Accessible Art History
AP Art History: Unit 2 - Ancient Egypt, pt 2
Welcome back to the Accessible Art History Blog! Today, I’m wrapping up the AP Art History images from Ancient Egypt. There are a lot of them, so I had to separate them into two posts. You’ll find part one linked here, so make sure to check it out! The remaining images are from the New Kingdom period which was filled with expansion, change, chaos, and of course, amazing art! So to learn more, keep on reading!
Image 20 - Temple of Amun-Re and Hypostyle Hall
The first image of today’s post is the Temple of Amun-Re and Hypostyle Hall. Located in Karnak, Thebes, now known as Luxor, this temple was the religious center for the Ancient Egypt religion. It was dedicated to the worship of Egypt’s principal god, Amun-Re. He was the god of the sun and air, a combination of the gods Amun and Ra. The temple was also a site of worship for Mut, a mother goddess, and Montu, a god of war.
Although temple construction started in the Middle Kingdom period, it didn’t reach its biggest size until the New Kingdom period. Over time, pharaohs would leave their mark by building different spaces in honor of the gods. The city was believed to be “The Most Select of Places” (Ipet-isut) and eventually it became the largest religious complex in the world. It is still among the largest to this day! Two of the most fantastic features of the complex include an avenue of Ram sculptures and the world’s tallest obelisk that was erected by Hatshepsut. (Although the obelisk was eventually taken to Rome by Constantine.)
Another one of the architectural wonders of the Temple Complex is the Hypostyle Hall. In ancient times, builders grappled with how to make tall buildings without having them come crashing down. One of the Ancient Egyptian solutions to this was the Hypostyle Hall. This space was a tiered roof held up by 134 massive columns. These columns were brightly painted and decorated to match the splendor of the surrounding temple complex.
With all of these columns, one would think that the space would feel dark and dreary. But, that’s where the tiered roof came in! By making the center of the roof higher, the architects created a “clerestory”. This was a new technique to allow light to filter into a space. It was an incredibly popular technique and would be utilized across cultures and centuries. This sunlight would have illuminated the paintings on the columns, making it a truly spectacular site!
Image 21 Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut
The next image on the required list is the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut. Not only is it an iconic work of Ancient Egyptian architecture, but it is the final resting place of one of its most powerful women. Hatshepsut was the fifth pharaoh of the illustrious 18th royal dynasty. She was the daughter, wife, and step mother to pharaohs. But, more importantly, she was the second woman in Egyptian history to take the pharaonic throne in her own right. It is believed that she ruled for about 21 years until her death. During her reign, Egypt established new trade routes and launched massive building projects. However, when her stepson Thutmose III came to the throne, he tried to erase all trace of her from history.
Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple is built into the hills of Deir el-Bahari, near the ancient city of Thebes, modern day Luxor. A large ramp or causeway leads up from the desert to the temple. Fascinatingly, there were two separate purposes for the space, each situated along a different axis. The east - west axis acted as the receiving place for the ship or barque of Amun-Re, the main deity of Egypt. This was quite unusual because it took up the majority of the space of the temple, including where the typical burial chamber and associated rooms would be. But, it is likely that Hatshepsut was trying to emphasize her position as pharaoh and God's Wife of Amun.
The north - south axis represented a cycle of rebirth and life of a pharaoh. This was incredibly important as a testament to fundamental beliefs in society. The entire mortuary temple pointed towards Hatshepsut’s personal contribution to Karnak, the Eighth Pylon. In addition to dedications to Amun-Re, there were also two smaller temples dedicated to Hathor and Anubis.
Image 22 Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and three daughters
Akhenaten was a pharaoh in the 18th Dynasty during the New Kingdom period. He was the second son of Amenhotep III and his queen, the Great Royal Wife Tiye. Records indicate that Akhenaten ruled alongside his father as co-pharaoh for about eight years. When his father died around 1353-1351 BCE, Akhenaten became the pharaoh in his own right. Akhenaten’s queen was the famous Nefertiti. Together, they had six daughters: Meriaten, Meketaten, Ankhesenpaaten, (later known as Ankhesenamun), Neferneferuaten Tasherit, Neferneferure, and Setepenre. Akhenaten also had one recorded son, the famous Tutankamun!
For the first five years of his reign, Akhenaten policies were fairly consistent with those of the rulers that came before him. But, then something changed. He decided that the majority of Egyptian worship would be directed towards the sun disk, Aten.
This relief carving we are discussing today is a perfect example of Amarna period art. It shows Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and three of their daughters and dates from around 1350 BCE. Given its size and subject, art historians believe that it was used as a personal home altar. It is a tender family scene of worship. Akhenaten carefully cradles one of the girls, bringing her close for a paternal kiss. Nerfertiti has one of their daughters on her lap, while the other plays with her earring. The couple sits on a pair of thrones, to remind the viewer that they are the rulers of Egypt.
The figures all look quite strange to the modern viewer’s eye. They have wide hips, large bellies, and lips, with thin limbs. The most interesting detail is their extremely elongated skulls, they look a bit like potatoes! It’s an interesting depiction that has led some historians to believe that they suffered from a medical condition. Examination of his mummy has not led to a diagnosis. Today, most art historians believe that this was a deliberate stylistic choice.
