was used in ancient Egypt from the Predynastic era through the Roman period. It enhanced almost every surface in Egyptian art: tomb and temple walls; mud-brick structures such as palaces, domestic shrines, and houses; sculpture and relief; coffins, sarcophagi, and cartonnage; cosmetic objects, furniture, leather, linen, ostraca, papyri, pottery and tomb models. Painting added detail to carved, sculpted, and molded images and in the case of flat surfaces, created the form and design itself. The color of paint identified, and codified with its symbolic value, information about the image. Specific styles, techniques, representational types, and ateliers are revealed in painted images and scenes, which were crafted in response to the political, social, and religious demands of their time. Any discussion of painting must of course be limited, given the wide range of surfaces that carried painted decoration in ancient Egypt. For our purposes, a general study of painting will be followed by a chronological survey of flat painting with figural decoration, focusing on the largest category of painting, that on tomb walls.

Typology and Techniques.

The Egyptian palette was composed of white (ḥḏ), black (km), red (dšr), blue (ḫsbḏ), green (wʒḏ), and yellow (nwb or ḳnἰt). A number of other colors were formed by mixing the above colors to form blue-red (ṯms), turquoise-green (mfkʒt), yellow-orange-red (kṯ), gray (dḥt?), gray-blue, brown, and pink, among others. In the Old Kingdom, the basic palette consisted of black, white, red, green, yellow, blue, and gray. By the Middle Kingdom, red tones were expanded to form brown and pink; and later in the New Kingdom, additional shades of blue, yellow, and red were added. This palette continued through the remainder of Egyptian painting, becoming more pastel in the Ptolemaic and Roman periods.

In painting, color had a symbolic and classificatory meaning to the ancient Egyptians. Black, the color of the fertile earth, symbolized fertility, renewal, and the underworld. Red symbolized fire, blood, the desert, and chaos; it was the skin color of the male figure in art. Yellow was a solar color connoting the sun, the flesh and bones of the gods; it was the skin tone of the female figure in art. White implied purity; green, growth, vigor, and resurrection. Blue, associated with water and the heavens, was frequently found in the bodies, beards, and wigs of deities; in the post-Amarna period it became associated with the skin color of Amun-re.

The colors came from naturally occurring substances. White came from calcium carbonate (whiting) or calcium sulphate (gypsum). Huntite white was first employed during the Middle Kingdom and became more common in the New Kingdom, when it was used as a contrast to whitewash or as a base to bring out the luminosity of the overlaid pigments. Black was carbon from charcoal or deposited soot. Ochers, ranging from yellow to red to dark brown, originated from naturally occurring iron oxides. Beginning in the Middle Kingdom, yellow was also obtained from orpiment, which appeared as bright yellow. A lighter yellow was derived from jarosite. Realgar red was used in the New Kingdom and appeared as a bright orange-red. Introduced in the fifth dynasty, the color blue was composed originally of azurite (copper carbonate) from the Sinai and Eastern Desert; later it was manufactured from a frit compound of heated quartz, lime, and alkalis (natron or plant ash), ground malachite, and calcium carbonate. Green was made of naturally occurring powdered malachite or a mixture of malachite and calcium carbonate. Sometimes ocher yellow was mixed with a blue frit to produce green. Varnish (tree resin or bees-wax) was also added or applied to color. Varnish, first used in the Predynastic period in tomb painting; was also applied on vessels, coffins, minor art objects, and statuary eyes.

To make those minerals and compounds suitable for application, they were first ground into a powder. Natural gum, derived from indigenous trees such as the acacia or from glue, was combined with the colored particles. The pigment was then applied with a brush to stone, wood, plaster, linen, papyrus, leather, clay, or a wall prepared with gypsum plaster, which had been allowed to dry before receiving paint, in a technique known as tempera. In some cases, rapid execution or heavily trodden areas necessitated applying paint to a wet plaster surface, as can be seen on some of the royal palace floors at Tell el-Amarna during the reign of Amenhotpe IV in the eighteenth dynasty. In the case of tomb walls of poor-quality stone, the wall received a mixture of Nile mud and hacked straw, sometimes reinforced with limestone chips, to create a level surface, which was finished with several layers of gypsum plaster and smoothed before painting. Walls of good stone were dressed, patched with gypsum plaster, smoothed, and coated with a thin plaster wash. Walls in mud-brick buildings, such as palaces and houses, were plastered before they received painted decoration. To produce the so-called Faiyum portraits, encaustic was utilized; pigment was mixed with wax that was gently heated for easy application, and the mixture was applied to primed wood with the help of a palette knife (cestrum) or a brush. Brushes from all periods were made from a common Egyptian rush (Juncus maritimus), palm ribs, or wood, which were cut, bruised into bristles, and bound together with a string. The thickness of the brush determined the thickness of the line. From the third century BCE on, the marsh reed Phragmites communis was used as a type of quill pen.

