The New Kingdom of ancient Egypt was an era in which people integrated art into their religious practices and beliefs. In fact, religious beliefs were often the sole purpose behind artistic creation. As time passed, some beliefs and relationships between art and worship evolved and changed, while others stood constant.
Creating art for the purpose of religion has even affected the processes and media that were used to create artworks. During the New Kingdom of ancient Egypt, different building materials, ranging from mud bricks to fine gold, were used in the creation of their art works. Some materials were used for sustainability; others, such as semi-precious stones, honored the gods. Certain practices and techniques were also put in play to facilitate their religious beliefs. When Egyptians created sculptures and sphinxes, they had to be sure to use hard diorite stone coated with an outer layer of limestone. If something were to happen during the mummification process of a pharaoh, Egyptians still had to make sure that the ka, or spirit that will travel to the afterlife, would still have a body to unite with. They had to create sculptures to stand the test of time, so that the ka would always be able to enter the stone statue and have a successful journey to the afterlife.
Temples to honor the gods were first created in the Old Kingdom, and then later expanded on by New Kingdom architects. Each reigning pharaoh would command that these temples were continuously built upon to create grandiose structures; these temples paid great complement to their god of choice. Architects would carefully carve great obelisks, courtyards, stone columns, and sanctuaries, out of limestone. When pyramids were created, builders had to be sure to create many false chambers and dead ends. This was to protect and preserve the mummified body from grave robbers, who could potentially harm the body and prevent the ka from reuniting with it.
Egyptians actually worshiped their artwork and statues. They did not believe that the statues were Gods; rather the gods temporarily resided inside these statues. Artwork also played a large role in the fate of a ka, or spirit force inside each person. There were many “rules” the art had to conform to when depicting a person, especially a person as prominent as a pharaoh, so that the person would not become deformed in the afterlife. These rules assured that the people or person depicted would not possess a deformed body upon entering afterlife. All parts of the body had to be completely shown, because if not, the ka would be forced to enter a body that was deformed, perhaps missing an arm or leg. The head, arms, feet, and legs, are always shown in profile. The upper body and shoulders were shown as if looking from the front.
When a pharaoh or person of importance passed away, relief sculptures and wall paintings decorated the tomb’s interior. They almost always depicted his loved ones and servants, so that they would be able to join him in the afterlife. These paintings would always be done in the same distorted style so that the ka could enter a complete body, as aforementioned.
One of the most popular and well-known religious structures of ancient Egypt were the great pyramids. Likewise, they also displayed great artistic design. Grandiose temples to the Gods also showed the talent of new kingdom architects. For generation after generation, they were continuously built on until they were of generous size.
Pyramids were mainly used as tombs for pharaohs. Understanding the importance of a pharaoh’s ka, pyramids were so that the ka would have a safe trip to the afterlife. They contained many false chambers and dead end passages, so that tomb robbers were confused so as to where the pharaoh’s body was located. If the pharaoh’s body were to be harmed, the ka wouldn’t be able to make it to the afterlife and would wonder aimlessly for eternity. The main burial chamber was located in the center of the pyramid surrounded by false passageways. It would contain many treasures and paintings on the tomb walls of his loved one to take with him into the afterlife. People of ancient Egypt assumed that when the pharaoh died he would join other gods.
At each dynasty passed, each pharaoh would order his architects to work on a temple representing the favorite God of his choice. As the years went by, these temples reached gigantic proportions, such as the Temple of Amon. On either side of its doorway were obelisks, tall pointed stone pillars. Its stone columns reached nearly 70 feet high. In the courtyard, there were statues of arrows and huge banners. Beyond that was the sanctuary, which was a small, dark chamber were only pharaohs and priests were allowed to enter.
Egyptian temples and pyramids were made grandiose and large not only to honor gods, but to facilitate their religious beliefs about the afterlife. Undoubtedly, these artworks would not haven been as grand, nor as crucial, had they not been mainly crafted to facilitate religious beliefs.
Mittler, Gene. “Art in Focus.” Glencoe/McGraw Hill, 2006. 6/15/10. Print.
Roehrig, Catharine. “Egypt in the New Kingdom.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
2000-2010. Accessed 6/15/10.