Compare and contrast the Egyptian and Mesopotamian art?

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epic-art-time eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are many significant similarities and differences between the art of ancient Egypt and the art of the various civilizations in ancient Mesopotamia.

The ancient Egyptians were known for creating large monuments such as the Great Spinx and the Temple of Ramses II.  These massive sculptural structures many times were created in preparation for the afterlife.  The Egyptians had the ability to import large stones for these great structures, and they also were able to organize a massive labor force for building purposes.

Art from the Mesopotamian region tends to be smaller and less grand than the Egyptians’.  Like the Egyptians their sculptural figures appear stiff and ridged, however the figurative structures from Mesopotamia were often based on cone forms and were depicted with hands clasped in front (See the Statuettes from the Temple of Abu Tell Asmar.)  Unlike the Egyptians, Mesopotamian artist often created their human figures with exaggeratedly large eyes. They used scale to indicate hierarchy in the culture.  For example, women did not hold a high place in Mesopotamian societies, consequently statues and figurines of women are represented as being much smaller than those depicting men.

This is in contrast to Egyptian society where women are represented as being more equal.  The statue of Menkaure and his queen Khamerernebty is a great example of this.  It shows this royal husband and wife standing together as equals.  Although there are indications that Menkaure holds the power i.e. his clenched fists, taller stature, and his left foot stepping out past that of his wife, it is clear that his wife is not inferior.

Hieroglyphics, the written language of the Egyptians was very pictorial.  They used pictures and symbols to represent people, things and actions.  The Mesopotamians on the other hand developed the written communication called cuneiform which was made up of wedge shaped symbols carved onto clay tablets.   The peoples of ancient Mesopotamia are renowned for their contribution to literary history with works such as the Epic of Gilgamesh which according the eNotes/Wikipedia page on the subject is “among the earliest known works of literature.”

In both cultures art was used on the sides of everyday objects and on the walls of monuments depicting scenes from everyday life.  Art was also a means to show reverence to gods and goddesses, kings and queens.

Both cultures emphasized the perfection of the human figure in proportion and in terms of view.  With respect to 2 dimensional arts, each part of the body was depicted at the most representative angel. Feet and heads are depicted in profile but eyes and torsos are shown in frontal view.

In both Egyptian and Mesopotamian art there are many examples of 2 dimensional depictions of evenly spaced figures in procession with repetitive, almost identical poses. Creatures with a mixture of both human and animal body parts are another common subject matter.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Egyptian art is more funerary in nature than Mesopotamian art. This means it is related to tomb decoration and depicts the underworld and related gods. Other subjects depicted in Egyptian art include pharaohs. Egyptian art was colorful and included geometric shapes, which were also featured in their architecture, such as the pyramids. Their art and architecture were generally related to the afterlife and were constructed of materials such as pottery, mud, clay, and bronze.

Like Egyptian art, Mesopotamian art was constructed of materials such as clay, mud, and stone. Also like Egyptians, Mesopotamians often constructed large, detailed architectural pieces. However, these pieces were generally related to protection and included large defensive walls rather than structures related to the afterlife such as pyramids. Mesopotamian art generally pictured mythological creatures, such as the Guennol Lioness (which is an anthropomorphic figurine of a female lion-headed monster), and hunting scenes, rather than scenes depicting the afterlife. 

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