Ancient Egypt comparison

Ancient Egypt is undoubtedly one of the most successful and long-lasting civilizations in human history.   For over 3,000 years, Egyptians flourished on the banks of the Nile River, and as a result scholars and enthusiasts today are able to enjoy countless ruins, art works, and artifacts from their civilization.  One such artifact is the Narmer Palette, a tremendously important Egyptian artifact from the civilization’s pre-dynasty.   By viewing and analyzing the Narmer Palette and the artistic characteristics of the period, one can offer a tentative classification of other Egyptian artifacts, such as this assignment’s Image A.  Based on its similarities to the Narmer Palette, I would surmise that Image A is from the Predynastic Period of Egyptian art.

Fred S - Ancient Egypt comparison introduction. Kleiner, the author of Gardner’s Art Through the Ages: The Western Perspective, explains that the Predynastic period was the period in Egyptian history before the establishment of the first dynasty in c. 2920 BCE under the pharaoh known by scholars as Menes (42).  Prior to this period, Egypt was divided into at least two distinct states, known as the Upper Kingdom and the Lower Kingdom.  Before Menes’s dynasty was established, the two kingdoms were unified into one, which is depicted on the Narmer Palette.  The palette is thought to depict the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under Narmer as one event, even though the actual unification was probably a series of events over a number of centuries (41-42).  According to Kleiner, the Narmer Palette is “one of the earliest historical (versus prehistorical) artworks preserved” (41).   The Narmer Palette is also important because it establishes conventions for Egyptian art that would be followed for the next 3,000 years.  Image A conforms to these conventions, and also shares other similarities with the Narmer Palette.

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Although the Narmer Palette is obviously stone and Image A seems to be worked into gold or a metal alloy, both pieces are carved in relief, which is seen often in ancient Egypt.  Also, both images show the use of registers and the depiction of animals.  Although the registers and various animal figures are obvious on the Narmer Palette, the register in Image A seems to be cut off.  However, close examination of the image reveals that there was likely a register circling the outside of the central figures.  Around that register, right on the edges of the image, small feet likely belonging to animals are visible.  Like the Narmer Palette, this register acts as both an organizing tool for separating the scenes of the image and a ground line for the animals circling the central figures (Kleiner 42).

A more obvious similarity between the Narmer Palette and Image A is their use of the typical Egyptian rendering of human figures.  In this rendering, human beings are depicted as a composite of profile views of the head and limbs and frontal views of the eye and torso. This style of human depiction was standardized by the Narmer Palette and became conventional of ancient Egyptian art thereafter (Kleiner 42).  An artwork that features this type of composite human figure, such as Image A, can usually be classified as either Egyptian or possibly Mesopotamian in origin, but further analysis of Image A reveals that it has much more in common with ancient Egyptian art, particularly that of the pre-dynasty like the Narmer Palette.

Not only are the Narmer Palette and Image A similar in style, but they are also similar in content.  Both prominently feature the figure of a pharaoh smiting his enemy (Kleiner 42). The pharaoh in both works is depicted with the same distinct posture.  He looms over his kneeling enemy, holding the enemy by the hair with his left hand and raising a weapon above his head in his right.  In preparation to strike, both figures hold what looks to be a type of baton with a long handle or stem and a rounded head.  Both figures are flanked by an official and framed by figures of Egyptian deities. On the palette, the figure of Narmer is watched over by either the goddess Hathor or the sky deity Bat in the very top register (represented by two heads of a cow with a woman’s face).  To his front, a falcon hovers in the sky, the animal representation of the god Horus.  Similarly, in Image A, the central pharaoh figure is watched over by a winged-sun, possibly associated with the Egyptian sun god Re (Shafer 35).  There is also a hovering Horus in falcon form to his front.  These obvious similarities in content between Image A and the predynastic Narmer Palette, along with the distinct stylistic features, suggest that Image A originates from the Predynastic period.

Ancient Egyptian art is rich and dynamic, spanning over 3,000 years of the civilization’s history.  However, the art of Egypt began with the works of the pre-dynasty, such as the Narmer Palette and, according to my observations, Image A.  These works share a similar style, including their use of relief carving, registers, animal figures, and the distinct composite human figure typical of Egyptian art.  They also share similar content: the image of a pharaoh, accompanied by an official and surrounded by gods, smiting his enemy.  Thus, based on these similarities, it is probable that Image A, like the Narmer Palette, can be classified in the Predynastic period of Egyptian art.

Works Cited

Kleiner, Fred S.  Gardner’s Art Through the Ages: The Western Perspective.  [City of

Publication]: [Publisher], [Year of Publication].

Shafer, Byron E.  Religion in Ancient Egypt: Gods, Myths, and Personal Practice.  Ithaca:

Cornell UP, 1991.

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