|Ancient Egyptian portraiture: The
artists, the purpose, pictorial conventions
Ancient Egyptian portraiture
The artistsThe role of the painter and the sculptor (sanx) was to help in the continued existence of the dead, sanx meaning to make come alive. In the beginning seemingly only serving the pharaohs, these artisans began portraying nobles, officials and their families as early as the Old Kingdom. Sometimes a King's servant received a funerary statue from his master, but many of the richer elite could afford to pay by themselves.
Craftsmanship varied widely throughout the country and history. The provinces had generally less gifted artists than the capital, where the king resided and power and wealth were concentrated. While artists were seemingly not viewed as special geniuses above normal mankind in the romantic fashion of the 19th century, excellence was recognized and rewarded.
The identity of the artists is generally unknown. They appear to have worked in workshops, quite possibly dividing the labour among themselves according to their abilities. The ancient Egyptian sculptor most famous today is Thutmose, who had an atelier at Akhetaten and created many works in the innovative Amarna style, and we know of Maya, a late 18th dynasty scribe and painter living at Deir el Medine, because he also decorated his own tomb.
Thutmose was part of an ancient tradition of humanizing statues. An unknown 4th dynasty sculptor created Prince Ankh-haf's likeness, another Ka-aper's a few generations later, or a third Amenemhet III's during the 12th dynasty. While many statues are idealized, it seems that quite a few of the ancient Egyptian artists attempted to render their subjects as faithfully as they could.
The purposeThe portraits that have survived to this day, had religious, funerary purposes. They served to immortalize the dead, just as the mummification of the body was supposed to and the inscriptions bearing his name.
Statues of pharaohs represented more than just the man. They embodied the idea of divine kingship. They were generally carved from harder material than statues of ordinary mortals, carved for eternity. Seemingly, the artists tried to express how the pharaoh wanted to be seen and remembered - or at least that is how we interpret it:
Characteristics and conventions
Applicable to statuary, reliefs and paintings
Paintings and reliefs
Old Kingdom portraiture3rd Dynasty portraits
4th Dynasty portraits
5th Dynasty portraits
6th Dynasty portraits
Middle Kingdom portraiture12th Dynasty portraits
New Kingdom portraiture18th Dynasty portraits, from the beginning of the dynasty until the reign of Akhenaten
18th Dynasty portraits, from the reign of Akhenaten until the end of the dynasty
19th Dynasty portraits
Late Period25th and 26th dynasty portraits
Graeco-Roman portraitsRoman Period portraits
[ ] Sculptors Olam hatanakh: Shmot published by Divrei Hayamim, Tel Aviv
 Amarna princesses: MFA (Museum of Fine Arts Boston)
|The stela of the Middle Kingdom artist Irtisen|
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|These are just suggestions for further reading. I do not assume any responsibility for the availability or content of these websites|
| Proportion and Personality in the Fayum Portraits by A.J.N.W. Prag|
|The George Ortiz collection|
|Metropolitan Museum of Art|
|Cleveland Museum of Art|
|North Carolina Museum of Art|
|Akhenaten and family|
|The Outer Gallery|
|Faces of ancient Egypt - Ancient Egyptian Art from the Oriental Institute Museum|
|Immortality through art|
|Histoire de l'art et archéologie de l'Egypte|
|Portrait-Painting in Ancient Egypt from Pharaohs Fellahs and Explorers by Amelia Edwards|
|The Origin of Portrait Sculpture, and the History of the "Ka." from Pharaohs Fellahs and Explorers by Amelia Edwards|
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