Robin Urton: dimensional paintings on glass


Art of Egypt

Before the great dynasties of Egypt, there was a predynastic period when there were two separate kingdoms in Upper and Lower Egypt. King Narmer was the first to unify Egypt into one empire.

The Palette of King Narmer
3100 B.C.E.

The "palette" above shows the ancient king weilding a club while he grabs the hair of one of his enemies. On the opposite side is another relief carving depicting two animals with entwined necks, probably symbolizing the unification of the north and south.

Egypt's geographical location - surrounded by oceans to the north and east, and vast desert to the west and south - protected her from invaders, allowing over 2500 years of self-rule. They enjoyed an extremely stable government, and their art changed very little throughout the succession of empires. The Nile flooded each year, keeping the river valley fertile. It was used to transport supplies and building materials to the pyramids.


Zoser (Djoser) was the second king of the 3rd Dynasty. His was the first Egyptian tomb to be built of stone, instead of mud bricks (which were also used to build later Middle Kingdom Pyramids). The stones that are used are different from the huge stones used in the pyramids at Giza, in that they are small in size.

In addition to the stepped pyramid, he built a vast complex containing temples and smaller tombs, surrounded by a great wall. The name of his architect, Imhotep, is legendary. He was later worshipped as a god for the remarkable craftsmanship in the complex.

Stepped Pyramid of King Zoser
(2667 - 2648 BC)

The Great Pyramids of Giza
2570-2500 B.C.E.

It is no wonder that when we think of the Egyptians, the Great Pyramids are often the first images to come to mind. Their creation has awed and puzzled mankind for centuries. They were created during the Old Kingdom by three successive rulers: Khufu, Chefron, and Mycerinus. Each were tombs for the departing kings, whose burial chambers lay deep within the massive stones. Each were filled with the country's greatest riches: art created from precious metals and gems, servants whos honor was to serve them in the next life, and even buried ships to carry them into the next world. 

Giza's pyramids are oriented to face the four cardinal directions: true north, south, east, and west. Their entrances are all on the north side, and the temples of the pyramids are on the east side.



The Great Pyramid of Cheops (Khufu) 2589 - 2566 BCE

King Khufu, who is also known by the Greek name "Cheops," ruled from 2551 - 2528 B.C.E. His pyramid contains over 2,300,000 blocks of stone with an average weight of 2.5 tons each. The total weight would have been 6,000,000 tons and a height of 482 feet (equivalent to a 50-story modern building).

Chefren's Pyramid (Khafre)

Khafre, who was the son of Khufu, was also known as Chephren. He ruled from 2520 - 2494 B.C. and is responsible for the second largest pyramid complex at Giza. The Chephren pyramid originally was 10 feet shorter and 48 feet more narrow at the base. The estimated weight of all the stones in the pyramid is 4,880,000 tons.The most distinctive feature of Khafre's Pyramid is the topmost layer of smooth stones that are the only remaining casing stones on a Giza Pyramid. The precious white limestone was pulled off by later Egyptians for the construction of more modern buildings in Cairo.

Mycerinus (Menkaure in Egyptian) ruled from 2490 - 2472 B.C. His pyramid is the smallest of the three at Giza, and the only one which does not have a ship buried at its base. Next to it are the smaller pyramids of three Queens.


 The Pyramid Builders 

How the Great Pyramids were built is a question that may never be answered. Many Egyptologists agree the stones were hauled up ramps using ropes of papyrus twine. The gradually sloping ramps, built out of mud, stone, and wood were used as transportation causeways for moving the large stones to their positions up and around the four sides of the pyramids. Herodotus (the Greek historian) said that it would have taken 30 years and 100,000 slaves to have built the Cheops pyramid alone. Modern scholars suggest a more modest number of 20,000 workers. They probably had crews who labored on the pyramids year round, in shifts of several months. During the late summer and early autumn months, when the Nile had its annual flooding, a larger labor force would be employed. Most of the work force were probably willing citizens, working for ample rations, and for their own security into the afterlife.


The Great Sphinx

The Great Sphinx is to the northeast of Chephren's Valley Temple and connected to his pyramid by a causeway. It was given the face of the Pharoah and the body of a lion. Facing the rising sun, he is believed to be Chefron's guardian spirit for his entire burial complex. The body is 200 feet in length and 65 feet tall. The face on its own is 13 feet wide and its eyes are 6 feet high. Carved from the natural limestone of Giza, the figure was buried for most of its life in the sand. It was later unearthed by a new kingdom ruler,Thutmose IV (1425 - 1417 BC), and its soft stone has been disintegrating ever since.


