir
  • -Again, an air of dignity, calm, permanence to the statue
  • Again, found in Menkaure’s valley temple, part of his pyramid complex

Class Q: What do you notice about the figures, and how do they compare to Khafre’s statues? what elements unite them as a couple?

  • -figures depicted almost the same size, joined by the stone from which they emerge
  • -symbolic embracing gesture
  • -poses echo each other
  • -calm facial expressions
  • -Pharaohs were depicted as youthful and athletic; this pose is typically Egyptian, balanced: left foot forward with arms straight to sides clenching cylindrical objects
  • -queen has sheer, tight fitting garment that emphasizes her curves- note the impossibly tight, second skin garment (emphasis on fertility)
  • -traces of red paint on Menkaure; black paint on queen’s hair



These statues give us an “ideal’ rather than “real” depiction of these rulers.

-ideal image of human is created by through canon of proportions we described earlier where there is a prescribed relationships between height and all parts of the body

-the system was based on multiples of a specific unit of measure (like closed fist)

-unit became basic unit of a grid called the Old Kingdon Standard grid in which every part of the body gets its own space on the grid


Slide: “Seated Scribe” and “Butcher”

In comparison to the ruler funerary statues, what do we notice about these figures? These figures were also found in tombs.


Method: Compare and contrast will often be used in art history exams!


  • -less prominent figure, more lively and less formal than royal portraiture
  • Lower in status than a king; more realistic depiction
  • -What elements are naturalistic?
  • -round head and face, alert expression, close-cropped hair
  • -scribe writes on papyrus tablet; sedentary job has made him flabby (free from hard labor, prosperous), curving rounded forms of stomach and pecs
  • -right hand probably held reed pen
  • -eyes give illusion of being in motion because pupils are slightly off-center from irises; also makes him appear intelligent
  • -found near tomb of government official named Kai, could be portrait of him
  • -high ranking scribes were considered important, copies scientific and priestly texts which were placed in early libraries
  • the butcher is depicted in action, perhaps guaranteeing the deceased will have food in the next life, or perhaps a “real” image of someone he wanted to take with him performing an auspicious act like that of providing food


What else was found in these large tomb structures apart from statuary?


Slide: Ti Watching the Hippo Hunt, 2450 BCE, Saqqara.


  • -interior tomb walls of the wealthy were often decorated to provide the ka with a pleasant space for the afterlife; decorated with paintings and reliefs
  • -everyday scenes or momentous events in person’s life
  • -tell us a lot about Egyptian culture
  • -this scene comes from the mastaba of a government official named Ti

·      What do you notice? What is going on here?

  • -shows him watching a hippo hunt (something members of the court would have been required to do)
  • -Egyptians believed that the god Seth (god of darkness) disguised himself as a hippo; they were considered destructive because they would get into fields and damage crops
  • -similar scenes of hippo hunts therefore symbolize the good of the deceased triumphing over evil
  • -conventions in this painted limestone relief: river is seen from above but the creatures in the river are shown in profile, parallel vertical lines represent papyrus stalks, above foxes stalk their prey, Ti is depicted largest, in Twisted perspective, but the boatmen are smaller and more naturalistic

Slide: Mummification on tomb wall (Annubis, god of mummification, attending to a mummy)

  • -basic process of mummification has been found in images painted on tomb walls: body went to mortuary, priest supervised workers removing brains through the nose, emptied the body cavity through incision in left side, placed body and major organs in a vat of  natural salt for a month or more, which blackened the body so that they had to dye it to restore color
  • -Color conventions extended from the walls to the painting of the actual body itself so red ocher was used for man, yellow for woman
  • -packed body with clean linen soaked in herbs and ointments
  • -wrapped organs and placed them in jars that were placed in the tomb chamber
  • -wound the body with cloth strips often inserting charms amidst the wrapping; book of the dead might be placed btwn mummy’s legs

Slide: Book of the Dead

What was the Book of the Dead?

–       A little like a subway map, the Book of the dead: funerary text with illustrations

–       Provides the deceased with the knowledge necessary to reach the next world safely though spells and explanations


The Book of the Dead was used from c1500 BCE onwards in the New Kingdom, so not in the time of the Pyramids, but during the Old Kingdom there were similar texts from which the Book of the Dead derives in part.