In wall compositions, scenes and figures were often constructed with the help of a system of guide lines. First the boundaries of the wall and the register lines were marked by a string dipped in red paint, which artisans stretched across the wall and snapped at intervals. Within this, a system of lines was drawn to aid the artist in building figures and scenes. Sometimes the draftsman drew forms freehand without the help of guide lines: After the sketch was correctly drawn, background wash was applied of white, gray; pale blue-gray or yellow around the figures and objects; individual colors were then painted in, and the forms were outlined again with the details delineated with a fine brush. Rows and columns were also drawn and the hieroglyphs painted in; when required, a final background wash was applied. Procedural exceptions exist—for example, in the Hall of Barks in the Temple of Sethy I at Abydos, where the background wash was applied last. Where the image was to be carved, the corrected sketch was chiseled into sunk or raised relief and then painted. Lighting for painters working in dimly lit areas was provided by lamps filled with oil and floating wicks that produced minimal smoke.

In sculpture, relief, and the minor arts, color enhanced the surface and indicated detail. In the case of soft stone and wood sculpture and objects, a layer of plaster was applied and then painted; sometimes color was painted directly on wood or hard stone. Raised and sunk relief often received plaster to even out defects in the stone before color was brushed on. Linen funerary and votive cloths were plastered and painted. Cartonnage, or alternating layers of shaped linen and plaster, was decorated with colorful vignettes. Funerary papyri made of strips of pressed papyrus reed laid in transverse layers were painted with scenes and texts, and then rolled to form “books” like the Book of Going Forth by Day (Book of the Dead). On Predynastic vessels, designs were painted in monochrome using a yellow-white calcareous clay slip (White Cross-lined Ware) or a red to purple-brown ocher (Decorated Ware). In the New Kingdom, polychrome decoration appeared on pots, executed with mineral pigments such as ochers, frits, calcium, soot, and cobalt blue. Egyptian faience, the heated mixture of quartz sand with lime and alkalis (natron or plant ash) covered with a glaze, had details added in black or brown slurry (glazing powder) or paint. Bone and ivory contained designs incised and filled with color.

Paint was applied in washes of solid colors placed side by side, which sometimes ran into one another, creating gradations of color. The deliberate use of shading and shadowing was infrequent. The Egyptian word “variegated” (sʒb) described the use of color to indicate textures such as fur, feathers, or scales. Color was also manipulated to create an illusion of depth in compositions with overlapping figures and objects, where near and far figures were rendered in alternating tones.

Political, Religious, and Social Aspects.

Beginning in the Early Dynastic era, specific royal iconography was developed to express the tenets of kingship and the strength of the state. Scenes of the king interacting with the gods and maintaining the order of the universe in painted temples and palaces displayed royal power to the people. The elite, who were legitimized by and governed for the king, showed their privileged position through the content and the quality of the decoration in their tombs and funerary equipment. The owner's titles, name, and chosen subject matter established his or her identity and status, and the style of painting revealed access to royal workshops and artists. The content and quality of the painted images of royalty and the elite proclaimed to the governed in visual terms the stability of the state, various ideologies, and the order of the universe. Painted scenes expressed the relationship between the living and the world of the gods and the dead. In temples, the beauty of the decoration would persuade the gods to reside there so that they would maintain the established order of the universe and continue the existence of the world. Scenes and commentaries in royal tombs identified the dead king with the sun god and his perpetual regeneration. Nonroyal tomb-chapels were places of assembly for family members and other visitors.

Certain representations occurred in specific contexts. Gods' temples were decorated with scenes such as the king performing ritual acts before the gods, or deities embracing and giving gifts to the ruler. Decoration was organized into lower, middle, and upper horizontally stacked bands corresponding to subjects of terrestrial, divine, and celestial nature, respectively. Palace floors at the eighteenth dynasty royal cities of Tell el-Amarna and Malqata were painted with pools of water teeming with fish, rimmed with plants and animals; ceilings were decorated with birds flying overhead. Palace throne daises and floors found at Tell el-Amarna, Kom al-Samak (Malqata), and the nineteenth dynasty palace of Merenptah at Memphis were also decorated with images of bound prisoners over which the king, the preserver of order, would walk, symbolically subduing Egypt's foes. Scenes in royal funerary temples emphasized the king's offering cult and position in the cosmos and depicted events from his or her reign. Vignettes in the royal tombs were drawn from various “books” representing the solar cycle, the underworld, and the Book of Going Forth by Day, as well as showing the ruler in the presence of the gods.


Painting. Detail from a hunting scene, showing birds flying over a papyrus marsh. This wall painting is from the eighteenth dynasty private tomb of Menna at Thobes. (Courtsey Dieter Arnold).

Objects and monuments intended for private patrons contained representations of deities and depictions concerned with supplying the deceased with food, as well as information to ensure his or her safe passage and rebirth in the next world. Coffins, designed to protect the body and act as a home for the ka, were decorated with a false door, offerings, and offering scenes, and later with gods and funerary scenes. Funerary papyri and linen were painted with texts and vignettes from funerary “books.” Figures of protective deities like Bes embellished household altars and walls, and goddesses such as Hathor adorned votive linens. Stelae were decorated with figures of the deceased before offerings, the king or deities; these were placed either in the tomb to provide magically for the owner in the next life, or in temples where the patron would be linked with the gods and the temple rituals. Tomb chapels with scenes of offering and images derived from funerary books or the patron's life ensured that he or she would not only be supplied with food and safe passage to the beyond but also be remembered by the living who would celebrate the funerary cult.

