Egypt: Art and Architecture
The great architectural achievements of the past are built of stone. Stone quarries supplied the large blocks of granite, limestone, and sandstone that were used for building temples and tombs. Architects planned carefully as building was done without mortar, so the stones had to fit precisely together. Only pillars were used to sustain short stone supports. At the temple of Karnak, a ramp of adobe brick can be seen leading to the top of the temple wall. Such ramps were used to allow workmen to carry stones to the top of structure and allow artists to decorate the tops of walls and pillars. Pillars were built in the same way. As height was added, the ground was raised. When the top of the pillar was completed, the artists would decorate from the top down, removing ramp sand as they went along.
As soon as a pharaoh was named, construction on his tomb was begun. Tomb building continued throughout his life and stopped only on the day on which he died. As a result, some tombs are very large and finely decorated, while other tombs, like that of King Tutankhamun, are small because he ruled as a pharaoh for such a short time.
The architecture was based upon perpendicular structures and inclined planes since there was no structural assistance except the strength and balance of the structure itself. For this reason, the square and the plumb-line were very important tools.
One of the most notable and lasting achievements of the Ancient Egyptians are their pyramids. The size, design, and structure of the pyramids reveal the skill of these ancient builders. The pyramids were great monuments and tombs for the kings. The Egyptians believed that a king's soul continued to guide affairs of the kingdom even after his death. To ensure that they would continue to enjoy the blessings of the gods, they preserved the pharaoh's body through the mummification process. They built the pyramids to protect the pharaoh's body, the pyramid was a symbol of hope, because it would ensure the pharaoh's union with the gods.
The largest pyramid in existence is the Great Pyramid built by King Cheops (Khufu) at Giza. The Great Pyramid measures 481 feet high, by 775 feet long at each of its four bases. Other notable pyramids include the Step Pyramid built for King Zoser, and the pyramid built for King Huni, that was a transition between the step pyramid and the smooth sided pyramid we know today.
The art of the Egyptians reflects every aspect of their lives. Depicted in tomb and temple drawings are scenes of everyday living, models of people and animals, glass figures and containers, and jewelry made from gold and semi-precious stones.
The wall and pillar drawings are perhaps the best known. In these drawings, it can be seen that people are going about the everyday business of baking, fishing, boating, marketing, and meeting together in family groups. Such drawings were also used to help the deceased to live forever by giving them all of the instructions they would need as they met the gods on their way to eternal life. The good deeds were recorded and the art that surrounded their mummified body was to help their spiritual self in solving the problems related to life after death. Pictures of food, clothing, servants, and slaves could be used by the deceased just as the real things were used by the person when living.
A variety of perspectives is often combined in Egyptian art; however, the side view is the most often seen. The artists used bright colors of blue and red, orange and white to develop pictures that tell of the life of the deceased individual. The artist would first sketch a design on a piece of pottery, and if the design was satisfactory, it would be sketched on the wall with charcoal. Colors could then be used to fill in the completed picture. Paints were made from naturally occurring minerals and artificially prepared mineral substances. Paint brushes were sticks with fibrous wood with frayed ends. Walls were covered with mud plaster, then with lime plaster. By the time of Ramses II, artists were able to shade colors to achieve a layered effect. Wall paintings were then protected by a thin layer of varnish (the composition of which is still not known).
Sculptors were important artists in Egypt. Statues were made of kings, queens, scribes, animals, and gods and goddesses. Frequently, human and godlike attributes and symbols were combined. The work of the artist was seen in other media as well. Alabaster, a white and translucent stone, was often used for making vessels and containers. Pottery was made of ceramics and clay. Pottery glazed with minerals was used to make beads, amulets, pendants, and other jewelry. A vivid blue glaze was very popular during the reign of Ramses II. Craftsmen made glass for inlayed designs and for some containers. Workers were able to make articles out of lead, gold, silver, and copper. Such metals were used to make pins, tweezers, razors, axes, knives, spears, sculptures, and jewelry. The stability of the government during the reign of Ramses II allowed the skills of the artist and architect to flourish.
Religion was often the subject of Egyptian literature. Prayers and hymns were written in praise of the gods. The most important book was "The Book of the Dead." This book contained over 200 prayers and magic formulas that taught the Egyptians how to reach a happy afterlife. The Egyptians also wrote adventure stories, fairy tales, myths, love stories, poems, proverbs and quotes.
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