the colors of the pharaohs by Joshua Bixler

In this gallery, we will look at the colors used in ancient Egyptian funerary art. The artwork of ancient Egypt has fascinated countless observers over time and in this gallery, we will look at a few examples and discuss why certain colors are prevalent in the artwork of ancient Egypt. 

In this first image in the collection, we see a section from "The Book of the Dead". In it we see an image of the so-called Judgment of the Dead. The deceased’s ethical actions are being weighed by Maat, the goddess of justice. Ancient Egyptians primarily used a color palette containing six colors: Blue, Red, Green Yellow Black and White. Even though this artwork has degraded over time, you can still see the use of the primary colors.
In ancient Egypt, mummification was the standard burial practice. In mummification, after the internal organs were removed, they were placed in a vessel called a Canopic chest. These chests were sometimes unelaborated in their decoration, but not this one. All the primary colors are represented in the depiction of Anubis gods making offerings for the dead. The bright yellow main color of the chest helps make the corresponding colors stand out and ensure that the image is easy to see.
In this Temple Relief, we see the use of the primary colors of ancient Egypt. The relief depicts two sailors of the royal Egyptian navy and they are equipped with battle-axes. We see the use of white as the primary background color and red as the main color for skin tones. Using red for the color of skin was a common theme in Egypt unless a God was depicted. In that case, the color that was most commonly used was blue.
Ancient Egyptian deities often were a blend of human and Gods. Meaning, they had the body of a human and the head of something else. In this Grave-board from the New Kingdom, we see a priest making an offering of incense to the god Re-Horachte. The god is seated on a throne that stands on a brightly-colored mat. The full spectrum of colors are utilized in this depiction of a human interacting with a God in the after-life. Again we see the use of red as a primary human skin color and in god, Re-Horachte, we see the use of blue, green and white. All colors that symbolized divinity and commune with nature.
Here we see an example of a mummy coffin from around 800 B.C. that has been beautifully adorned with vibrant artwork. The images that we see contain spells that the deceased will need in the afterlife. These spells show the detail that Egyptian artists employed when adorning these burial vessels. This is a perfect example of the full color spectrum that these artisans had available to them.
The scene depicted in this illustration is from the Book of the Dead. A mummy lies on a bier in the shape of a standing lion and the bier stand the four canonic jars containing the entrails of the deceased. Anoebis, the god of mummification, takes care of the mummy. Hovering around his head is the Ba-bird (the soul of the deceased). Seated at the head end is the goddess Isis and seated at the foot end is Nephthys. This is a perfect example of how the colors used helped convey the difference between Gods and normal humans. Here we see the Gods colored in blue while the human is colored with red.
Ramses II was one of the many great rulers of ancient Egypt. On this relief, we see Ramses depicted wearing a ceremonial head piece, armband and what appears to be eye make-up. The king's skin color is in the typical red but his adornments are colored yellow (gold) to help convey his status and wealth in society.
Amulets or Talismans were an important part of the Egyptian burial process. In most occasions, the amulet was placed in the mummification wrapping containing the deceased. Here we see a beautiful example of the attention to detail as well as the craftsmanship that the Egyptian artisans employed. The predominate color used to help convey a sense of the divinity in this sculpture is blue.
In this scene, we see King Ramses III shown with full adornment, Ptah, the patron of craftsmen, his consort the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet, and Nefertum, god of the lotus. We see the use of white as a skin color for the king. White was the color of "purity" in ancient Egypt, so this scene is actually showing a depiction of the kings soul awaiting judgement from the Gods.
Osiris was the king of the Egyptian netherworld. Here he is represented in his mummy shape, with a crown and royal scepters. The predominate color used in this statue is yellow (gold) with little touches of blue on the head piece. Both colors help show the status and prestige that these Gods commanded.
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