Images known as “scenes of daily life” were painted on walls and objects, and reflect real events from the life of the owner as well as ideal, ritual concepts. Motifs in tombs, such as the dead banqueting with family and friends or inspecting the fields, were ideal images that operated magically, to guarantee their provisioning; they also may record situations that occurred in life. Scenes of the dead fishing and fowling, or the production and bringing of foodstuffs, were meant to function allegorically to supply them with sustenance in the hereafter. Daily life scenes also displayed the deceased's family and social position in life, thereby linking the dead eternally to their personal and professional roles and guaranteeing them continued life and high status in the hereafter.

A visual image and style was established for each king, and its essence was transferred to the painted figural representations of gods and men. The style of painting revealed the identifying features of the king, based on the artistic synthesis of his or her essential characteristics, idealized and expressed in proportions that were standardized for easy identification. Images of elite officials were done either in the likeness of their ruler, or sometimes in a more individual style. Painted portraits of nonroyal people occurred in isolated instances; these can be identified by their variance from stylistic and typological norms, or their individuality, as in the case of the later so-called Faiyum portraits. Where exceptions to the perfected human form existed in painting, they often represented standard characterizations of rank and culture, such as fatness, leanness, age, sensuality, or the uncultivated commoner or foreigner. An exceptional break from the ideal royal form occurred during the Amarna period, when the distorted image of Amenhotpe IV and his family as the objects of worship along with the Aten betrayed a new ideology of kingship that was codified in art. In some periods, kings modeled the style of their art on previous models to ally themselves with the political ideals of former times. An example is offered by Montuhotep I, who consciously copied the decorative programs of Old Kingdom pyramid complexes in the painted relief decoration in the anterior of his eleventh dynasty mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri. Presumably, painters themselves also drew from earlier models in order to perfect their art or satisfy their patrons.

During the Early Dynastic period, anonymous craftsmen and their products, previously created for the community, came under the patronage and control of the king and the state, who set the cultural norms, developed the canonical human form, and standardized artistic training. Painters worked in teams with other painters, sculptors, or craftsmen; they depended on their employers to supply them with commissions, materials, and the money or goods to pay for their work. Teams of workmen personalized images and texts for the patron within conventional scenes and motifs. Biographical texts, the use of details and themes specific to the patron, suggest that the client (or his successor or delegate) selected the program of decoration. Mass-produced coffins, papyri, and stelae had blanks left for the purchaser's name, which implies that the subject matter was crafted in advance, without a specific person in mind. In all painted works, the execution of the decoration was the artist's responsibility within the prescribed rules of figural portrayal, decorum, and placement of key elements (e.g., the false door) on the object or in the tomb. The artist's specific rendition of scenes, even with stock themes, attests to his individual contribution to the final painting.

In all periods, painted relief was the preferred method of decoration in temples and tombs because of its permanence and durability. Where painting and relief follow within the same monument, the more important, prominently placed scenes are executed in relief. In the case of limited time, money, or access to resources, sketches originally intended to be cut into relief were completed in painting, presumably so they could act as effective images and function ritually within the monument. Flat painting was used in contexts where the rock was inadequate for carving, and in mud-brick constructions like palaces, houses, and shrines that could not support carved relief. Painting tended to be preferred in nonroyal contexts; where royal and sacred monuments of stone carried flat painting, it often seems to have been a quick alternative to relief. Perhaps flat painting was preferred because of its low cost and because it could be rapidly achieved by a team of workmen. Painting also allowed a more spontaneous artistic conception of form that could be exploited more readily in nonsacred monuments.


Flat painting appeared early in the Predynastic period on pottery known as White Cross-lined Ware. From the Naqada I period to early Naqada II (4000–3400 BCE); designs were painted on the surface of the vessel with a fiber brush before firing. Images of the hunt, the flora and fauna of the Nile Valley, and geometric patterns embellish the exterior of these vessels, often with little consideration of their shape. The painted images on the succeeding Decorated Ware of the Naqada II to III periods (3500–3100 BCE) represent the world of man and perhaps historical events, arranged in groups of related figures. Potters painted Nile scenes composed of boats at the center of the jar, bounded by trees and birds along the river-bank, with desert animals beyond. Some of these pots are adorned with the large figure of a woman standing on a boat cabin with her arms raised, attended by smaller male figures. This female figure has been identified as a goddess, a mourner, or a dancer.

The reportory of scenes found on Decorated Ware also occurs on linen from Gebelein and on a wall in tomb 100 at Hierakonpolis. Dating to Naqada IIc, the painting in tomb 100 introduces new motifs and representational devices, such as the base line, which later would become a major device for ordering compositions. The plastered mud-brick wall is painted in yellow, red, green, white, and black on a light yellow background, with themes of hunting, ferrying, fighting, ritual running or dancing, and a chieftain subduing foes. The entire composition places traditional pictures of the hunt on the upper part of the wall and motifs of combat and triumph below, in an arrangement that focuses on the hereditary and divine nature of kingship. This representational cycle, found in what may have been a ruler's tomb, shows the beginning of royal and religious imagery that will be fully exploited in later royal monuments.


