Egyptian Funerary Art
At about 3000 B.C, the Lower and the Upper Nile were united to form one kingdom. This marked the beginning of the Ancient Egyptian civilization, a culture that continues to thrill researchers from all spheres of education and art. Lower Egypt was located at the broad delta where the Blue and the White Nile converged. Upper Egypt comprised of the land that occupied the main Nile, all the way into the Mediterranean Sea (Brockman n.p.).
Most of the Egyptians believed that King Menes was responsible for this unification; and “Menes” was a word that referred to the founder of the Egyptian civilization. However, at 3100 B.C, Pharaoh Narmer took leadership as the first Pharaoh of Egypt. Most of the studies credit him with the unification of Egypt. Pharaoh Narmer created the first dynasty, and consequently Egypt was ruled by more than 31 dynasties over almost three millennia. The rule under Pharaohs can be classified and divided into three major kingdoms; the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom and the New Kingdom.
The Old Kingdom existed between 2580-2130 B.C. It started after the unification, and this was the time that Manetho’s dynasties ruled Egypt. The pyramids of Giza were built during this time. Khufu and Khafre built the Sphinx at about 2550-2470 B.C. The tradition of mummification of bodies started in this period. The bodies of the great rulers were mummified, and placed in the pyramids that acted as tombs. Khufu’s mother’s, Hetephteres, remains were preserved in canopy jars, an act that signaled the process of mummification. Another major event during this period was the development of imperialism. The Egypt dynasties captured new lands, and exploited them as a source of raw materials and food. The Pharaohs raided places like Nubia, or modern day Sudan, to capture slaves and domesticated animals. They mined for precious metals in Sinai (Brockman n.p.).
The Middle Kingdom was capitalized at Thebes, and was in power between 2000-1630 B.C. Mentuhotep II ruled a unified Egypt. During this time, Egypt relied on trade with the Nubia, and was trying to colonize it. During this period, the Hyskos, a foreign community, established itself in Thebes. They ruled but after some time were driven away from Thebes by other dynasties.
The New Kingdom started from 1500-1080 B.C. This kingdom lasted for almost half a millennium, and was referred to as the New Empire. This was the time when Egypt developed artifacts, and art. Pharaohs were buried in the Valley of the Tombs near the Nile region. Architectural designs for most temples were developed. Temples built during this time include the Luxor and the Karnak.
Even in the ancient civilizations, like Egypt, religion led almost all aspects of human life. Egyptians were polytheistic, and worshiped many deities, and had as many as 2100 goddesses and gods. Some gods were worshipped regionally, while others, like Amun, were worshipped by the whole nation. Animals, like the cat, the Nile crocodiles were also considered holy, and were worshipped. The two key gods were Osiris (god of the afterlife), and Amon–Ra (the Sun god or the god of the universe). They believed in life after death and this pushed them to use vast amounts of their wealth to prepare for the second or afterlife (St. Petersburg Times n.p.).
Attitude toward Power
The Kings played a very vital role in connecting humanity, power, and religion. They were meant to serve the gods, maintain social order, and structure in the community. Kings personified the land of Egypt, and all the inhabitants. They performed rituals to the gods, and served as a connection with people. Kings had to maintain balance, and offer people justice. In this context, most people revered the role of leaders in their lives. They looked at them as “connectors” with their gods.
Role of Culture in Shaping Art
Culture played an important role in shaping the art forms. For instance, Temples were built in a design that would reflect the values of the society. Kings had a special place in the temples because they were the most respected citizens.
Artworks Presenting Funerary Art
The Egyptians built pyramids for the burial of the dead. The pyramids had both entries and exits, and places where they could leave food and other possessions for the dead kings. After realizing that people were robbing the pyramids, they decided to mummify the bodies, and bury them in tombs. The tombs had some hieroglyphic markings and drawings, perhaps, an indication of who was buried there.
- An image of The Great Sphinx in Egypt (Lehner 32)
- The Tomb of King Tut in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt (Brockman n.p.).
How Egyptian Culture Has Influenced Western Civilization
The main aspects of the Egyptian culture include language, visual art or architecture, religion, and literature. Language was developed during the old kingdom although it was not prevalent. Hieroglyphic letters were presented by symbols. Hieroglyphs were inscribed on papyrus reeds using ink, and a piece of stick that acted as a pen. Today some inscriptions can be seen on some of the ancient monuments. Hieroglyphs were written on the doors of houses, and were read as news. Most of the languages, like the Coptic language, Greek and Arabic were developed from hieroglyphs. Writing on papyrus sheets is a basis that led to the formation of modern books, and printing systems that provide thousands of reading materials to the masses.
In terms of literature, the Old Kingdom had hymns written in the hieroglyphic language. There were also mortuary texts, pyramid texts, and symbols carved around the tombs of the rulers. A lot of books, like Instructions, were written in the New Kingdom, and were very famous for offering advice on good mannerisms.
Religion in ancient Egypt is a precursor to modern day religion. In ancient Egypt, they had more than 2,000 goddesses and gods. Some gods were worshipped regionally, while others were worshipped nationally. The same case applies to modern worship witnessed in the world. There is no uniform faith. Some gods and religions are regional, for example African Traditional Religion, while others are global for instance; Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism.
Ancient Egypt was the first civilization to code visual art. Wall paintings done in the name of Pharaohs followed certain stringent rules. They used grids that enabled them to create small and large art forms. Today, most of the art forms of the ancient Egypt continue to inspire several artists in the West today. One of the inspirations includes the design of creative and panoramic tombs or graves. For instance, the grave of Julia Peta has a carving of her body. The tombstones are also inscribed with various forms of typography, a ritual that was common in the Ancient Egypt. The other art form is that of making human forms to represent dead heroes or presidents. Recently, the US created a supersize statue of the late civil rights activist, Dr Martin Luther King. The statue is placed in Washington D.C. for public viewing. The creation of large and authentic buildings, like the Petronas Towers of Malaysia, draws its inspiration from the mega-sized pyramids.
Mummification of the human body has laid the basis of the preservation of the dead in today’s world. People have created morgues, embalmed bodies in order to preserve them. The Valley of the Kings is perhaps an inspiration to vast cemeteries found in modern day cities and towns.
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