OUTLINE FOR EGYPTIAN ART - Outline for Ancient Egyptian Art...

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Outline for Ancient Egyptian Art Intro to Art History 082:105 Though Egypt is a large country, its enormous population inhabits relatively little of the land. Two-thirds of Egypt’s people live in the delta of the Nile River, a region of Egypt seldom experienced by tourists, and the other third inhabit what is essentially the floor of the canyon formed by the river’s south-north course, a population pattern as typical of antiquity as it is today (Website Map) . Providing sufficient food in such a confined area for a large population (Egypt remains the most populous of Arab countries) has always required a high degree of cooperation, a major impetus for the rise of an early advanced civilization in the valley of the Nile. Even in the valley of the Nile, where water is plentiful, wresting arable land from the desert is a constant battle, the desert always ready to reclaim what it has lost (Website Aerial Photo) . Indeed, in Egypt you can stand with one foot in green fields and the other foot in an unbelievably inhospitable desert of rock and sand that stretches for thousands of miles (Website panoramic view of the Stepped Pyramid of Zoser, at Saqqara) . Thus the life of the Egyptian peasant, the fedayeen , both in antiquity and today, is spent getting water from the river into the irrigation canals. If, as occasionally happened, the requisite cooperation broke down, the crops failed, and famine and pestilence ensued. Thus every aspect of ancient Egyptian society was organized to avoid factionalism and civil strife, stressing continuity and stability in social organization, the religion that gave sacred significance to the established social organization, and the art that gives visual expression to these values. Sculpture-in-the-round For example, everyone knows that ancient Egyptians mummified the dead, making every attempt to maintain the body’s physical integrity, even in death. This practice was occasioned by the Egyptian conception of life after death: that death was simply a continuity of life, of physical existence and all its worldly pursuits (even sex) transposed from the realm of the living to the realm of the dead. In order to enjoy this worldly conception of life after death, a body was necessary for the ka , the life force of the deceased, to inhabit. Obviously the wealthy could afford more professional and complete embalming processes, but knowing that the actual body might not survive, a person of means also had statues of himself/herself made to be placed in tombs as alternate bodies for the ka to inhabit. Most of the Egyptian statues that we will study in this course were commissioned by the wealthy for this purpose, and because they were placed in tombs, they were not meant to be seen by the public at large, an aspect that separates them conceptually from statues created by other societies we shall study in this course, even when the form of the other society’s statues is dependent on Egyptian prototypes, as in Archaic Greece. In addition, because the
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This note was uploaded on 10/07/2011 for the course ART HISTOR 105 taught by Professor Kenfield during the Fall '11 term at Rutgers.

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OUTLINE FOR EGYPTIAN ART - Outline for Ancient Egyptian Art...

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