  • Books of the Dead were usually illustrated with pictures showing the tests to which the deceased would be subjected.
  • The most important was the weighing of the heart of the dead person against Ma’at, or Truth (carried out by Anubis). The heart of the dead was weighed against a feather, and if the heart was not weighed down with sin (if it was lighter than the feather) he was allowed to go on.
  • The god Thoth would record the results and the monster Ammit would wait nearby to eat the heart should it prove unworthy.
  • The earliest known versions date from the 16th century BC during the 18th Dynasty (ca. 1580 BC­1350 BC). It partly incorporated two previous collections of Egyptian religious literature, known as the Coffin Texts (ca. 2000 BC) and the Pyramid Texts (ca. 2600 BC-2300 BC), both of which were eventually superseded by the Book of the Dead.

à Here we have another example of a funerary monument that was meant to preserve “ka” and help the Pharaoh into the next life while preserving his power in the present through memorialization.

à See example on the Met website for further reading:

  • Nany, a woman in her seventies, was a chantress (ritual singer) of the god Amun-Re
  • Her coffin and boxes of shawabtis (servant figures) were accompanied by a hollow wooden Osiris figure, which contained a papyrus scroll inscribed with a collection of texts from the Book of the Dead, known to the Egyptians as the “Book of Coming Forth by Day.”
  • It is more than seventeen feet long when unrolled.
  • The scene depicted here shows the climax of the journey to the afterlife. Nany is in the Hall of Judgment. Holding her mouth and eyes in her hand, she stands to the left of a large scale

Middle Kingdom:


 Slide: Rock-cut Tombs

-new form of tomb emerged: rock-cut excavations from cliff faces, like this one on banks of Nile

-chambers, columns, everything carved out of rock; usually painted interiors of the chambers, sometimes with false doors, lintels and niches

-included the same elements as pyramidal architecture but were for officials who ruled under kings and pharaohs.

– typically, had entrance portico, main hall, shrine, burial chamber under the chapel

Why did this new form of high-level tomb occur?

Until this point, smaller mastabas had surrounded the pyramids and high level officials would be buried near their kings, to link themselves to the ruling dynasty even in death.

– during this early Middle Kingdom, provincial officials preferred to locate their tombs in their home provinces. Nomarchs, the officials who ruled the 42 Egyptian provinces that Egyptologists call nomes, established their own cities of the dead that included many local officials. They moved away from wanting to be buried near the pyramids at Giza (central) to being buried within the local they ruled.

– This slide is of a rock cut tomb in Beni Hasan, which is in Middle Egypt is 23 miles south of the modern city of Minya on the east bank of the Nile. Eight of the 39 tombs excavated in the mountains belonged to a succession of men who held the title “Great Overlord.”

 Slide: Stele of Userwer c. 1850 BCE

Other wealthy Egyptians may not have had temples or tombs, but their burial sites were marked and they were often buried with grave goods.


This forms part of the trajectory of funerary goods and sites we’ve already discussed.

What do we see?

– Canon of Proportions

– Polychromy

– Offerings being given – connectionand planning between life and death

– Sunken relief

– Contour – conventions


  • different registers, 5 of text hieroglyphics and 2 of figures
  • Something like this allows us to learn about a more “everyday” burial custom, although this is still an artifact of a privileged class.
  • The unfinished decoration of this stela is particularly interesting: the lower part is still covered with the grid used for ensuring that the proportions of the figures were correct. Some figures have been partially cut, but the last two remain as extremely fine drawing in black ink.
  • The figures show increasing levels of completion from left to right. Userwer, as sculptor, may have worked on his own monument, but it is also possible that it was being cut by his apprentices. It seems likely that Userwer died before the stela could be finished.
  • The stela contains a supplication to those who see it to make offerings. The upper of the two scenes shows (left) Userwer and his wife seated before offerings. Opposite them on the other side of the offering table is Satameni, another wife of Userwer. It is likely that Userwer married one after the other’s death, rather than being married to both at the same time.
  • Userwer’s parents are shown to the right, and other family members below. It is not certain where this stele came from, although, like many others, it might have been set up at Abydos near the cult centre of Osiris, the god of the dead.

So, we’ve seen mastaba, stepped pyramids, pyramids, rockcut tombs, stele and at Karnak, architecture for the living, not the dead. The final monumental funerary work I’d like us to look at is a complex from the New Kingdom, an unusual one.

 Slide: Deir el-Bahri and the Valleys of the Kings and Queens (west bank of the Nile)

Look at Map again! – successive dynasties and invasions has pushed the center of the ruling action to the south.


near the valley of the kings is the funerary temple of Hatshepsut (r. c. 1473-1458 BCE), one of the few women to rule Egypt.

What is The Valley of the Kings and Queens?

It is a valley in Egypt where, for a period of nearly 500 years from the 16th to 11th century BC, tombs were constructed for the Pharaohs and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom. The valley stands on the west bank of the Nile, opposite Thebes (modern Luxor).

