How art reflected the philosophy of the ancient Egyptians

Egypt prides itself on being the first center of civilization on the African continent since 5000 BC. The country is located along the coast of the Nile River in northeast Africa. Egypt was the site of one of the most powerful and enduring civilizations in the ancient world. This great ancient state largely used various art forms to reveal its deeply held philosophies of life. These philosophies were rooted in their strict and compact religious beliefs, most notably the belief in life after death. Because of this, people practiced a cult of death where art was the main vehicle used.

Egyptian art was made on purpose to serve the dead. For the ancient Egyptians, death was not an end but the transition from the land of the living (physical world) to the land of the dead (spiritual / metaphysical world). The Egyptians believed that when they died, their souls (Ka) would continue to live in another world but within the same bodies. Therefore, to ensure a successful journey to the land of the dead and the afterlife, the deceased had to be physically preserved along with earthly possessions and other reminders of daily activities.

To achieve this philosophy, the ancient Egyptians carefully treated their corpses called mummies and embalmed them to protect them from decomposition. The works of art were intended to accompany the deceased until eternity. Therefore, Egyptian art is an art of permanence, which is why Egyptian art is popularly known as ‘Art for eternity’. Thin woven strips were used to wrap the corpses. Sometimes images of lost corpses were carved out of imperishable or durable materials like granite, gold, and gemstones to replace them. After wrapping the body of the deceased (mummy) with the linen material, it was painted in bright colors and deposited in graves. These architectural structures known as pyramids were built with heavy stones. This helped extend its lifespan for eternity. Egyptian tombs were built to ensure a happy afterlife for the deceased, and the paintings, sculptures, and other objects in them served an eternal purpose.

The interiors of these pyramids were lavishly decorated with a series of paintings depicting the journey of the dead to the metaphysical world. Other subjects for the painting included people hunting and feasting. Funerary texts believed to preserve the name of the deceased and requests from the gods for his well-being were also written in hieroglyphics. This graphic art recounts the good deeds of the deceased, including titles and honors acquired during his lifetime.

Thus, the ideologies of the Egyptians regarding the afterlife, which is part of their philosophy, became evident through artistic creations: paintings, sculptures, architecture and textiles. This should inform today’s scholars of the indispensable role that art can play in social progression and sustainable development. Modern scholars should not dissuade art as silent in philosophy due to its picturesque nature. Rather, they should endeavor to explore how to implement artistic creations in the transmission of philosophies or deep thoughts, as the cardinal example of the ancient Egyptians illustrates.