We owe many great treasures of human history to the Ancient Egyptians. Their fascinating and mysterious culture with pharaohs, pyramids and mummies still captures people's imagination today. Of great importance in those times were works of art from sculpture, painting and architecture, as they were firmly rooted in religion and society.

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Ancient Egypt - A fascination

The epoch of the Ancient Egyptians, which began more than five thousand years ago, had a decisive influence on the development of humankind. It produced many significant cultural and scientific achievements as well as impressive monumental architecture. However, the real fascination that emanates from ancient Egypt is based above all on the fact that this culture, with its pyramids, pharaohs, sphinxes and mummies, is surrounded by something mysterious and mystical. Just how great the attraction of ancient Egyptian artefacts is for the public can easily be seen in the popularity of museums and exhibitions of ancient Egyptian funerary art, as well as in the many visitors who visit the excavation sites in the land on the Nile every year. The artworks of that time, such as Egyptian statues, reliefs, and paintings, are not only popular for their aesthetics. They also offer an insight into life in this epoch, as they were important elements of religion, society and politics.

The Art Serving the Rulers and Religion

In Ancient Egypt, an essential function of all the arts - architecture as well as sculpture and painting - was to express the worship of deities and rulers. Large statues and sculptures served representative purposes and were an expression of power and prestige. However, many artefacts from this epoch also have a religious background. According to the beliefs of the Ancient Egyptians, some deities transformed into animals. Therefore there are many symbolic representations of animals among the sculptures. For example, the god Anubis as a jackal, the god Horus as a falcon and the goddess Bastet as a cat. Just as important as the representation of gods was the depiction of pharaohs in statues and sculptures. The pharaohs enjoyed a special status, for as rulers they were considered neither human nor deities. They were rather considered to be on a level between heaven and earth. However, as emissaries and plenipotentiaries of the gods, the pharaohs were given a similar reverence as the gods themselves. In addition to the pharaohs, also the female rulers of Ancient Egypt, such as Cleopatra or Nefertiti, were immortalised in art objects. In addition, Egyptian sculptures also depicted other motifs, such as various professions or animals.

Besides depicting gods and rulers, Egyptian sculptures, paintings, and buildings had central functions in religious ceremonies. Statues, in particular, were part of the burial rituals of the Egyptians. According to ancient Egyptian mythology, "Ka", which roughly corresponds to the soul of a deceased person, passed into a statue after death. This statue functioned as a substitute body and lay in the immediate vicinity of the corpse in the tomb. The statue had an important function because in it the ka could continue to exist and protect the dead.

The Modes of Representation in Egyptian Sculpture

The ancient Egyptians immortalised gods, pharaohs, and other elites both as smaller sculptures and monumental statues. They were usually depicted standing or seated, often on a base or in front of a back plate. The sculptural depiction of figures emphasised the importance of always showing the entire body. Usually, the bodies and faces were shown immaculately in statues, as the gods or rulers shown were regarded as flawless. For the most part, the depiction was based on a highly stylised ideal type that had been valid for thousands of years. Individual characteristics of the persons shown were only rarely reproduced in the sculpture. Overall, the visual arts in Ancient Egypt had developed stylistically largely independent of influences from other cultures. Its style, as we know it today, had already developed around 3000 BC and - if one considers the long period of time - remained surprisingly constant.