  • Hapshepsut was one of the few women to attain the status of “living god,” rather than simply “wife of living god.”
  • In the reliefs that decorate her temple, her divine birth from the god Amun and the queen Ahmose is depicted (Amun and his pantheon were developed during the early New Kingdom in Thebes in Upper/Southern Egypt and remained a powerful belief system even after the demise of the New Kingdom).
  • Daughter of Thutmose I, Hatshepsut married her half brother, Thutmose II who then reigned for 14 years. After his death she co-reigned with his son, Thutmose III.
  • Hatshepsut had herself declared king by the priests of Amun.
  • Inscriptions call her “his majesty,” and in art many of the conventions follow those of male rulers

Hatshepsut’s temple

  • not intended to be her actual burial site; she was to be buried in the valley of the kings (about half mile away)
  • this was a new development in the 18th dynasty in the New Kingdom- the place where the funerary cult of the dead king was not carried out adjacent to the burial site, but closer to the river
  • positioned against high cliffs and oriented toward the Great Temple of Amun at Karnak on the east bank of the Nile
  • strong processional plan
  • visitors ascended a long, straight ramp flanked by pools of water passing two courts w/ shrines deities
  • three levels with three pillared colonnades, rising one above the other
  • vertical lines from the pillars echo the vertical striations of the cliffs rising behind the temple
  • relief scenes and inscriptions in the south portico depict H’s time as a ruler
  • after her successful reign, Thutmose II becomes the sole ruler
  • he reigned over Egypt for 54 years, and very late in his rule he systematically obliterated Hatshepsut’s memory by removing her names and figure from her monuments (show image from the book), and often replacing her name with his own or that of an earlier king
  • the cult of Hatshepsut was abolished, but the temple was still used for Amun-Ra and Hathor, who had their own temples there

 Slide: Hatshepsut Kneeling ON VIEW AT THE MET!


What do we notice?

 – offering

 – male form, beard, linen loincloth, headdress

  • This large kneeling statue once was part of a group of similar figures aligned on the processional way in the temple.
  • The kneeling pose was assumed by Egyptian kings when they came into close proximity with a deity, for instance, when the pharoah opened the shrine in which the god’s image resided. To perpetuate such encounters, small images of kneeling pharoahs were occasionally placed beside the processional barque shrines of deities. Hatshepsut’s kneeling images are unique in being of such large size.
  • According to the inscription on the base, Hatshepsut is represented here as “the one who gives Maat to Amun.” Maat was the goddess of order, right balance, and justice, and for a king to offer an image of Maat to another deity meant reaffirming that this was the guiding principle of his/her rule
  • When the Met museum excavation team went to Egypt in the late 1920s they found this and other statues in fragments. The serpent on her headdress was hacked off, her eyes were picked out, and the entire sculpture was subsequently smashed to pieces. Like all the statues the Met now owns, this figure has been reassembled from fragments discovered in various dumps near Hatshepsut’s funerary temple at Deir el Bahri.



 Slide: Tutankamen


Our last example from the New Kingdom

Probably the most well known Pharaoh. Although he lived only a short while, dying at 18 and ruling only from the age of 10. So, he’s a relatively minor king in the grand scheme of things, but he’s also buried near Hatshepsut in the Valley of the Kings.


–  prior to the discovery of his tomb in 1922 people were unfamiliar with this pharaoh. In fact, his name had been omitted from all of the lists of rulers the ancient Egyptians compiled.

– King Tut was born 1341 BC during the Amarna Age, a time when the pharaoh Akhenaten, his probable father, had introduced quasi-monotheistic beliefs into ancient Egypt, replacing the traditional religion. Akhenaten had moved both the administrative capital (Memphis) and religious capital (Thebes) to Akhetaten (modern Tel el Amarna) in Middle Egypt, a site not previously associated with any other god.

–  Guided by court officials after his father’s death, Tutankhamun restored the traditional gods and re-established Thebes as the religious capital and Memphis as the administrative centre. He also changed his name to Tutankhamun in order to direct attention to the restoration of the pantheon and the god Amun at its head.

– King Tut reigned for only about nine years, as he died in his early teens, but he has become famous the world over because his tomb was uncovered in almost perfect condition.

