The most ancient Egyptian artistic manifestations date back to the beginning of the prehistoric period. The paintings with which the vases or the walls of the tombs are decorated, the statuettes of men and animals worked in stone and bone, despite their simplicity, show an uncommon skill. At the dawn of history, the clubs and paint tablets, carved in relief with scenes of hunts, battles and triumphs, placed in temples (such as those in Hieraconpolis) show the most eminent characteristics of future Egyptian art. In the five hundred years of the I and II dynasty we can follow, both in the statuary and in the relief, how the artist is becoming master of the often treacherous material that he is forced to work with, how he gradually frees himself from certain conventionalisms and awkwardness. and become an absolute master in expression of physiognomy. The statue of pharaoh Ṣôśer from Saqqārah, with his rather brutal hairy face, is a conspicuous example of the progress made at that time. From Ṣôser to Śenfôre there are about sixty years and an unparalleled perfection has reached the statuary with the group of Rahótpe and Nófre (from the Cairo museum) which already thrills with life. Throughout the fourth and fifth dynasty Egyptian artists created many and such masterpieces, the statues of Chefren, those of Menkaure, the two of Ranófer, the so-called Sheikh el-balad, the scribe of the Louvre and that of Cairo, the dwarf Gnemhótpe, the other dignified Sôneb with his beautiful wife, the hunchback and many more, scattered in the museums, not to fear comparisons with any other lucky period. Very effective in their naturalism and full of dignity, as was customary for funeral portraits, they are imbued with individualism. The polychromy and enamel eyes enliven the face even more. The relief, already introduced at the end of the III dynasty to adorn the tomb chambers, reaches absolute perfection in the mastaba of Sej (Ti). Along walls and walls, lively skits, often with facetious and slightly ironic ideas, portray the zealous effort of the servants in sowing fields, harvesting, hunting and fishing, raising cattle, milking cows, in all the most common manifestations of life. They are of delicate modeling, almost imperceptible breath, soft and mellow in the shapes, elegant and agile in the pure design. We could consider them as many genre pictures. Delicious that of the shepherd who moves to dissolve the calf in tethers near a shrub. The tenuous line of the small jumping animal invoking help, the sweetly mocking expression of the shepherd, reveal in the artist an acute sense of observation combined with a skilful technique. During the Middle Kingdom, for what little has remained so far, the statue and the bas-relief cannot compete with those of the ancient; but there is no shortage of beautiful works. In detail they are very elaborate, but generally less lively, posed to extreme gravity, almost to concern. The nervous and lean style prevails, with protruding knobs and a sharp profile. Certain paintings seem to have lost their modeling geometry, but they do not lack the vigor to express themselves vividly. Several portraits of Amenemhê’e III, some statuettes of private individuals, the naively realistic reliefs of Meir, Benī Ḥasan’s cat, the princesses of el-Bershā impose themselves on the scholar. In the flourishing of the empire, rich and powerful, even art has marked a new page. In the XVIII dynasty the crescendo is continuous. They are well-modeled figures, provided with delicate musculature if men, rounded flesh if women, covered with clothes that suggest limbs and movements. Even the bas-reliefs are enriched with new themes for the heroic deeds of the pharaohs and the extensive relations with foreign countries. In all of them there is a resounding throb of life. The statue of Thutmóśe III in Cairo, a masterpiece of this period, a little idealized, more than the hero gives us the sweet young king still in the care of Queen Hatšepsówe. Stronger in the modeling is the statue of the same king which is preserved in Turin. The admirable series of often polychrome reliefs begins with the very fine decoration of the temple of Deir el-Baḥrī. The tombs of Sheikh ‛Abd el-Qurnah, especially those of Ḫaemhê’e, Náhte, Menéne, Ramôse, the temples of Luxor and el-Karnak offer priceless artistic treasures. The religious reform of Amenḥq̂tpe IV aroused a world of fresh energies, eager for freedom and to imprison the fire of life in their works. Realism has reached its peak there, perhaps it has become a bit exaggerated. However, art has given us such masterpieces in those twenty years that we are willing to forgive everything. The admirable painted head of Queen Nefrtête of the Berlin museum, the delicate virginal torso of a girl from University College London are the most conspicuous that Egyptian art has produced. Up to Sethosis I the statuary and the relief slowly receded. The sculptures of the temple of Abydos, while delicate, are already lacking in life. The statue of Rameśśêśe II in Turin, modeled with graceful truth, noble and sweet in expression, is still a masterful work. But the decline is accentuated, we end up losing again the sense of proportion and design. With the Saiti also art has a renaissance. Much is copied from the ancient, but the head of the Berlin priest, deeply delineated and full of personality, shows that something new could also be done. With the Ptolemies, indigenous art was replaced by the Greek one; the statues and sculptures that continue the national tradition expire more and more and, in Roman times, the horrors of barbarism are reduced.
