The ancient Egyptian artistic paintings encapsulate the embodiment of modern painting, though the latter is refined due to the advancement of human knowledge, technology, and discovery. However, the root for the success of modern painting is credited with the humble beginnings of the profession by the ancient Egyptian masters in painting. From the generation and production of the media for production through to the selection of appropriate subjects for paintings, techniques through to its essential roles it plays in the society acts as a stepping stone for the marvelous development in the field of painting today.
In their quest to obtain a permanent and durable coloring medium for painting, the Egyptian painters’ ground ochres into powder and mixed them with gum. The resulting pigments were dissolved as the painters wet the brushes and rubbed them over the surface much as the watercolor paint used today. The application of the paint was done by the use of brushes which were creatively made from the trimmed stems of other marsh plants. Bristles which held a supply of wet pigment were made by chewing one end of their stems to separate the fibers. The supports for the painting included Papyrus paper, wooden panels, stone tablets, walls and surfaces of pyramids and temples. Today, color manufacturers, use binders which are in the likeness of the gum used by the ancient Egyptian painters mixed with pigments in producing colorants in the form of dry media like pastels, crayons and the like as well as wet media like acrylics, gouache, poster and watercolors, emulsion and oil paints and many more. Modern painters have strived to increase the scope of supports for painting while the traditional supports still remain very instrumental.
The theme for the paintings of the Egyptians depicted their belief in life after death and the affluent life of the elite class in the society. The themes included people hunting and feasting, Pharaohs, the affluent and other important people journeying to the land of the dead, people worshipping deities, scenes of musicians and dancers, Judgment in the underworld and familiar scenes from the earthly existence of the deceased. Today, genres of everyday life activities that reflect the ideologies and beliefs of modern societies are the principal theme for painting as was done by the ancient Egyptians. This includes political themes, entertainment themes, and themes on social sensitization on health, education, agriculture and religion.
Moreover, various techniques were used by the ancient Egyptian painters. For example, the representations of the images in the paintings followed the conventional Egyptian pose. The head and legs are in profile with the torso and eyes in frontal view. Men were painted bigger and darker than women and children. Prominent people and noblemen in the communities were painted bigger and darker than slaves. This is a visual representation of the class distinction that existed in Egypt. Distance or depth in drawing (perspective) was depicted by the placement of one body on top of another. Animals and plants in their natural habitats were painted to show naturalism based on careful observation. The technique of their painting was mural painting (fresco secco) that is painting on a dry plaster or surface. This painting technique allowed the trained professional Egyptian painter to express an exact knowledge of the theme or subject painted. Today, the concept of perspective which was the only parallel perspective has been heightened to include aerial perspective with varied forms of linear perspectives like isometric and angular forms of perspective. Moreover, the painting styles have been furthered to include canvas, realistic, abstract and semi-abstract renderings.
In terms of function, the paintings of ancient Egypt were made primarily to serve the dead in the metaphysical world. They provided the ka or soul with familiar scenes from the earthly existence of the deceased. They also showed the royal power of the Pharaohs. For instance, the king depicted on the painted chest is portrayed as a successful hunter pursuing droves of fleeing animals in the desert and also as a great warrior. Most of the paintings showed the nobility, richness, and prosperity of Egypt. Paintings were used to lavishly decorate the interiors and exteriors of private and public buildings to accentuate their aesthetic values. Today’s paintings are also used for this same purpose which is to immortalize and remember past personalities and heroes as well as remembering iconic moments and experiences of life. They are also used in enhancing the visual appeal of places.
The significant contribution of the ancient Egyptians to the field of modern painting must be recognized. The rich historical account must be studied by learners of art in various educational levels to deepen their appreciation of the efforts of the past forebears in the advancement of art in modern societies. It would charge them to mimic the path of their creative exuberance and determination to remedy the woes of mankind and satisfy their insatiable needs through the services of art.