19 julio, 2024

Egyptian sculpture: origin, characteristics, materials, works

what is the Egyptian sculpture?

The egyptian sculpture it was one of the most prominent artistic expressions of this ancient civilization. Its development was in conjunction with that of architecture and both expressions complemented each other. In fact, sculpture in many cases was used to decorate specific buildings, particularly funeral homes.

It was in the funerary structures where the sculpture of this civilization really stood out. Giant sculptures representing deities were created in the tombs of pharaohs to honor the fallen ruler. The architectural design of these places was made precisely to house large sculptures inside.

Although it was represented in its greatest expression in temples and funerary buildings, Egyptian sculpture was not only found in these structures. The Egyptians also developed other high-quality small works; one of the most important sculptural forms was the carving on the structures, which creates a very peculiar shadow effect.


the beginning

The origin of art in ancient Egypt is linked to the development of one of its most important beliefs: balance. For the Egyptians, balance was extremely important in daily life and harmony should govern all aspects of it. Most of his artistic expressions, including sculpture, served to represent this belief.

Although some forms of stone art already existed before the establishment of the First Dynasty, in 3150 B.C. C. marked the appearance of Egyptian art as such.

During this period the Narmer Palette was created, a work that demonstrates the carving abilities of the ancient civilization and gave a clear beginning to the art of this style.

The Palette has a series of carvings that tell a story and this style of carving was used for several centuries in ancient Egypt.

Temples and many other structures featured this basic sculptural style, which consisted of forming images by shaping stone as the artist desired.


After a thousand years of the development of sculpture as a concrete artistic expression, the sculptors of ancient Egypt had already incorporated the lotus flower, papyrus plants and certain representative symbols into their sculptures. By this time (2600 BC) large sculptures were incorporated into the art of Egypt.

Characteristics of Egyptian sculpture

the sculptor

The sculptors in Egypt used to have a series of characteristics that differentiated them from the rest of the artists. In particular, the sculptors of this civilization considered themselves artisans.

The sculptors were highly disciplined people, who had a special capacity to appreciate and create aesthetically correct works.

The works they created are considered some of the most important artistic expressions not only of ancient Egypt, but of the ancient era of humanity in general.

people or deities

By nature, ancient Egyptian sculpture was funerary. The most common works can be found in the tombs of this civilization, since it was mainly for these structures that the statues were developed. It was also common to create statues and sculptures for temples, due to the religious nature of Egyptian art.

The sculptures were developed for two main purposes. In case a sculpture was created for a person and not for a deity, the sculpture usually served for the person to fulfill a vow made in life. On the other hand, if the sculpture was created to represent a deity, it usually served a ritualistic purpose.

In many cases the sculptures were also made in honor of a king or monarch. However, Egyptian sculptural art could not represent any person itself (usually a deity was represented). The only exception to this was to explain, through the use of hieroglyphs, the person depicted in the statue.

Some Egyptian artists also represented everyday objects in their works, such as furniture, metalwork, and jewelry. It was also common to depict «sacred» natural creations, such as the lotus leaf.


When it comes to large sculptures (which were the most popular in this art), there were two main types that were created throughout history:

The male figures stand with the left leg more forward than the right.
Male figures seated on a throne.

During the Second Dynasty of Egypt, seated sculptures to represent a king were first created. This also demonstrated the “real” character that these works had and, although at the beginning they were not as big as they were later, they fulfilled the same purpose.

On the other hand, the standing figures did develop even before the seated ones; the First Dynasty saw the birth of this type of art. However, when it was created it was only used in wood carving and not in stone, as it was later done in the golden age of Egyptian sculpture.


One of the most important characteristics of these works is that the artists never placed their names on their sculptures; that is to say, it was not correct to «sign» them, as was customary in Antiquity. For this reason it is difficult to know exactly which were the most prominent Egyptian artists of ancient times.

The only thing possible to know regarding the authorship of these works is the quality of the craftsman. However, the name of none is known, but only the ability of the one who created a specific work.


Egyptian sculpture used to be large in general. In fact, the most famous sculptural representations of which there is a record are the sphinxes and the well-known Colossi of Memnon.

The massive size of these sculptures was a sign of the importance they had in the art of this civilization. These larger works used to exclusively depict deities or very important figures.

Used materials

The materials used in Egyptian art were usually found relatively easily around the Nile River. Particularly for the wooden works, the acacia or sycamore tree was used. These trees gave the sculptor the necessary material to create works (such as sarcophagi) and adorn statues with wood.

Another material widely used in the creation of sculptures in Egypt was limestone. There were large deposits of limestone on the banks of the river, as well as a large amount of sandstone. The high presence of these materials made them the favorites of Egyptian sculptors to create sculptures and buildings.

The great Egyptian sculptures (especially the massive ones, like the sphinxes) were created using sandstone. The smaller sculptures were created with various materials, among which painted wood and limestone itself stand out.

Although limestone, wood and sandstone were the most used materials to create sculptural works in Egypt, other materials were also used to create other types of works.

Other materials and techniques

Some smaller sculptures were created with copper and bronze. To shape these pieces, a clay mold was used, into which the hot metals were poured. Thus, when solidified, the sculpture was ready to be decorated.

It was also common to carve on top of structures to create relief sculptures. In many cases the buildings were covered with plaster.

Plaster was much easier to carve than stone, which greatly simplified the work of sculptors. However, this technique did not allow the art to last as long as the stone did.

Outstanding works

sphinx of giza

The Great Sphinx of Giza is a giant sculpture made of limestone. This sculpture represents King Khafre and is one of the most famous structures in all of ancient Egypt. It has a height of 20 meters and a length of 73, which makes it one of the largest sculptures in the world.

colossi of memnon

These colossal statues represented the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep III. Both statues were part of the pharaoh’s mortuary complex.

This complex at some point in history was located exactly behind both statues. Various natural events, such as earthquakes, damaged the complex to the point of its demise.

At the time of its construction, the Amenhotep III complex was the largest built in Egypt, and the sculptures were impressive by the standards of the time.

Gold Tutankhamun Mask

This mask is one of the most outstanding sculptural works of ancient Egypt, particularly due to the large number of technical elements necessary to create it. It covered the mummified face of Pharaoh Tutankhamen, which is supposed to protect him from any evil that stalks him.

The mask represents with great accuracy the features of the pharaoh, which means that his «soul can recognize his body, and thus ensures his resurrection.»

It was created with several layers of gold, which were unified by means of heat and hammered together. It was decorated with obsidian and quartz; the eyebrows were created with lapis lazuli.


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