How did the artistic styles change in the Egyptian Kingdoms from the Old to the New?

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Answered by: Kathleen, An Expert in the Art History - General Category
Egyptian Kingdoms from the old to the new had their own individual styles. The Egyptians always had a fascination with the afterlife. They must have looked at the short time spent in this life, and the length of time spent in the afterlife, and considered it of the utmost importance. That was an attitude that did not change from the old to the new kingdom. Their style did, however, change. The pyramids and their sculptures were an expression of the power of the pharaohs. It assured his passage into the afterlife, and his comfort there. Their art portrayed the pharaohs power, and his connection to the throne. They were considered gods, and the art and anything connected with them expressed this idea.



The Old Kingdom was from c.2649-2150 BC . The pharaohs were idealized, and given great dignity. The seated statue of Khafre demonstrates this. The statue was found in his temple, and was thought to embody his ka. He is seated in a royal posture with both hands on his lap with his right hand in a fist, and his left hand laying flat on his knee. There is no space between the body, and the throne, and this unites him with it. His gods surround him to show his right to the power he maintained. The sculpture is unified and balanced showing divinity. He,like all pharaohs, was considered a god. There are eighty odd pyramids that exist with the largest being the pyramid of Khufu. Three of them are from Old Kingdom pharaohs, and are the most impressive.

The Middle Kingdom lasted from c1991-1700 BC, and during this period the pharaoh was showing a connection to his people. The political turbulence of this period had left doubt as to the pharaohs divine power, and the style was less imposing. Sesostris lll considered himself to be the shepherd of the people. He was concerned about his subjects. There are lines of worry between his eyes. More personality is allowed to show through in the art of this period. Sculptures were more naturalist, and less imposing. Their bodies were more rounded, and their faces were more expressive.



The New Kingdom covered the years from c.1550-1070 BC. During this period the pharaohs reestablished control of the country, and expanded to regions around them. It is during this time that the mortuary temples became a place where the pharaoh's patron deities were worshiped, and after the pharaoh's death he was also worshiped there.

The Amarna period (c.1349-1356 BC) was when Amenhotep lV set up a monotheistic religious system. Most of the Egyptian Kingdoms before and after his reign were polytheistic. His religious system was not popular. He worshiped the god Aten, and changed his name to Akhenaten. He did not consider himself to be a god , but a priest for his god. He moved his capital down the Nile where he built a temple to Aten. The style of art became more elongated, thin, pot bellied, and curvilinear. He still had himself portrayed as pharaoh with the crook, flail, and headdress of a pharaoh.

The cartouches were carved into his body. All the art is more naturalistic. There is a small relief that shows Akhenaten and Nefertiti playing with their three children which was done with naturalism that was unusual for Egyptian royalty. At the end of his reign Egypt went back to its old ways and religions, and the style began to return to something similar to that of the Old Kingdom.

The Old Kingdom was known as the age of pyramids. Their construction advanced from mastabas to the step pyramid which was a geometric form. They used limestone and granite to create large funerary temples for the royal family. It was during this time that Egypt had a long period of stability. During this period artists worked for the state or rich patrons. Most of the sculptures that were preserved were from tombs or temples.

There were significant changes in architecture which effected their society and economy. Imhotep was the architect to king Zoser. He started using stone to build, and create a new form of pyramid. There were many large building projects by the pharaohs. Building a pyramid was a great feat of engineering and organization. It is believed that gangs of a hundred thousand men worked three months in rotations completing building projects. The projects were major undertakings, but they were able to create many large building projects.

The Egyptians proportional system enabled them to build projects from small statues to the Great Sphinx. The system could also be used for paintings, reliefs, and free standing sculptures. It was a very workable system, and we still use it in art today. It had to include certain proportions in order to work on different scales.These proportions were based on the human body. There were originally eighteen grids that were later changed to twenty-one. Grids made a framework on which to create an art project. It is the relationship between the grid, and the project that make it possible to create the piece of art. The design is divided into grids both vertically and horizontally. This allows for an aesthetically pleasing piece of art, and it allows an artist to make duplicate copies or adjust its size up or down.

It was during the New Kingdom that they built the most impressive temples in Nubia. Their tombs were impressive,but the temples in the New Kingdom were built in the hypo-style, and were impressive. They were built with the post and lintel system. One is located in Karnak, Egypt. At Abu Simbel, Nubia is the temple of Ramses ll with the rock cut facade of four huge statues of Ramses ll. His gods were Amon and Ra. His goal was to impress on the Nubians his identification with these gods, and Egypt's domination over them.

The Egyptian Kingdoms from the old to the new had their own individual style. Each one portrayed the political and religious climate of their time. Even with the style changes their art has been enduring. We get a feeling for the power that belonged to the pharaohs as we gaze on the pyramids, and the art that was produced.

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