An Exploration of Ancient Egyptian Patterns & Art Meaning

Ancient Egyptian art and patterns might seem antiquated, but they remain one of the most admired and striking types of art known to man. Despite being produced around the 31st century BC through the 4th century AD, this kind of artwork has yet to be successfully replicated.

These ancient art forms are so popular and valuable because they weren’t produced for the same reasons art is produced today. This type of art was intended to sell and tell a story. A lot of it was produced as a show of appreciation to the gods or a specific deity, while some of it was designed to give cautionary tales to those who knew how to interpret them.

Let’s take a quick look at Egyptian patterns and Egyptian art, as well as what they stood for and how they relate to the world today.

ancient Egypt symbols

What Was the Importance of Egyptian Art to the Ancient Egyptians?

The first and most important distinction between ancient Egyptian art and most other art forms worldwide is that Egyptian art was purposefully geared and designed to be more functional than aesthetic. The artists who created this art intended it to be practical.

Another factor is that there was very little outside influence on Egyptian art. This allowed the art form and the pieces to last nearly 3000 years.

Unlike most of what we have today, Egyptian artwork was created by extremely talented yet anonymous artists. In fact, very little is known about the people who gave the world such excellent Egyptian pieces even today.

We are certain that these artists were experts at what they did. The techniques they used greatly influenced Roman and Greek artists, whose works were greatly impacted by Egyptian sculptures, drawings, paintings, architectural structures, and jewelry.

Granted, most modern-day Egyptian artists are known by name. However, it’s the artwork produced centuries ago by anonymous yet highly skilled artists that still captivate audiences to date. This anonymity has created an element of curiosity that intrigues even the most astute of art connoisseurs.

While there are a lot of Egyptian museums that carry ancient Egyptian artwork and patterns today, it’s believed that the people who created these art pieces—the anonymous Egyptian artists—would find it difficult to understand why these paintings are being exhibited without context. This kind of art was originally designed to adorn tombs, like the thousands of tomb paintings that are still being excavated today.

Instead of being found in places like the Metropolitan Museum or the British Museum, they were most likely discovered in the homes of wealthy ancient Egyptians who could commission such works or tombs.

The Functionality of Egyptian Art

Another distinct feature of ancient Egyptian art is its extreme level of elegance. With time, the paintings and the inscriptions in the tombs, temples, and sculptures became stylized and symbolic.

This further emphasizes the fact that most of the ancient Egyptian arts served a specific practical purpose. For example, tomb art often represents highlighted scenes from the deceased’s lifetime. This was intended to give their spirit information about the individual’s past life so that it could recall it.

Because of this fact, a great deal of Egyptian history and undertakings have come to light thanks to the excavation of these tombs and the artwork that adorns them.

Unfortunately, since only the upper class or elite could afford to commission such artworks, most of what we understand of ancient Egypt today is from their lifestyle and not that of the lower classes.

However, only by deeply understanding these pieces and the kinds of stories they tell do we get to understand how the lower classes might have lived, as well as the complexity of ancient Egyptian society and the relationship between upper Egypt and lower Egypt.

The Use of Egyptian Hieroglyphs and Text on Images

What’s even more unique about Egyptian culture and the art it produced was the use of hieroglyphics or texts as part of it. Throughout Egyptian art history, you will find that nearly every image comes with some Egyptian hieroglyphic attachment. This is most commonly seen in relief paintings and statues.

For example, on most Egyptian statues, explanatory text was found at the base or the back of the pillar. On the other hand, relief carvings had longer hieroglyphic captions that would explain or complete the story being told.

These hieroglyphs were often considered artworks in and of themselves. Typically, they represented phonetic sounds, but some were logographic in nature and symbolized actual concepts or objects.

Examples of Important Ancient Egyptian Symbols

Like most ancient cultures, the Egyptians were big on symbolism. Most of their paintings and artworks are symbolic in nature. To better understand them, it’s beneficial to understand some of the most common Egyptian symbols and what they mean in ancient Egyptian culture.

art on Egypt pyramids walls

Ankh – The Symbol for Life

The ankh was one of the most important symbols in ancient Egypt. The hieroglyphs associated with the ankh directly translate to “the key of life.” It’s assumed that the ankh stood for eternal life as it was commonly associated with spiritual rituals performed by ancient Egyptian priests and royalty.

This symbol is often seen in Egyptian paintings and tends to appear in association with burial ceremonies, as well as Osiris, an Egyptian god who believed in fertility even after death.

At some point, the ankh was even referred to as the “key to life” thanks to its direct connection with the god Osiris. This gave the ancient Egyptians the belief that they could return as incarnates.

Djed – Symbol for Pillar

The Djed symbol is common throughout Egypt, where one can find it prominently displayed near the great pyramids and temples. Djed directly translates to “backbone” and was used as a symbol for a pillar of strength and power.

The Djed symbol looks a lot like a human spine, which is flexible and strong enough to hold up the weight placed upon it. For a time, the Djed symbol was closely associated with regeneration and rebirth, as these qualities are closely related. However, many followers have shifted these beliefs over time towards more abstract concepts such as balance or peace.

Eye of Horus (Wadjet Eye) – Symbol for Protection

The Eye of Horus, or Wadjet Eye, is a complicated symbol. Closely related to the “Eye of Ra,” which is one of the most famous symbols from ancient Egypt, the Eye of Horus contains the eye of a falcon-headed god and is commonly used by ancient Egyptian priests to give the Pharaoh protection and keep them from harm as they lay in their tombs.

According to Egyptian mythology, the Eye of Horus is so named because Horus first used it as he used Isis to bring his father, Osiris, back from the dead after being struck down by Set.

As time passed, ancient Egyptians started scratching the Eye of Horus on various surfaces or wearing amulets that bore its likeness because they believed it would protect them from harm as they went about their day-to-day lives.

Eye of Ra – Symbol for Power and Protection

This ancient Egyptian symbol, the “Eye of Ra,” is one of the most famous across the globe. Ironically enough, its origins are rather shrouded in mystery. Some believers claim the “Eye of Ra” is actually the right eye of Horus.

Others claim that it represents a number of Egyptian goddesses, such as Wadjet, Bastet, Hathor, Mut, and Sekhmet. Either way, the “Eye of Ra” has always been associated with great power and protection, especially Ra’s protection.

The Egyptian Scarab – Symbol for Rebirth

The Egyptian scarab beetle was one of the most revered creatures in ancient Egypt. Amulets containing the scarab beetle were believed to hold great power and influence over the health and protection of the wearer.

Strangely enough, the scarab beetle also represented death. The Egyptians believed these beetles would help guide the souls of the dead to the afterlife and keep them safe from evil spirits that lurked along the way.

As far as rebirth is concerned, the scarab beetle symbolizes renewal and resilience. This symbolism mostly stemmed from the scarab beetle laying its eggs in dung, and from such humble beginnings, a fully grown beetle respected by the Egyptian people would emerge. That symbolized how anyone could turn their life around.

Undoubtedly, the Egyptian civilization was one of the most advanced of its time. Even today, we still don’t really know how they managed to build the great pyramids of Egypt.

However, like most advanced ancient civilizations, they had a lot of symbolism, and most of their written language was lost to time and in translation. The few Egyptian patterns and hieroglyphs we understand today give us a glimpse into what life must have been like in ancient Egypt.

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