Megan Freeman: The Lotus Flower in Ancient Egyptian Art

   Ancient Egyptian Art is a very interesting era of art to study. Although it is one of the earliest forms of art, we can still learn from it today. As I was looking through the different pieces that have been recovered from Egypt, one thing that stood out to me was the use of the lotus flower.   ^ The lotus flower has appeared in Ancient Egyptian legends since the beginning. It actually plays a very important part of their religion. It is believed, from their legends, that out of the watery chaos in the beginning, Nun, came this beautiful lotus blossom that opened up and released the sun. In some forms of their beliefs, when the blossom opened up the sun-god, Atum, walked out as a child and each evening he would return to the flower and be protected by its petals.   ^ The lotus flower is the only flower from that part of the world that fruits and flowers at the same time. It emerges from the muddy depths of a pond or stream and blossoms on top of the water. In the evening time the blossom closes itself up and submerges itself back underneath the water and when the day breakes the following day, it comes back to the surface to bloom once again.  It has a very strong fragrance and therefore it was used in many perfumes in the Ancient Egyptian society: which was known for its grand scale of perfumes.   ^The lotus flower's seeds can remain viable for many years. It is a very hardy aquatic perennial. Throughout the years the lotus flower has made its way into many different types of religions and has symbolized various aspects of these belief systems. One of its main symbolizations is for spiritual enlightenment. It is also almost always associated with healing and spiritual rebirth, this is the reason that the Ancient Egyptians would do everything from eat the flower to bathe in a lotus bath. They would even use the root of the flower. It is told that Cleopatra VII would take a lotus bath every day and she would also use the perfume of the lotus blossom to scent the sails and curtains of her royal ship.   ^ When the tomb of King Tut was discovered and opened in 1922, archeologist found lotus flowers scattered over his body. It has been a controversy since then if it was simply a symbolic flower or if the people used it to induce hallucinations and other types of stimulation.  In my gallery you will see a funerary statue of a male holding a lotus flower. Either way it may be looked at, the lotus flower played a very enteric part of the funeral process and everyday life for the Ancient Egyptian people.     ^ With the lotus flower being such an important part of the Ancient Egyptian religion and everyday life, it is no wonder that it would show up in all forms of their artwork. As you will see in my gallery exhibit, the lotus flower appears on tomb wall paintings, funerary statues, chalices, and jewelry. The Ancient Egyptians designed their tombs for the afterlife, therefore the symbol that means rebirth and renewal is expected to be used in many different forms.

As we see in this fragment of a tomb painting, the woman is holding a lotus flower. The lotus flower played a very important role in the life and preparations for the after-life of the Ancient Egyptian people. It is believed that in many tomb paintings, the deceased is painted holding or smelling a lotus flower. It was believed that a lotus blossom, because of its intense fragrance, would help restore the senses of the deceased person once they reached the after-life. In this painting we also see that she has an offering table with containers of wine and food. This would have been to sustain her in the after-life and also to offer an offering to whichever god she may encounter that required an offering in the after-life.
In the age of the Ancient Egyptians, the after-life and preparing for it, was a very important part of their society. With all of the artifacts that we have found during excavations of that land that pertained to the tombs and burial process, we imagine that a large part of their actual lives were spent preparing for the after-life. One object that is found across social status and classes is funerary statues. The sizes of the statues may have varied but laws were in place to keep the major format of the statues the same. We know that there had to be many craftsmen across the age to create these pieces of artwork, but they all are very similar. They would be seated, with the back straight up, the legs uncrossed, and feet on the floor. Men were created in a darker color stone and women were created using a lighter form of stone. In this slide we see that it is a male figure that is holding a lotus flower. Once again we see the lotus flower and its importance to the Ancient Egyptian people.
As we have seen from the other slides, the lotus flower was found in many different areas of the Ancient Egyptians everyday life. In this slide we see that the potter that made this chalice formed it in the shape of an opened lotus blossom. The image of the lotus flower opening up in the sun’s rays was a reminder of their religious story about the sun god coming from a lotus blossom and returning there each night for protection. This chalice would have more than likely been placed in a tomb for the use in the after-life. The open form of the lotus blossom was a picture of the rebirth that they believed happened in the after-life.
Jewelry was a very important accessory to the Ancient Egyptians. Each piece usually had some type of protection meaning to the people, except for earrings. Earrings held no meaning of protection to the Ancient Egyptians. Earrings were not introduced until around the eighteenth dynasty and then only the higher class people worn earrings. However, in the higher classes, men, women and children all would wear earrings. In this slide we see a pair of earrings that form lotus flowers. As we have seen with the other pieces in this collection the lotus flower was a very important part to the Ancient Egyptians, therefore we are to assume that when the popularity of wearing earrings came into their culture we would find the lotus flower depicted in this form of jewelry.
In our last slide we see the image of a golden pendant that was found in the Aigina treasure. It shows one of the nature gods which was called the “Master of Animals”. The god is standing in front of stylized bull’s horns and is holding two geese. It is believed that this pendant was made on Crete or by immigrant Cretan craftsmen. The imagery shows a very strong influence of the Egyptian wall-paintings that were found in tombs. On this pendant the god is standing among lotus flowers. That would show his strength along with the rebirth of the animals. The Ancient Egyptian people believed in reincarnation of animals and therefore they would have believed them to be part of the after-life as well.
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