King Mycerinus and His Queen
2548-2530 B.C.E.

 Royal Portraiture


Royalty are always portrayed in sculpture with the left foot striding forward to signify their status as divine mortals. It is likely that their portraits were highly idealized and not true likenesses of their subjects. Proportions of nearly all of the statues are identical. Most of these figures originally resided in their temples, where offerings were regularly given, even to the long-deceased.

The longevity of the excellent condition of many of the statues can be contributed to their solid design. Notice that the figures are attached to a solid platform, and that the spaces between their limbs are filled. This gives the statues a very formal and enduring quality.


The best preserved of Egyptian murals exist in the galleries leading to the tombs within the pyramids. The paintings and their accompanying heiroglyphics tell stories about the king's life and of his transition into the afterlife. A constant feature of Egyptian painting style is the twisted perspective of figures (with head torso and legs depicted in profile, and eyes and shoulders depicted frontally). Notice also the hierarchal scale within the painting at the left, which pictures the king in enlarged scale, and his servant at a much smaller scale, according to their relative importance. The painting at right depicts the mummification of the king, which is attended by Anubis, the god of the underworld.


The Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone can be thought of as the "key" to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. Before Napoleon's conquer of Egypt (succeeding the Persians and Romans), the meaning of the ancient text had been entirely lost. Discovered in 1799 near the lower Egyptian town of Rosetta, it is a slab of black basalt dating from 196 BC. It was inscribed by the ancient Egyptians with a royal decree praising their king Ptolemy V. The inscription is written three times, once in hieroglyphic, once in demotic(Egyptian alphabetic language), and once in Greek.

The stone now resides in the British Museum in London. Thomas Young, a British physicist, and Jean Francois Champollion, a French Egyptologist, collaborated to decipher the hieroglyphic and demotic texts by comparing them with the known Greek text. Egyptologists eventually managed to read most everything that remains of the Egyptians' ancient writings.



1345 B.C.E.

The Rebel King:

Akhenaten was the one and only Egyptian king to establish monotheism (the worship of one god). He was crowned Amenhotep IV, but later changed his name to Akhenaten ('glory of the Aten'). He closed the temples of all other gods, even deleting the plural 'gods' from the language.   Akhenaten then relocated the capital from Thebes to Akhet-Aten, where palaces and buildings worshipping the one god, "Aten" were built.  During his reign, artistic styles altered from the earlier ideal, now called the "Armana style", which was more naturalistic. It is obvious in his portraits that the king had some physical deformities (researchers suggest he may have had a congenital disease called Marfan's Syndrome).

One of Akhenaten's downfalls was that he neglected foreign policy, allowing Egypt's captured territories to be taken back. He ruled for eighteen years - and with his death, the empire returned to its preferred worship of many gods. The new city was abandoned, and the story of Akhenaten and his name itself was erased from Egyptian history. He was thereafter referred to as 'that heretic' or 'rebel' if necessary.




 Queen Nefertiti

Her name literally means "the beautiful one comes", and if her portrait was a true likeness, then she fit the description. She was a devoted wife to Akhenaten, and together they had six daughters. During his early reign, Nefertiti was his constant companion, and images portraying family scenes show them to be a loving couple. For unknown reasons late in his reign, Akhenaten and Nefertiti had a falling out. It is possible that they disagreed on politics or religion, or perhaps the breakup was due to Akhenaten's desire to have a male heir. They had the equivelent of an ancient divorce, and she was banished to the North Palace in Aketaten. Also living with her was her daughter Ankhesenpaaten, and a young prince named Tutankhaten.




The Boy King: Tutankhamen
1361 to 1352

See Treasures From Tut's Tomb

The most famous of all Egyptian kings had one of the least influential and shortest reigns of power. He was only eight or nine years old at his succession, when he married the third daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. It is likely that his reign was actually governed by the senior officials, who re-opened the temples, returned to polytheistic practices, and again established Thebes as the capital. Tutankhamen died at the age of 19 by a head injury. It is likely that he was assassinated, but we do not know for sure. There is some suspicion that his successor, Ay (who married his widow) may have had a hand in it. He was buried in the Valley of the Kings. Two mummified fetuses were found in coffins that had been sealed by his name. These are believed to have been his children that were born prematurely.

Despite all of this interesting speculation, Tutankhamen is famous primarily for what has been found in his tomb. His was the first tomb to be found during the 20th century, and the only one which had not been subsequently robbed. Its discovery in 1922 made the British archaeologist Howard Carter famous. The tomb contained great treasures, including a gold mask and jewelry, beautifully carved furniture, and other artifacts.

Next: Ancient Greece