There are only scant remains of the Egyptian private house. In its essential elements it appears the same even in the palaces of the great and sovereigns. But of course the proportions increase, the ornamentation is multiplied. Thus in sarcophagi of the ancient kingdom, reproducing these buildings, we note that instead of the usual smooth façade there is a lively one with pilasters and rich in ornaments. The royal palaces of Tell el-‛Amārnah (18th dynasty) and Medīnet Habu (20th) abound in decorations. Vibrant colors of paintings and enamels hid the nakedness of the woods and bricks; even the floor was embellished with paintings.
Several fortresses have been preserved, both in Egypt (in el-Kāb, el-Aḥāywah, Illāhūn) and in Nubia (in Wādī Ḥalfā, Kūbān, Kuri); also some royal palaces, such as those of Abido, Medīnet Habu, Kōm el-Aḥmar, ventilate to them. The walls were thick, the facade grooved, the doors narrow, crowned with battlements. Warehouses such as those of the Ramesseo give us an idea of those used by the state administration to store the goods obtained from taxation.
There are numerous examples of temples that exist throughout the country, but mainly belong to the empire and to subsequent ages. Some traces of the period preceding history persist in archaic drawings: they were huts of various shapes, where the god lived, preceded by a limited area with poles. Nothing from the ancient kingdom has survived; we can get a clear concept of only one particular type, the solar temple of Newserrîe at Abū Gurāb, which perhaps imitated the heliopolitan. The sanctuary is located on the east-west axis, at the top. The fetish of the sun, which resembles a squat obelisk 32 meters high above a bench also 32 meters high, is found at the bottom of a rectangular courtyard preceded by the altar. A sloping and covered corridor connects it to an entrance, located in the valley. NS’ it was embellished with reliefs in honor of the sun. The solar boats, the diurnal and the nocturnal boats were reproduced nearby.
The traces of those of the Middle Kingdom are so few that we can say nothing about them. A new element seems to be the obelisk, erected on the sides of the door. Instead for the empire, especially the region of Thebes and its surroundings abound in numerous sumptuous buildings, which allow a detailed study. In fact there are not even two of which one is a copy of the other; however, they can be reduced to certain schemes. A small type, which was very popular in the XVIII dynasty, is the so-called periptero, which yields nothing for elegance to its Greek companion. The sanctuary rested on a base garnished with a parapet, on which light pillars supported the roof. One door opened to the west and another to the east, faced by two columns; a narrow flight of steps on this side led to contact with the portico and the cell. A second type, with more or less large variations, is the pylon temple. The façade is made up of two large towers with inclined planes, between which the door opens. Two obelisks and large poles on which flags float decorate their walls. You then entered the courtyard, flanked on the right and left by arcades, in the middle of which the altar rose. We then entered the pronaos, whose colonnade was barred to preserve the sanctuary. Followed by the hypostyle hall, which embraced the width of the building and sometimes had the highest central nave to take in a fair amount of light. At the bottom was the sanctuary where the sacred image was kept, usually enclosed in the processional boat; around, small rooms were used for temple utensils or for the needs of worship. Quite different is the temple that Queen Hatšepsówe erected in Ammon on the gigantic backdrop of the northern valley of Deir el-Baḥrī. There are three terraces, decreasing in level and width, joined by two gentle ramps. Porticos supported by columns and pillars closed it to the west. On the upper terrace was the hypostyle hall that preceded the cell of the divinity. Part of the halls of worship are cut into the rock. An avenue of sphinxes led to the pylon, now destroyed. The cave temples, sunk into the mountain were preferred in the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasty. They are not unlike those outdoors, except for some special variations due to the environment.