Jeanet Maduro de Polanco on A Brief History of Egyptian Art

Jeanet Maduro de Polanco
2 min readOct 25, 2021

Archaeologists recently dated cave paintings found in Indonesia to 45,000 years ago. They represent the oldest-known example of human art: the oldest cave or rock painting on the African continent date to 27,500 B.C.

No doubt, the first artwork of what would become the high civilization of ancient Egypt were forms of rock and cave paintings that are 10,000 years old and older. The famous Egyptian civilization we associate today with the pyramids, the sphinx, statues of kings, gods, and goddesses began to emerge in about 6000 B.C.

The Egyptian Predynastic Period is set from 6000 B.C. to 3,100 B.C. Art forms began to evolve during that time span from cave paintings to more sophisticated images of gods, men, animals, boats, buildings, and more, not just on available natural rock but specific mediums created by Egyptian crafts-workers.

It’s important to note that Egyptian society was grounded in a fundamental concept of harmony, which they called Ma’at. This denotes the idea of a perfect balance of an earthly world that the gods created. Egyptian art reflects this balance, often depicting earth-bound human activities concerning what divine figures are doing above.

It’s also important to note that, for the ancient Egyptians, art was meant to be functional and not just “art for art’s sake” or because it was beautiful and interesting. No matter how lovely the creation of a statue might be, for example, it was first and foremost viewed as a “home” for the spirit, god, or form of nature it represented.

In the Old Kingdom Period, 2613 B.C to 2181 B.C., the art of using stone to create three-dimensional statues evolved into high art. This saw the creation of the pyramids and the elaborate temple buildings, obelisks, tombs, and more. Tomb paintings also grew very sophisticated during the Old Kingdom years.

Just as sculpture and painting art was reaching a sublime level, Egyptian society regresses and plunged into a chaotic Dark Age called the First Intermediate Period. During this time, the quality of works of art deteriorated considerably.

The Intermediate Period ended and gave way to the Middle Kingdom from 2041 B.C. to 1782 B.C. The sophistication and skill of the art produced in this period resurged. Egyptologists regard the Middle Kingdom as the high point of not only Egyptian art but overall culture.

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Jeanet Maduro de Polanco

Jeanet Maduro de Polanco is an Italian historian and author with a deep passion for history and historical non-fiction. Read more at