Painting. Detail from a harvest scene, including a depiction of two fighting girls. This wall painting is from the eighteenth dynasty private tomb of Mena at Thobes. (Courtsey Dieter Arnold)

In the first and second dynasties, the exteriors of mastaba tombs are decorated with geometric designs that imitate hanging mats, painted in black, white, red, blue-green, and yellow on a white gesso ground. During the third dynasty, painted decoration moves inside the mastaba. In the corridor chapel of Hesire at Saqqara, an elite official from the reign of Djoser (c.2687–2669 BCE), depictions of funerary gifts are painted on the walls to reinforce magically the objects actually buried in the tomb. The tomb also has painted fragments of men with cattle and a crocodile, once part of an early example of a “daily life scene” on the marsh. From the reign of Sneferu (c.2632–2608), the tomb chapel of Nefermaat and Atet at Meidum introduces a new technique of paste inlay. Colored mineral pastes were mixed with resin and set into a specific type of sunk relief composed of undercut edges and raised grids that held the color in place. The method aimed at permanence and even merited special description in Atet's chapel: “He made his gods in writing which cannot be erased.” The famous masterpiece, the “Geese of Meidum” (Cairo, Egyptian Museum, JE 34571), was also found in the chapel of Atet, where it was part of a larger scene of the owner fowling with a clap net. The geese were painted in tempera with the palette of the Old Kingdom, which was expanded by overlaying colors and mixing hues to produce browns and grays. The solid color of the birds was enhanced by skillful brushwork which created textures such as stippling, feathering, and mottling.

Painted relief was the preferred mode of decoration in monuments of the Old Kingdom, although flat painting was occasionally utilized. Painting appears as the dominant form of decoration in the sixth dynasty tombs of officials in the provincial towns outside the capital of Memphis. The Old Kingdom artistic tradition is clear in the composition, coloring, and execution of paintings in tombs as far south as Naga ed-Deir, but the hallmarks of a later painting style also appear. This style, with its conventions of representing attenuated figures with large eyes and ears, may have begun in Memphite art of the fifth dynasty and moved out into the provinces, where it continues into the art of the First Intermediate Period, particularly in Upper Egypt. In the First Intermediate Period, painting is not rendered in any one uniform style, but rather is characterized by an influx of local styles. Generally, the best examples of what previous art surveys have termed “First Intermediate Period style” are the paintings found in the Upper Egyptian elite tombs at Thebes, el-Moalla, Gebelein, and Aswan. These tombs lay in the Theban domain, well out of reach of the Herakleopolitans, the inheritors of Memphite conventions and artists. In general, detail in Upper Egyptian painting is rendered as a series of patterns with colors laid in dissonant and often strident combinations. Principal figures are depicted unusually larger than the subsidiary figures who are scattered across the picture surface, with or without register lines. Paintings at sites in Herakleopolitan territory, like Bersheh, Assiut, and Beni Hasan, are executed in a more traditional Memphite manner with local style overlays.

Painted stone stelae from First Intermediate Period sites reflect both the classic Memphite manner and particular local styles. Stone stelae began as niche stones in the second dynasty when they were inset at the back of the southern niche of elite mastabas. They are decorated with painted relief scenes of the deceased seated facing a table of offerings and a hieroglyphic list. By the First Intermediate Period, some stone stelae are decorated in flat painting and placed on the walls of the rock-cut offering chambers marking the offering place and close to the burials. Stelae are composed of a horizontal line of text above, and an image of the deceased holding a staff and scepter facing a pile of offerings—an image borrowed directly from relief-carved Old Kingdom false door jambs.

The local variants in painting during the First Intermediate Period and the freedom expressed in them led to the innovation and technical proficiency of Middle Kingdom elite tomb painting. The floating register lines of the First Intermediate Period developed into the wavy lines of the desert hills, as rendered, for example, in the tomb of Senet at Thebes (tomb 60). Inventive scenes in the twelfth dynasty painted tomb of Ukhhotep III at Meir (C1) show women laboring on the land and fowling, activities traditionally performed by men. These scenes build on similar themes that appeared in the First Intermediate Period tomb of Ankhtifi at el-Moalla. Local officials' practice of borrowing royal prerogatives in the First Intermediate period was imitated in the twelfth dynasty. In the tombs of Ukhhotep III (Meir nr. C1) and Khnemhotpe II (Beni Hasan nr. 3), royal symbols are appropriated; and the nomarch Wahka II in his tomb at Qaw el-Kebir shows the Nile god presenting him with offering gifts as if he were a king. In tombs and on other objects, the polychrome palette of the First Intermediate Period is a legacy to the twelfth dynasty.

Generally, elite tomb painting at the beginning of the Middle Kingdom appears stiff and awkward; later, during the reigns from Senwosret II to Amenemhet III, it exhibits a greater sense of artistry and innovation. Consciously archaizing and innovative motifs contributed to the development of Middle Kingdom painting. In the twelfth dynasty tombs at Meir, artists borrowed the subject matter from the accessible sixth dynasty tombs but rendered their figures in the style of the Middle Kingdom. The sophisticated painting in the First Intermediate Period tombs at Beni Hasan inspired the virtuosity of painting seen in later twelfth dynasty tombs. Images of mythological creatures (snake-necked panther, winged griffin), scenes of manufacturing flint knives, spinning, weaving, and wrestling were introduced into Middle Kingdom tomb repertories.

