December 9, 2022


Adorn your Feelings

Why does ancient Egypt’s distinctive art style make everything look flat?

4 min read


In 1986, the band “The Bangles” sang about “all the old paintings on the tombs” where the figures they depict are “strolling like an Egyptian.” Though he was neither an artwork historian nor an Egyptologist, songwriter Liam Sternberg was referring to a single of the most putting features of historical Egyptian visual artwork — the depiction of people today, animals and objects on a flat, two-dimensional plane. Why did the historic Egyptians do this? And is historical Egypt the only tradition to generate artwork in this style?

Drawing any item in three proportions requires a distinct viewpoint to generate the illusion of perspective on a flat floor. Drawing an item in two dimensions (height and breadth) demands the artist to depict just a single area of that object. And highlighting just one particular area, it turns out, has its pros.


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