Most of the material culture derived from ancient Egypt is aesthetically formed. The elite nature of Egyptian art could be attributed to the level of control the elite class and royalties or artistic and architectural creations. The Egyptian elite dedicated a vast amount of resources to create durable monuments and beautiful products that were survivable to modern times. The association of Egyptian art with the elite demanded for the creation of complex forms that were idealized and rendered extensively to create near natural mimetic compositions.
Pictorial representations of Egyptian art also exemplify the rendering of human forms to near natural impressions. These proportions and scale of human features allow the adoption of multi-register compositions in Egyptian art. Consequently, visual impressions of Egyptian art were very distinct to early civilizations such as the Bronze age Chinese, who used non-representation characters for a span of 1000 years (Hartwig 10). Despite these realistic artistic impressions, modernist art critics have formed negative evaluations of Egyptian art.
The strongly virtuosic mimetic characteristic of Egyptian representation could be valued on its ability to evocate shapes and textures using just a few brushstrokes. For instance, The standing figure of Kagemni (Figure 2) uses a strong rendering of the skin and flesh to create distinct attributes that contrast to other art forms (Hartwig 10).
Mimetics is a difficult technique, thus, the mastery of two- and three-dimensional techniques was considered prestigious. The displays of mastery were evident in old kingdom tombs and in the differentiation of facial types in the artistic impressions of the late 12 and 18 dynasties. Advanced levels of mimicry were also evident in the depiction of offerings in no-royal monuments and temples (Hartwig 11). In this respect, rich surface textures were complemented with mimetic aspects to generate spectacular artistic tendencies.
The rendering of real forms aimed at creating idealizations that define Egyptian artistic traditions. Idealization means that an individual can be expressed in more than one form. For instance, a male figure with perfect physique may indicate youthfulness and health, whereas an image of a fat man may be used as a representation of wealth or power. Since, Egyptian art shares similar ideals of the female and male form as the west, one may overlook how the representations are culturally specific (Hartwig 11). Despite these similarities, Egyptian art can is distinguishable from western art whereby women are often portrayed in abject circumstances, such as completing chores.
The register ground line is one of the most significant elements of ancient Egyptian art. The groundline holds animal and human figures apart, orders them or even slightly overlapping the elements in isocephalous rows (Davies 2). Finally, the groundline orients the images in a consistent direction towards the authority figure. The use of the ground line can be seen in the Tomb of Perneb, (figure 1), where it is applied as a compositional device that does not limit the image. The register groundline is also used to make complex references of the available textual resources. For instance, even though the register might frame various animal and human figures, the meanings or these groups can only be understood by referring to an historical monarch or divinity (Davies 2). The use of the register ground line helps create association that help inspire Egyptian idealizations.
Egyptian art is associated with strong idealizations, which required artist to create near natural mimetics. Egyptian artists were able to accomplish high level of fines, through rendering and use of complex techniques such as the register ground line. Nonetheless, modernist artists criticize Egyptian art on its emphasis on real forms over abstract forms.
Davis, Whitney. Masking the Blow: The Scene of Representation in Late Prehistoric Egyptian Art. Univ. of California Press, 1992.
Hartwig M. A companion to Ancient Egyptian Art. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2005.