Wooden coffins, which appeared with dynastic times, are at first largely undecorated except for the palace façade design. During the sixth dynasty, painted rows of text run down the center and sides of the rectangular box, with wedjat-eyes on the exterior and a false door on the interior next to the face of the mummy. Sarcophagi of the First Intermediate Period and twelfth dynasty add more decoration to the sixth dynasty type. During this time, the Coffin Texts, descended from the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom, are introduced into the sarcophagus interior. Offering piles, an offering list, and object friezes are painted in the interior of the casket in bright, clear colors. The cedar coffin of Djehutynakht IV from Bersheh (Boston, MFA 20.1822–1826) illustrates the technical excellence of painting at this time. The outer coffin is painted on the interior with a false door, an offering scene, and object friezes. The paintings show exquisite manipulation of color tones and texture layering, the use of a varied palette applied on white underpainting, and the suppression of defining outlines. Later in the twelfth dynasty, interior decoration on coffins vanishes, and the outer casing is painted with a cavetto cornice, and a false door or offering piles on the side of the box. Images of Isis and Nephthys, the two goddesses associated with the resurrection of Osiris, sometimes appear at the foot and head of the coffin, respectively. These goddesses are among the first deities to decorate nonroyal objects; through their association with the god Osiris, they acted to identify the deceased with Osiris and aid his or her rebirth in the next world. Painted funerary masks made of cartonnage were also utilized during the Middle Kingdom and were fitted on the wrapped mummy itself. During the twelfth dynasty, a new type of coffin was introduced, made of wood or cartonnage in a human form. This developed into the rishi-coffin of the seventeenth dynasty, named after the Arabic word for “feather,” made manifest in the pair of folded, stylized wings that decorate the anthropoid casket from shoulder to toe. These wings may symbolize the wings of Isis spread in protection over the deceased.

At the beginning of the New Kingdom, Thebes was the center of elite and royal burial. Elite chapels, cut into the hillside, take the form of a “T” with a transverse front hall, and an inner passage leading back to an offering niche decorated with statues or a stela. The subterranean sarcophagus chamber of the tomb is reserved for the burial and inaccessible. The entrance of the chapel is decorated with images of the deceased going in (toward the setting sun or Osiris) and out of the tomb (toward the rising sun). In the broad hall, ideally, the small walls contained a painted autobiographical stela on one wall and a false door, the contact point between the living and the dead, on the other. The decoration of the long walls was variable and could contain scenes of offering and banqueting before the deceased or the tomb owner fulfilling his official duties before the king. The painted scenes on the back walls of the broad hall, which were immediately visible upon entering the tomb, were particularly important for the self-presentation of the tomb owner. The longitudinal corridor was painted with mortuary images, such as the funeral procession or the Opening of the Mouth ritual. During the reign of Amenhotpe IV (1382–1365 BCE), the decoration shifted to painted relief in elite tombs at Tell el-Amarna, and focused on the king and his family. Late in the eighteenth dynasty, Theban tomb chapels returned to painted scenes of “daily life,” but scenes of a religious nature increased. By the nineteenth and twentieth dynasties, the chapel acted as a type of funerary temple with decoration drawn largely from the Book of Going Forth by Day. The false door disappears, the stela is moved to the façade of the tomb, and the decorative program stresses the tomb owner venerating the gods. The end of the New Kingdom brought a decline in the number of painted monumental tombs, and images of the hereafter were transferred to coffins and papyri, which subsequently led to the flowering of papyrus and sarcophagus painting.

Early eighteenth dynasty Theban tomb painting relies on Middle Kingdom style, which in turn was patterned on Old Kingdom models. The Old and Middle Kingdom elite tombs that dot the Theban landscape may have been examples for painters who sought the prestige of earlier periods by appropriating their style of painting. In the elite tombs of the early eighteenth dynasty, the style of painting is stiff and depends on the basic color palette. Beginning in the reign of Thutmose III (1504–1452 BCE) and reaching full expression in the reigns of Thutmose IV (1419–1410) and Amenhotpe III (1410–1382), painting is freed, gestures are varied, the color palette expands, and line becomes fluid; the sense of space is enhanced by overlapping; and compositions are organized around groups. During the reigns of these last two kings, the style of painting and motifs vary according to the tomb owner's institutional group and appear to commemorate specific social concerns and ideologies. In the late eighteenth dynasty and the Ramessid period, elite tomb painting retains the expressiveness of the Amarna era, but it gradually becomes rigid under religious reformation and the return to the canonical ideal of the perfect type. Painted scenes continue to be organized in horizontal registers on the wall as in the eighteenth dynasty, but Ramessid tombs expand and extend them beyond the borders of the wall like a film-strip. Scenes are organized vertically, with images of the hereafter in the upper bands and mortuary cult representations in the lower bands. At Saqqara during the late eighteenth dynasty, flat painting is used in the side chapels and statue rooms of elite tombs.

