Frieze Paintings


Egyptian artists decorated the walls of their temples and tombs with paintings of religious subjects and views of daily life. Instead of showing realistic views, the paintings conveyed ideas. To create these ideas, artists developed and followed certain conventions, or rules.

The order and arrangement of the scene was very important. The viewer should be able to "read" or understand the picture immediately. To show his importance, the king or ruler was always the largest figure. Women, common people, and servants were always smaller.

A figure in an Egyptian painting is shown with the head in profile. The eyes (usually one eye) are shown as they look from the front, but they have no particular expression. The eyebrows are ribbon-like. This style creates a mask-like look---the way one wished to look in the next life-- rather than a specific portrait. The shoulders and torso are sometimes shown in profile, but usually a frontal view is used so that this part of the body can be completely and easily understood in its most characteristic form. The legs and feet are shown in profile because this is the most easily recognized view of these limbs.

Animals, fish, and birds were shown in profile for ease in identification. To show objects in depth, they were overlapped in layers. Perspective was no used.

The figures were painted first in outline, then filled in with areas of solid flat colors. Men were usually shown with a darker skin tone than women. Animals and plants were painted with earth tones of terra-cotta, red, yellow, green, brown, and white. Shades of blue were used for sky and water and sometimes for highlighting the figures. No shading or indication of light and dark was used.

The purpose of Egyptian tomb painting was not purely decorative. Like all artifacts buried with the mummified body, the paintings were expected to "come to life" and take care of the deceased in the next world.



Adapted from: Purdy, S. and Sandak, C. (1982). Ancient Egypt, A Civilization Project Book. New York/London/Toronto/Sydney: Franklin Watts.

Egyptian Art Lesson Plan

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