  • Thieves invaded Tutankhamun’s tomb fairly soon after his burial. The thieves were caught in the act and official inspectors reorganised the contents and resealed the tomb. Several generations later, workmen constructing the nearby tomb of another pharaoh built their huts over the young king’s place of burial, thus obscuring it.
  • Later flooding in the area erased any evidence of its existence. Tutankhamun’s tomb would remain hidden for more than 3,000 years.
  • On November 4, 1922, workmen uncovered the top step of a staircase which archaeologist Howard Carter followed to discover eleven stairs and a sealed door. Stamped on the surface of the doorway was the Jackal-and-Nine-Captives seal of the official guards, but a royal name was not visible. He immediately sent a telegram to back to England advising of a ‘wonderful discovery.’
  • Carter wrote in The Tomb of Tut.ankh.Amen:
  • ‘As my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues and gold – everywhere the glint of gold…I was struck dumb with amazement, and when Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, “Can you see anything?” it was all I could do to get out the words, “Yes, wonderful things.”‘

 – Tut is often referred to as a “puppet king” It is possible that as he approached manhood, Tutankhamen sought more power. In 1968 an examination of his mummy revealed a wound to the skull, and many speculate he was murdered. His elaborate funeral would then be part of an ancient cover-up. Tutankhamen was destined to be forgotten, tainted as heir of a heretic who had abolished the Egyptian pantheon.

  • His eyes are white quartz with pupils of black obsidian, both godlike and human,
  • Buried with a huge array of goods – from shrines and ritual couches, to three coffins nestling one inside the other, to personal objects Tutankhamen would need in the afterlife – game boxes, gloves, even what some believe to be a tailor’s mannequin for modelling his clothes.
  • The entire contents of Tutankhamen’s tomb can be seen as a portrait of the dead king. But can this mask be called a portrait? It is idealised and hieratic, the features mystically regular, a face turned into imperishable metal and stone.
  • His symmetrical, neatly folded gold headdress is crowned with the cobra and vulture, symbols of Lower and Upper Egypt.
  • This portrait mask is both superhuman and personal. It has the same harmonious, regular features as other images of Tutankhamen; like the elongated face of his predecessor Akhenaten, it is an abstraction nevertheless conveying something of the young king’s appearance. A telling detail is the pierced ears; in ancient Egypt boys wore earrings, but stopped when they became men. And Tutankhamen genuinely was a good-looking young man – when Carter exposed the mummy, he noted his “beautiful and well-formed features”.

 After the New Kingdom the Egyptian dynastic system is shattered by repeated invasions of Persians, Greeks, Romans and other. This is an example of the blending of traditions and style, with Egyptian mummification and sarcophagus, but Roman-style portrait of the dead on the outside.


In class Quiz for Egypt

1) Discuss how the Palette of Narmer is an early example of several ancient Egyptian conventions of representation.

Twisted perspective

Simplified contoured figures

Low relief

Different registers used to indicate distance and hierarchy

Hieratic scale

Animal figures used to indicate the narrative (eg. Intertwined tails of the bulls = unification)


Equating earthly ruler with godly ruler

Glorification of the king

2) What is “ka”? Which structures and objects were created in the “funerary industry” of Ancient Egypt, and why? Link some of the objects we have discussed in class today to the way Ancient Egyptian material culture reveals cultural attitudes toward death.

Compare, Contrast, and Write

Draw two large overlapping circles. Ask the students to select two works of art illustrated in the resource and write words or phrases that describe each object in one of the two circles. In the space where the circles overlap, describe characteristics the two works of art share.

Using the words in the diagram, ask the students to write a brief essay about the works of art.

At the end of the class ….


Class Activity – Ancient Egypt Recap

At the end of the lesson or the beginning of next lesson, ask the class to work in pairs or small groups to answer the questions below. Provide a sheet with a selection of images covered in class for them to refer to, or use the PPT to project the sheet so they have images as a resource to refer to as they answer the questions.

1) Discuss how the Palette of Narmer is an early example of several ancient Egyptian conventions of representation. What is going on in the narrative depicted? Can you relate it to other objects we have seen in class over the past few lessons? How/why?

  • Twisted perspective
  • Simplified contoured figures
  • Low relief
  • Different registers used to indicate distance and hierarchy
  • Hieratic scale
  • Animal figures used to indicate the narrative (eg. Intertwined tails of the bulls = unification)
  • Hieroglyphs
  • Equating earthly ruler with godly ruler
  • Glorification of the king

2) Why were structures like pyramids and objects like the statue of the butcher or statues of pharaohs created in Ancient Egypt? What do Ancient Egyptian funerary statues tell us about their cultural attitudes toward death?

  • Ka, the idea of a spirit housed in a statue after life
  • Statues and objects = status symbols to remind the living of rulers
  • Objects that were useful in the afterlife were created like the butcher
  • These tell us death and the afterlife were taken very seriously by Ancient Egyptians and that these eventualities were prepared for all the way through life
  • We can relate this preparation to cultures today who plan funerals in advance or who leave commemorative objects or architecture for the dead.




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