Most importantly, above the royal family, is the sun disk Aten. His rays shine down onto them, in a gesture of blessing. The ones that touch the figures have small hands holding ankhs. In Ancient Egypt, these were symbols of life. By including this detail, it showed Aten as the life giver of the people.
If you want to listen to a podcast episode about this piece, click here!
Image 23 Tutankhamun’s tomb, innermost coffin and mask
Tutankamun was born around 1342 BCE, the son of Akhenaten and a woman deemed “The Younger Lady” by the archaeologists that discovered her mummy. All three of these people were members of the 18th Royal Dynasty during the New Kingdom period. Despite advances in scientific technology, Egyptologists still do not have a name for the Younger Lady. Through DNA testing, it was determined that she was Akhenaten’s full sister; they were both children of Pharaoh Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye. Incest was quite common in the Ancient Egyptian royal family because it mimicked the sacred union of Osiris and Isis. Due to this, Tutankamun had a number of congenital issues, including a clubbed foot, cleft palate, and scoliosis.
Like his parents before him, Tutankamun married his half-sister, Ankhesenamun. (They shared the same father, but Nefertiti was the mother of Ankhesenamun). In his tomb, there are many images of the couple as co-rulers, indicating that he also made his half-sister his Great Royal Wife. Sadly, Tutankamun would only reign for about 10 years. He died around 1325 BCE at the age of 19 years old. His reign was not remarkable, though that was not his fault. It was simply too short for him to be an effective ruler. He was buried hastily, more about that later, and was actually succeeded by his former vizier Ay. He was the last of his line and it wasn’t long before the 19th dynasty took over the rule of Egypt.
On November 4 in 1922, Howard Carter uncovered one of the greatest finds in history! According to his notes, Carter said this about the discovery: (courtesy of Treasures of Tutankamun published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art)
"At first I could see nothing," he wrote, "the hot air escaping from the chamber causing the candle flame to flicker, but presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold – everywhere the glint of gold." After a pause, Carnarvon asked, "Can you see anything?" Carter replied, "Yes, wonderful things."
The innermost coffin is made of solid gold! Besides being incredibly luxurious and fit for a king, it had a symbolic reason as well. Ancient Egyptians believe that their gods had golden skin, silver bones, and blue hair. So, this coffin uses those materials and lapis lazuli for the blue, to show Tut in his divine form. Pharaohs were often thought to be gods or the physical manifestations of gods on Earth, so this is quite appropriate. The symbols of kingship, the crook and flail and the goddesses Nekhbet (vulture) and Wadjet (cobra), also show us that Tut was the pharaoh when he died. In addition, Isis and Nephthys, two important goddesses, are etched into the gold lid, showing that Tutankamun had returned Egypt to its rightful religion.
I also have a podcast episode about King Tut, click here to listen!
Image 24 Last judgment of Hunefer, from his tomb (page from the Book of the Dead)
The Book of the Dead, although ominous sounding, was actually known as the Book of Coming Forth by Day Or Book of Emerging Forth into the Light during Ancient Egyptian period. It was a funerary text that consisted of magic spells and instructions on how to make it through the Duat or underworld and into the afterlife. Book is a rather generous term as it was more of a collection of texts written over a period of about 1000 years by priests.
This page is from an excellent surviving example of a page from the Book of the Dead. It was made for a man named Hunefer who lived around 1310 BCE. He held many esteemed positions including “Royal Scribe”, “Scribe of Divine Offerings", “Overseer of Royal Cattle,” and steward to Pharaoh Seti. These positions would have made him quite wealthy, which is indicated by the fine craftsmanship of this papyrus.
The main scene on this page is the “Opening of the Mouth Ceremony”. Hunefer’s mummy is shown supported by the god Anubis. His wife and children mourn his death. The priest prepares to open the mummy’s mouth so that he could breathe and speak in the afterlife.
The priests and Anubis are shown as the largest figures in the scene. This is a technique called hierarchy of scale. Essentially, they are the most important figures because they are the biggest. The colors of the work are still vibrant after over 3000 years and we can still read the magical spells written on the page.
That wraps up the Ancient Egypt unit of the AP Art History Required images! These pieces showcase the whole of Egyptian history and its brilliant, vibrant artistic culture.
We still have a lot of unit 2 to discuss, so keep an eye out for the next post in the series on Ancient Greece!
Gardner’s Art through the Ages, 12th edition
Fred S. Kleiner
View of Temple Complex of Karnak - CC 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
View of sphinxes, the first pylon, and the central east-west aisle of Temple of Amon-Re, Karnak in Luxor, Egypt (photo: Mark Fox, CC: BY-NC 2.0)
Columns of the Great Hypostyle Hall - CC 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut - CC 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Seated Sculpture of Hatshepsut - Public Domain via the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and three daughters - Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Inner coffin of Tutankhamun - Egyptian Museum, Cairo
Funeral mask of Tutankhamun - CC 3.0 via Wikimedia Common
Last judgment of Hunefer, from his tomb (page from the Book of the Dead) - Trustees of The British Museum