Egyptian Art

The kind of art found in ancient Egypt in a given period depended on the religion and the personal preferences of the Pharaoh. This is apparent from the marked differences found in various reigns. The palette of Narmer is one of the earliest historical records found in Egypt and it is thought to date in the end of the pre-dynastic period. King Narmer is thought to have reigned in the period 3150 BCE. The Palette contains one of the earliest hieroglyphic inscriptions ever found and is thought to symbolize the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt into the “Kingdom of two Lands” (Heritage Key, 2009). This can be inferred from the fact that the king is depicted wearing the crown of upper Egypt on one side and the crown of lower Egypt on the other side. The palette of Narmer is thought to have been used for grinding cosmetics and its size suggests it was used in temples where statues could be decorated using the cosmetics ground on it.

Akhenaten and his family are depicted on a limestone stella depicting the king and his family before the sun-disc god, Aten. The king was a philosopher and a thinker and during his reign, religion and art in Egypt changed significantly. He reigned in the period between 1352 and 1336 BCE. Initially, the king had been called Amenhotep IV but he changed his name to Akhenaten in the fifth year of his reign. The king moved his capital into el-Armana and the art produced during this period is called Armana art (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009). During his reign, major religious as well as artistic changes took place in Egypt and brought about the worship of Aten to the exclusion of all other gods. This is thought to have been a response to the increasing power of the priesthood (Egyptology, 2009).

The palette of Narmer who was also called King Catfish and he was a warrior king and is depicted in a victorious stance over a prisoner whose name may be Wash. The pallet contains hieroglyphs depicting a chisel and a catfish which stand for the name Narmer. The stance of the king is similar to that of Mesopotamian royalty which shows its influence over ancient Egypt. He is depicted alone which indicates that his victory was achieved alone and a figure which might portray a servant, is seen carrying the sandals of the king. The king is barefoot which might show the strong link that the king has with his land. Horus, the falcon god, is depicted holding onto a prisoner while two men, probably the king’s enemies, run away from the king. On the other side of the palette, Narmer is depicted as king of Lower Egypt in a parade. The side also contains beheaded corpses who could be the king’s detractors. Two Chimaeras which could stand for Upper and Lower Egypt are depicted and a bull is seen trampling on a man. The bull could represent the king being victorious over enemies (Egyptology, 2009;, 2003).

The stella depicting King Akhenaten and his family is markedly different from that of King Narmer. The king is depicted adoring or offering to the sun god Aten with his family. Aten reaches downwards with rays becoming hands that hold the symbol of life. During his reign, the style for depicting the king and his family changed dramatically. The royal family was depicted naturalistically which was a deviation from the formal style used by previous kings. The depiction of the king is particularly peculiar in that he had slender limbs, wide hips, and protruding belly (Egyptology, 2009). The king is thought to have had Marfan’s Syndrome which could have caused the symptoms in the depictions but this remains speculative. The presence of the queen could signify her increased power in the kingdom (, 2003).

The two sculpted stones from the different eras show the differences in the priorities of the two kings with Narmer preoccupied with war while Akhenaten is occupied with religion. King Narmer was more interested in bringing and keeping Lower and Upper Egypt together while Akhenaten was interested in introducing and keeping Aten’s cult alive. Therefore, art in Egypt had a function in publicizing the king’s concerns as well as reflecting his personal preferences and style of rule.


Egyptology (2009). Amenhotep IV (throne name Nefer-kheperue-re) becomes Akhenaten, the famous “heretic” pharaoh. Retrieved 17th  September 2009 from,

Heritage Key (2009). Palette of King Narmer. Retrieved 17th  September 2009 from, (2003). The Narmer Palette: The victorious king of the south

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009). Head of a Princess, New Kingdom, late Dynasty 18, reign of Amenhotep IV. Retrieved 17th  September 2009 from,





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