Introduction | Architecture | Painting and Low-Relief Sculpture | Sculpture | Conclusion | Bibliography


Menkure and Khamerernebty, slateSculptures in ancient Egypt were considered to be physical representations of gods or pharaohs on earth, allowing their spirit to live on as long as a representation still existed. Even a bust was considered enough to house the ka. Many statues would be created of each god or pharaoh to insure that they would remain immortal. Statues of workers would be placed inside tombs to come alive later to serve pharaoh.

Akhenaten, Armana periodEgyptian portrayals of pharaohs would generally not be particularly specific to the individual. Sculptures had extremely specific sets of rules to be followed, just like other art of the time. Different gods would always be represented with specific heads, and pharaohs would always have the same proportions. One foot would often be forward in order to convey movement, and only females would show emotion or affectionate gestures. Carving was also always done with the same techniques; the artist would come in from the two sides and the front, not the back which was usually left plain.

However, during the Amarna period, sculpture would change just as painting would. The sculptures of Akhenaton's time were more curvy, with lines being very fluid and faces being sculpted with an eye to what the subject's face really looked like. However, certain distortions also took place. Sculptures had elongated faces, lengthened foreheads, fuller lips, jutting chin, elongated eyes, and stretched out ears. After this period, most art went back to the old ways, retaining only fragments of this radical wave.



Bust of Nefertiti

Painted limestone
18th Dynasty, 1340 BC
Altes Museum, Berlin


This bust depicts Queen Nefertiti, wife of Akhenaten, step-mother of Tutankhamun. Due in part to this strikingly well-preserved bust, she has become one of the most famous figures of ancient Egypt.

The Artist's Work:

Thutmose would have started with a block of limestone and drawn a grid on it. He then would have mapped out his plan, and then carved in from each side. After the carving was completed, he painted it. Her skin is in the traditional yellowish and pale skin colour used on women at this time. Finally, a shiny stone would have been inlaid in each eye. Why one is missing now is a mystery for the ages.


This sculpture is simply striking. Her long neck makes her look both strong and beautiful, and her face conveys so much emotion. Her hair is up, furthering how much power she appears to have. Her features are perfect, save for the one missing eye. The missing eye adds an extra element of interest to the bust. Was it never completed? Was it defaced? Destroyed by the ages? The paint coupled with the detailed sculpting makes her skin look so alive, her cheeks look so high. I could stare at a photo of this bust for a long time, and can only imagine how captivated I will be by her gaze when I get a chance to visit her in Berlin.