Elite coffins proliferated in a number of different styles during the New Kingdom. Until the reign of Thutmose III, rishi-coffins continue to be employed, as well as painted funerary masks of cartonnage. Early in the eighteenth dynasty, another anthropoid coffin which was composed of painted and plastered wood came into use; texts are arranged in four evenly spaced vertical bands crossed by bands running across the lid, and a central band of text spreads from below the collar to the feet of the sarcophagus. Early in the dynasty, funerary and offering scenes fill the spaces between the bands, followed later by images such as the Four Sons of Horus, Anubis, and Thoth. The image of a vulture with outstretched wings, placed on the chest of the coffin, was replaced in the reign of Amenhotpe III with the winged goddess Nut. Until the reign of Thutmose III, the decoration is executed in polychrome on a white background that imitates the white linen of a mummy shroud. Later, black (the color of resurrection) serves as the background, which is decorated with gold leaf or gold paint (colors of the flesh of the gods and the sun). A new anthropoid coffin was introduced in the late eighteenth dynasty, with decoration rendered in gem colors (red, light and dark blue) on a yellow-gold background that is covered by a layer of varnish.

In the Middle Kingdom there appeared wooden toilet and canopic chests plastered and decorated with figural scenes. Beginning in the eighteenth dynasty, chests for shawabtis (substitute laborers for the deceased) and other types of chests were introduced. The wooden box of King Tutankhamun in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo (JE 61467), which held royal sandals, a gilt headrest, and cloth bundles, is plastered and painted with four scenes of the king in his chariot. On the long sides, the pharaoh at the center wages war against Syrians and Nubians, the traditional enemies of Egypt who signified the chaotic forces that must be subdued by the king. The same theme is echoed on the lid, which depicts the king hunting in the desert. The idea of order is symbolized visually by the register lines and symmetrical ranks of soldiers and horses, and chaos is implied by the tumbling mass of foreigners and animals. The short sides are painted with the heraldic symbol of Tutankhamun as a sphinx trampling the northern and southern enemies of Egypt.

Flat painting decorated the walls of eighteenth dynasty royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings from the reign of Thutmose I until that of Horemheb, when painted relief again became the dominant form of decoration for the king's sepulchre. The iconography in these royal tombs was chosen from various funerary books which were transferred onto the wall like an unfurled scroll of papyrus; the yellow background color in the royal tombs emulated its hue. The Book of That Which Is in the Underworld, later known as Amduat, was the sole book that decorated the walls of the royal burial chamber. This book aimed at initiating the king into the underworld by describing the ways and functions of the beyond and explaining, hour by hour, the nightly voyage of the sun. When painted relief became the preferred method of decoration in the royal tombs, the number of funerary books expanded; in the tomb of Ramesses VI, all the known books of the underworld and the sky, and an abundance of scenes from the Book of Going Forth by Day and scenes of divinities, adorn the walls.

The painted decoration of the royal tombs in the Theban necropolis was the responsibility of the artisans who resided in the village at Deir el-Medina during the New Kingdom. Founded early in the eighteenth dynasty on the west bank at Thebes, Deir el-Medina housed craftsmen, including carpenters, stonecutters, relief sculptors, and painters, who painted the royal tombs and their own tombs as well. Their chapels draw from the same pool of iconography as elite Theban tombs; however, the style of the tombs and the themes used in their burial chambers occasionally borrows from the royal sphere. Walls are painted yellow, figures mirror the royal figural style, and rarely, scenes found in the royal tombs occur in painters' sepulchers. A special group of tombs are painted with a palette of yellow, black, and red on a white background, in a style described as “monochromatic” by Bernard Bruyère (Tombes thébaines de Deir el-Médineh à décoration monochrome, Cairo, 1952). These monochromatic tombs may have been painted by a distinct group of painters who also appeared in the scenes. The workmanship of specific Deir el-Medina artisans has been identified by comparing their signed drawings on flakes of limestone (ostraca) with paintings in royal tombs. Ostraca, the ancient equivalent to notepaper, are preserved from the earliest times until the Roman period, with one of largest caches coming from the village of Deir el-Medina. Ostraca illustrate aspects of the everyday world of the ancient Egyptians and candidly reveal the artistic process. Forms outlined in black, or sometimes painted with the basic color palette, depict small-scale studies of larger compositions, votive gifts with images of a deity, portions of animal fables, or motifs from house paintings.

Figural painting in the New Kingdom appears on polychrome and blue-painted pottery and faience. On polychrome pottery, the use of motifs of humans, animals, and plant life (also found on other media like furniture, textiles, and wall paintings), led to the development of large, wide jars with funnel or bulbous necks to provide large spaces for decoration. Blue-painted pottery, with its predominant use of a pale blue color derived from cobalt aluminate spinel, is decorated with images such as men or women on a skiff in the marsh and the figure of Bes. Details are executed in red and black, with occasional additions of white, yellow, and green. Polychrome pottery has a wide range of colors that include thick applications of red, black, yellow orpiment, green, and blue frits on a white gypsum or calcium carbonate background. New Kingdom faience is decorated with figural scenes; images concerned with Hathoric activities, such as female musicians and aquatic themes associated with rebirth, often adorn these objects.

