Art History/Ancient Art

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Ancient Egyptian Art[edit]

An example of the Egyptian use of frontalism.

As far as we know, civilization first began in the Mesopotamian river valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates in present day Iraq. Soon thereafter, it took root in the valley and delta of the Nile. The ancient Egyptian civilization was one of the longest lasting in the West. It began in approximately 3000 B.C and lasted until 300 B.C. When it came to their art, the Egyptians had a distinguished style known as frontalism.

The features of frontalism are as follows:

  • In reliefs and paintings, the head of the character is drawn in profile while the body faces frontward
  • The eyes are drawn in full (even though the face is in profile)
  • The legs are turned to the side with one foot in the other
  • All of the figures, in all media, are rigid and stiff, yet the faces are calm or no expression

Although frontalism applies to the Egyptian art through thousands of years, there were slightly different rules for animals or slaves.

The Timeline of Egyptian Art[edit]

The Predynastic Period lasted from about 5000-3100 B.C. which was before Egypt became a kingdom. Many of the characteristics of their culture and art as we know it did begin during this time period.

  • The pantheon of the gods was established during this time period
  • The illustrations and proportions of their human figures was developed
  • Egyptian imagery, symbolism, and basic hieroglyphic writing was developed


The Early Dynastic Period lasted from about 3100 - 2686 B.C., which is also known as the 1st and 2nd Dynasties. During this time, the Egyptian government was strong and supported their arts.

During the Old Kingdom - from 2686-2181 B.C., the Egyptian pyramids were built. Sculptures that appeared more natural were built. The first known portraits were done. It is at the end of the Old Kingdom when the Egyptian style made a shift toward formalized nude figures with long bodies and large eyes.