Paula Mitchell-Women in Ancient Egyptian Art

My theme for this project – Ancient Egyptian Art, Women’s clothing, headdress, jewelry and footwear – A Status Symbol.

The most affluent and influential woman in Ancient Egyptian was the wife of the Emperor, Pharaoh or King.  She was as powerful, perhaps, as much as her counterpart. She was adorned with crowns and jewels from all over the world. She owned property, governed cities and made important legal decisions alongside her husband, father or brother (Tyldesley, n.d.).

Egyptian women were given gifts from admirers from across the land and nearby kingdoms. These gifts included unique and expensive fabrics, gold and silver, along with other items. A poor Egyptian woman did not have these luxuries. She most likely worked for the monarchs. If she didn’t, she worked at home caring for children, land, others. She did not wear crowns or jewels or even fine linen. When you see either of these women, you immediately know their status in the world.

Today, we define a woman’s status by what she wears – gold or silver jewelry, size of diamonds in her ring, designer clothes, designer bags, designer shoes, cars, homes.  If you can’t afford these “wares’, if you will, you advertise your status to everyone that sees you.  By wearing knock-offs, costume jewelry or discount clothing “couture”, you reveal your net worth to the world. Style is a status symbol.  However, they did not sacrifice beauty for comfort.

It wasn’t any different in ancient Egypt. Women were adorned with great ornaments of gold to reflect their status in society; men did, as well. Because they thought they could take it with them to the afterlife, kings and queens of Egypt were “buried with a multitude of jewelry” (Fashion And Clothing In Ancient Egypt, 2016). The poor even wore jewelry, though not as elaborate or ornate as the wealth of kings and queens.

The clothing styles of ancient Egypt came to us from archaeological finds of statues, tombs, buried treasures, and houses.  The women usually wore dresses that fell to the ankle.  “Upper-class women wore pleated dresses with fringes, […] covered with a transparent garment” (htt1). Formal wear was more elaborate and bejeweled, if you will. Later, fashion was inspired Greek and Roman trend. Men wore kilts or loin cloths. They even found containers of perfumes and make up, believe it or not. Both men and women wore make-up to protect their skin from the harsh desert.

Shoes were also discovered made of fur or leather. Straps helped keep them tied to the foot for security. It may surprise you that in 2004 a jar was found in an Egyptian temple in Luxor that had three pairs of shoes and a single one.  “Two pairs were originally worn by children […]” (Owen Jarus, 2013). Women’s shoes were mostly sandals adorned with jewels and expensive fabrics.

Headdresses were all the rage, as well.  While women wore them too, the men’s headdress was usually larger and more adorned. The taller the headdress, the higher your status, they thought. 

This collection of five images shows women in their clothing style, some jewelry pieces, and even some footwear.  We’ll go back in time to see that there may be a difference in style, but not in “status”.

I hope you enjoy the virtual tour, again.

ARTIST: Unknown TITLE: Tomb Relief: Female Attendants Clapping Hands DATE: Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 11, reign of Mentuhotep II, ca. 2049 BC - 1998 BC COUNTRY: Egypt SIZE: 12 1/2 x 11 x 1/2 in. (31.7 x 27.9 x 1.2 cm • White sheath dress • Floral collar • Dancer • Hair accessories • Wigs It could be said that the dancers are wearing costumes. However, I feel I should point out that they are wearing garments of modern style for their time period. A white sheath dress is adorned with a distinctive floral collar. Each dancer wears a black wig with decorative beads keeping with the modern style of the period. These types of beads have been found in tombs. This style of relief with the recessed figures are typical of the Eleventh Dynasty. No doubt that dignitaries and people of power were dressed more elaborate and the embellishments are their garments would be more expensive and ornate.
ARTIST: Unknown TITLE: Relief of Sandaled Feet of a Royal Woman DATE: 1352-1332BC COUNTRY: Hermopolis Magna, Egypt SIZE: 8 7/8x21 3/4in. •Life size figure •Color-Red •Straps •Woman of Royalty •Sandal This relief of a sandal was made in limestone. It was a raised relief meaning that it wasn’t flat, it protruded from the wall or side of the relief. The foot probably belonged to a female, perhaps of royal blood. The sandal and foot were life size so the model must have been present for the sculpting. There are some cracks in the relief behind the right leg, for instance. Some of the fragments found suggests that the garment was red. The block has some characteristics of the Amarna period in which the women wore floor length pleated garments. It is said that these feet belonged to Queen Nefertiti.
ARTIST: Unknown TITLE: Lady Tjepu DATE: ca. 1390-1353 B.C.E. COUNTRY: Thebes, Egypt SIZE: 14 13/16 x 9 7/16 in. •Painting on whitewash •White shawl •Breast exposed •Black hair •Headdress Now, this is a lady of wealth. She is clearly adorned with jewelry and a crown/headdress. Her garment mimics the softness of silk. This was painted on a fragment from a large limestone fresco in Thebes. It has been dated to the reign of Pharaoh Amenhotep III (the 18th Dynasty). According to the book, Mistress of the House, Mistress of Heaven: Women in Ancient Egypt by Anne K. Capel and Glenn Markoe, they write, “[d]espite her mature age, Tjepu is idealized, according to contemporary fashion, as a young woman. Dressed in a diaphanous white linen gown and mantle, she is elaborately coiffed and outfitted with an usekh collar and a variety of armlets. On her head she wears a beaded chaplet and a perfumed cone of fat, which cooled and scented the body as it melted”.
ARTIST: Unknown TITLE: Gold pendant, Aigina treasure DATE: 1850BC-1550BC COUNTRY: Crete, Aegina SIZE: 6.30cmX6.00cm,138.00grains •Gold pendant •Man Posing •Bull-religious icon •Divine •Subdues animals There is much debate on the details of the renowned treasure of Aegina. Some speculate that the findings of treasure were not as was reported. In fact, there is no evidence to say that the gold items claiming to be found there were in fact, found there. The gold jewelry was given to the British Museum in 1891. Part of this collection is the gold pendant. The description is of a male figure standing among flowers, arms stretched out and grasping the neck of two geese, one on the left and the other on the right. The pose is known as the Master of the Animals. There are bul’s horns coming from behind the male diety. He is standing on what appears to be some type of boat, perhaps a papyrus boat. It is Minoan in design.
ARTIST: Unknown TITLE: Lady Tjepu DATE: ca. 1390-1353 BCE COUNTRY: Thebes, Egypt SIZE: 14 13/16 x 9 7/16 in. •Painting on whitewash •White shawl •Breast exposed •Black hair •Headdress Earrings first appeared in the Middle Kingdom. They became popular in the early 18th Dynasty. People (men, women, and children) of prominence wore earrings. The most standard form of earrings were hoops, plugs, studs, and boats. Ear plugs were popular in Amarna. They were made from glass and have been called beads or amulets by publications and scholars. That being said, there is no evidence on how these ear-plugs or worn. They are singular and not doubled, so it may be that only one plug was worn. The New Kingdom has a mystery lurking in jewelry.
ARTIST: Unknown TITLE: Lady Tjepu DATE: ca. 1390-1353 BCE COUNTRY: Thebes, Egypt SIZE: 14 13/16x9 7/16 in. •Painting on whitewash •White shawl •Breast exposed •Black hair •Headdress
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