In temples, certain features and sometimes entire scene cycles are executed in flat paint. A couple of fans rendered in color from a relief-cut bark procession on the north wall of the Hypostyle Hall of the temple of Amun at Karnak prove that some details were rendered only in paint. A small temple of Amenhotpe III at Wadi el-Sebua in Nubia is decorated completely in paint with traditional temple scenes. In the funerary temple of Sety I at Abydos, painting appears alongside relief in the Hall of Barques, where it was intended to replace the carved decoration. The execution of the painting is more careful than the “freer” style found in elite Theban tombs, which reflects the ritual formality of temple decoration. The unfinished Ptolemaic temple of Thoth at Kasr el-Agouz on the west bank at Thebes contains painted decoration, notably in a scene that represents the king dedicating the chapel to the principal deities of the temple.

Mud-brick royal palaces, houses, and shrines were embellished with paintings. From the Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period site of Tell ed-Dabʿa, palace paintings are believed to have been completed by Minoan artists. From this period and the early eighteenth dynasty, the walls of the north palace at Deir el-Ballas (opposite Coptos) include painted images of armed men wielding battle-axes. Found in the entrance corridor, these forms invoke the king's domination over foreigners and act as talismans to guard the palace from the entry of chaotic forces. Other wall compositions depict royal life and ritual: the daughters of Amenhotpe IV sit on cushions beside the now lost representations of their parents from the King's House at Tell el-Amarna (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford 1893.1); and from the Great Palace at Tell el-Amarna, images of servants remain from a destroyed scene of Amenhotpe IV returning to the palace after a ceremonial visit. Palace floors at Tell el-Amarna and Malqata painted with images of flora and fauna show rich detail and fluid improvisation, accomplished without pre-drawing. Although earlier remains of decorative painting exist—for example, from mud-brick houses at the Middle Kingdom site of Illahun (Kahun)—the majority of examples come from the New Kingdom. At Tell el-Amarna, the decoration of elite houses follows the same cosmic divisions as royal palaces. Houses are embellished with various motifs, such as sky-blue roofs, ceiling moldings of floral collars, and shrine-shaped pendant friezes, and lower walls rimmed with papyrus plants. Paintings of household gods (Bes and Taweret) and women in various poses from private houses at Deir el-Medina and the workman's village at Tell el-Amarna may have been prophylactic, focusing on child-birth and other concerns of the female occupants. Private chapels associated with funerary and religious cults in the workman's village at Tell el-Amarna and Deir el-Medina are adorned with paintings of gods, humans, plants, and abstract patterns.

A substantial portion of Third Intermediate and Late period tomb decoration is achieved in painted relief; however, flat painting appears in the tombs at the Ramesseum and the Theban necropolis, the Bahriya Oasis, and Coptos. Associated with the Third Intermediate burials, particularly at the Ramesseum, are wooden funerary stelae which were plastered and brightly painted. Instead of the traditional stela scene of the deceased seated before the offering table accompanied by family members, these wooden stelae are decorated with a single scene of the deceased adoring a deity. Where earlier stelae were primarily donated by men and set up in memorial or tomb chapels, the new stelae were donated by men or women and were placed in burials beside the body. Wooden stelae continued to be produced through the twenty-first and twenty-second dynasties and into the Ptolemaic period. An example of a wooden stela donated by a woman (Paris, Louvre E 52) dates from the Third Intermediate Period; on the front, it represents the “mistress of the house, Taperet” adoring the god Re-Horakhty, from whose solar disk stylized rays of lily flowers extend toward the face of the adorer. The two symbolic plants of Egypt, the papyrus on the left and the lotus to the right, emerge from the heads of the god of the earth and the god of the horizon and hold up the sign of the sky, which is painted blue. The cosmic setting and painted offerings of the stela symbolize Taperet's provisioning by the gods, which would guarantee her life in the next world.

Limited remains of papyri with figural painting are preserved from the Middle Kingdom. By the New Kingdom, papyri were abundant and included not only painted funerary books but also oracle and magical papyri, illustrated ancient animal fables, architectural sketches, and maps. The most popular funerary papyrus, the Book of Going Forth by Day, was an essential component in New Kingdom burials, where it was placed near the mummy for easy reference by the deceased. This is a body of spells, hymns, prayers, and accompanying scenes that allowed the deceased to come and go from the tomb without accident, receive offerings left by visitors, make use of his or her senses, pass the judgment of the weighing of the heart, and celebrate with the gods in paradise. The formulae, written in black with chapter headings and titles in red, are accompanied by illustrated vignettes, beautifully colored in the New Kingdom, and later developed into finely crafted, uncolored outlines. Some papyri were mass-produced, with blanks left for the purchaser's name and titles; others were products of the patron's compositional specifications. At the end of the twenty-first dynasty and the beginning of the twenty-second, vignette papyri with numerous illustrations and few texts were created from excerpts of a number of funerary works such as the Book of That Which Is in the Underworld, the Litany of Re, and the Book of Going Forth by Day, with new depictions. After a hiatus, the last of these reappeared during the twenty-sixth dynasty in a revised, standardized form of 165 spells with illustrations, continued into the Ptolemaic and Roman period.

