What Were the Themes of Egyptian Art?

Funeral processions are depicted in hieroglyphic form inside Egyptian tombs.

Ancient Egyptian civilization produced numerous art works with assorted themes. Some of the themes are historical and tell of pharaohs, whereas others are religious in nature. These artistic creations are designed to preserve Egyptian heritage. Many of these art forms have survived through the years and are still in relatively good condition.

1 Background

Egyptian art developed thousands of years ago predominately in the Nile River Valley. This art included hieroglyphics, a system of pictures and symbols found in tombs and temples. In addition, large sculptures have been located throughout Egypt. Papyrus, another art medium, was used for texts and documents illustrating ancient Egyptian life and adding to records of Egyptian history and customs.

2 Themes of Nature

Nature is a common theme in Egyptian art. Frequently this theme revolves around life on the Nile River, a major waterway throughout Egypt. Many examples of flora and fauna appear on columns that are found in temples as well as part of scenes in oar propelled canoe-like boats. Since Egyptians were an agricultural people, agricultural as well as hunting scenes are recur in much of the art work.

3 Symbols

Animals were used as a symbol in many themes. For example, the famous sculpture at the Great Sphinx at Giza has a king's head upon the body of a lion or panther. This signifies the king's connection with the skies and the panther, a sky goddess, representing the heavens. In one of the tombs, there is a sun god with a ram's head. In other tomb decorations, there are serpents as symbols to protect the scrolls of the tombs. A head of a jackal stands guard at some doors to protect the deceased. The "Tree of Life" art work shows bird themes representing the various stages of human life. These begin with a gray bird for infancy and a red bird for childhood, for example.

4 Religion, Gods and Mythology

Religious beliefs, gods and goddesses as well as mythology, are themes that dominate Egyptian art. Many tombs display hieroglyphics with pharaohs who are thought to be godlike. These may constitute scenes with a pharaoh giving gifts to a deity or priests bringing offerings to a temple. An example of the use of gods as a theme is a scene in the tomb of Khafre, a pharaoh, where the deity of Horus, the falcon god, is portrayed as a protector of the king.

5 The After-life

The Egyptians felt strongly about the after-life. This was shown in "Book of the Dead," a series of hieroglyphics containing a scene of a funeral procession leading to the tomb. After a burial, bodies were mummified and the cases were painted with a mask identifying the deceased with the sun god. Symbols of survival in the after-life appear on the bottom of the cases. Large sculptures of statues of the pharaohs and other heroes are found throughout Egypt so that they may continue to live in the after-world as they did originally. Many tombs are located in small houses with frescoes representing immortality.

6 Other Themes

Dancing and musical instruments are themes of tomb decorations. Also, representations of feasts or historical events are described in hieroglyphic form. Decorated vases and designs of ivory tusks can also be seen in the tombs and temples.

Based in Bellmore, N.Y., Shula Hirsch has been writing since 1960 on travel, education, raising children and senior problems. Her articles have appeared in "Newsday," "Mature Living," "Teaching Today," and "Travel News." She holds a Master of Arts degree from Columbia University and is a retired professor of English.