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Colour in Ancient Egyptian Art

Polychromatic traditions

- painting in blocks of colour

(relief fragment from Hawara)

Colouristic traditions

- painting with shades

(Roman Period portrait from Hawara UC19613)
see the full gallery of portraits from Hawara

Bichrome traditions

- use of 1 (or 2) colours on a ground

(vessels from a Second Intermediate Tomb at Tarkhan)

UC 14794, rel


In Egypt, polychromy exists alongside bichrome traditions, and in Hellenistic and Roman Periods, colouristic traditions.

This implies that each tradition achieved separate ends - this is not an evolutionary sequence.


Principles of composition

Ancient Egyptian formal art deployed demarcated blocks of colour (polychromatic tradition) with emphasis on the solid rather than the effects of shading.

A limited range of materials was deployed to maximise contrast between colour fields, providing much of the movement or dynamic of the composition.

Materials of Ancient Egyptian Artists | Colour in language | Colour Terms


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