During the Third Intermediate Period, inner coffins were decorated with new scenes that reflected the passage into the underworld and the daily course of the sun, which associated the deceased with the cycle of transformation and eternal life. Coffin interiors show a variety of motifs, like the djed-pillar (the backbone of Osiris), deities, deified kings, and images of the deceased offering before solar or underworld gods, executed in polychrome on a red or yellow background. During the reign of Osorkon II, coffins composed of one to three caskets plus a cartonnage case were painted in polychrome on a light background. Texts were shortened and images moved away from vignettes from funerary books and included instead simplified motifs of rebirth and symbols of protection. The depiction of the sky goddess Nut moved from the lid onto the floor of the coffin, where her outstretched arms enfolded the mummy, identifying the deceased with the sun which was born from her each day. Coffins of the Late Period abandoned the cartonnage case of the twenty-second and twenty-third dynasties and introduced a wooden coffin that represented the deceased as a statue on a pedestal with a raised backpillar. Vignettes and long texts from the Book of Going Forth by Day were restored, and the winged goddess Nut reappeared on the chest lid. Decoration of the inner and outer coffins was painted in bright colors on a white or yellow background made of plastered linen on wood. Also revived from the Third Intermediate Period were coffins composed of a wooden rectangular outer box with four corner posts decorated with falcons or jackals holding up a vaulted lid. This outer box was painted in clear colors with scenes of deities in shrines divided by texts, or occasionally with an archaizing scene of the deceased seated before a table of offerings at either end. Images of the daily-nightly solar boats decorated the lid, which symbolized the sky.

Votive and funerary linen cloths, shirts, and leather hangings remain from the New Kingdom, decorated either in ink or with multicolored drawings or paintings. Some royal burials of the seventeenth and eighteenth dynasties included linen sheets illustrating vignettes from the Book of Going Forth by Day. In workman's tombs at Deir el-Medina, linen cloths were found with painted representations of priests offering to the deceased, or the dead before an offering table. During the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties, votive textiles—adorned with scenes of the living donor and family making an offering to Hathor—were presented as cult offerings in the goddess's shrine at Deir el-Bahri. An unusual leather hanging, also from this shrine (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art 31.3.98), is painted with a harpist and erotic dancer and may depict an ancient fertility rite associated with Hathor worship. Other deities adorned linen shrouds: Taweret, Osiris, or in the case of female burials, Amentet, the Goddess of the West. In the Late period, the practice was revived of adorning linen strips with texts and illustrations selected from funerary books. During the Roman period, specially prepared portraits of the deceased were pasted on to mass-produced cloths decorated with figures of Anubis or Osiris.

Painting during the Ptolemaic and Roman periods merged Egyptian thought and technique with the influence of the Hellenistic world. Ptolemaic and Roman tombs at Tuna el-Gebel (the cemetery of Hermopolis in Middle Egypt) and Alexandria, and Roman tombs at Panopolis, depict the deceased in the Greek manner, but in compositions with Egyptian details that may have been organized intentionally. For example, the outer room of the chapel in the family tomb of Petosiris (tp. Phillip Arrhideaus, 323–317 BCE) is decorated with “daily life scenes” in a Hellenistic style, while the inner, more sacred room contains funerary scenes executed in an Egyptianizing style. Paintings of deities of the Ptolemaic and Roman pantheon adorn temples in Theadelphia and Karanis. Paintings of the genies of Pharbaïthos (genies connected with the protection of the body of Osiris) decorate the Osirian “catacombs” in the temple of Amun at Karnak, from the reign of Ptolemy IV. In the Dakhla Oasis, the temples of Ismant el-Kharab, dating to the Roman emperor Hadrian, are painted in both the Egyptian and classical Roman styles.

Beginning in the early twenty-sixth dynasty and common by the Ptolemaic period, linen mummy shrouds were decorated with painted panels of cartonnage that covered the head, chest, lower rib cage, stomach, legs, and feet of the deceased; a funerary mask and footpiece were fitted over the head and feet, respectively. Blanks left for the deceased's name suggest they were not commissioned for a particular individual. The body cartonnage consisted of traditional funerary motifs, and the face often was gilded to identify the deceased with the golden color of the flesh of the gods and the sun god who guaranteed eternal life. From the first to the fourth century CE, funerary portraits were adopted by the Ptolemaic and Roman population. Termed “Faiyum portraits” after the region southwest of Cairo where they were first discovered, these painted panels were also found in Memphis, Thebes, and Antinoë in Middle Egypt. The Faiyum portraits are composed of rectangular panels of cypress, cedar, linden, lime, or fig wood, primed and painted with encaustic or tempera. Some representations were commissioned during the life of the patron, who sat for the portrait and hung it inside his or her house. Later Faiyum portraits exhibit few variations and appear to have been mass-produced. These portraits may have functioned as domestic art, ancestral portraits, commemorative objects in the living cult of the patron, or solely for burial. At death, the portraits were cut out of their frame and fitted into the wrappings over the head of the mummy. A few Faiyum portraits are evidently individual portraits, but most appear to capture the general likeness of the patron.



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Melinda K. Hartwig