What Are Some Characteristics of Egyptian Wall Paintings?

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Egyptian wall paintings are easy to recognize because artists used similar techniques and materials throughout Ancient Egypt. Artists painted tomb walls to honor the deceased and the gods during the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms. Their style was rigid and changed little. Sometimes the wall was first modeled with a low relief; artists then painted the plastered tomb walls with brightly colored tempera paint. One of the earliest known Egyptian wall paintings is of people, boats and animals; it was painted around 3200 B.C. and is at the tomb at Hierakonpolis.

Types of Scenes

  • Most Egyptian wall paintings depict the activities of the deceased. Tomb wall art usually shows people working at such tasks as hunting, animal herding and agricultural work, or eating and dancing. Others show the gods or the underworld -- the Egyptians believed the paintings would protect the dead. The backgrounds are usually white or yellow, with no landscape or other detail. Early paintings look like big hieroglyphs. Symbols like a tree represent a wooded area, and zigzag lines represent water.

Figures

  • A distinctive view of the figure is a primary characteristic of Egyptian art, and these artists did not understand foreshortening. The position of the body (showing mixed profile and front views) allowed painters to illustrate as much of an important person as possible. Often, the head is in profile; the view of the chest is frontal; and the legs and feet are in profile. The view of the eyes is frontal, and faces have no expression.

Color and Space

  • Ancient Egyptian artists did not understand how to represent space in paintings. Often there is no scenery or background behind the subject and no depth. Everything is on the same plane, as if the figures are all standing on an invisible line. The colors are bright reds, yellows or blues with thick black outlines. The flat colors are not modeled with tone. Mostly, artists tried to represent things in their natural color, but occasionally gods were painted with blue or green skin. Generally, painters represented men with a darker skin color and women with lighter flesh tones.

Materials

  • Egyptian artists made their paint from natural materials. Minerals such as calcite, hematite and gypsum were used to make colors like ocher, brown and white. The black paint was made from soot produced by burning animal bones or wood. Artists also made artificial colors like bright blue by combining metal shavings with other natural materials and then cooking the mixture.

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