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Tomb Art




















Tomb Art

The Ancient Egyptian societies were ruled by two classes. These were the royalty and the theocracies. At the center of the royalty was the pharaoh, who was viewed as a deity on earth, once the ‘Ka’ of Horus had entered his body. Alongside the pharaoh were the royal advisers. They were primarily responsible for all the decisions involved in administration of the territories. Religious leaders and priests are the figures that comprised the theocracy. Religion played a critical role in the Egyptian society. It influenced social structures, activities and life in general. Since the society was based on the traditional religion, the theocracy was granted utmost respect by all the other classes. This understanding of society, through religion, was carried into art. At the time, one of the most popular forms of art was practiced on tombs. These were facilities where the great people of society were placed for their eternal rest. Since they were only available to important people, tombs were used by the theocracy and royalty. The art practiced on tombs, therefore, featured an intimate connection between the theocracy and royalty, alongside ancient Egyptian religious beliefs (Davis, 1989).

Egyptian religion instilled beliefs of immortality into the society. This was maintained throughout all the Egyptian dynasties. The ancient society believed that people still existed even after their physical deaths. In that respect, the human body was believed to consist of three parts, the body, ghost and soul. For future lives, it was regarded important to preserve all these components. As a result, the ancient Egyptians built tombs that were virtually indestructible. Access to them was limited, and the structures featured distinct security features such as complex mazes. This was necessary for preserving the physical body as well as belongings owned by the deceased. Similarly, this was done to prevent theft by grave robbers, which could affect the afterlife of the deceased (Davis, 1989).

It has, therefore, been seen that the ancient Egyptian tombs were only used for religious purposes. The same applied to items stored within the tombs. They would serve as supplies necessary for continuity for future life. Art played a critical role in the ancient tombs. According to Morenz, Egyptian religion served as the womb of its culture. The art located on tombs offer narratives on the Egyptian society and its culture. Historical narratives have been presented on the walls of the tombs. Most of these correlate to religious beliefs such as the influence of gods in the society. Similarly, events that took place during various dynasties have been outlined. The art mostly comprised of several narratives. The first related to the ascension of new pharaohs. These narratives typically feature the god Horus, the main deity in Egyptian religion. Secondly, they talked about the lives of important people in the society. This perhaps served as a roadmap for future lives of the royalty and theocracy. Thirdly, they featured important historical events such as battles, as seen in the tomb of King Horemheb. Such narratives featured the king as a deity who was also supported by other gods. The narratives also featured discourse in important religious issues such as marriage in the royalty and theocracy. Religious practices maintained a central theme in all these narratives. Some form of prayer or invocation of deities was always involved (Morenz, 1973).

In the Egyptian society, high ranking government officials were regarded as members of the nobility class. This set of people was also privileged with tombs at the time of their deaths. These tombs also feature art through wall paintings and other artifacts. However, the scenes depicted through the paintings did not feature the same religious details outlined in royal tombs. Nobility tombs featured portrayals of these government officials as they carried out their official tasks. For example, they were depicted to supervise workers. This highlights the connection held between the royalty and theocracy was not extended to members of the nobility during the early kingdom. However, the same relationship was extended through art in the middle and new kingdom. Nobility featured the presence of theocratic phenomena such as presentations of the gods (O’neill & Allen, 1999).

The tomb of Sennedjem was an ancient Egyptian tomb that was intact at its discovery. Its walls were lined with paintings. Similarly, its floors were filled with sculptures and other forms of artistic furniture. The tomb originally had a small room with a painting of Snnedjem and Lynerferti, his wife, playing a board game. This game has religious value, since it is affiliated to the Book of the Dead. This is a religious text that covers the ancient Egyptian narrative of Ani and his wife. The book tells of their travels through the land of the dead and other places. In that respect, it offers the spells and rituals that may be practiced during the afterlife, in order to return back to human life in safety. The game played between Snnedjem and his wife, therefore, represents the judgment of the Osiris, the deity of the underworld. From this image, it is seen that the Theocracy maintained a heavy influence on burial rituals of ancient Egyptian royalty. Their teachings have been prescribed through the book of the dead and accompanying rituals. Due to influence from the theocracy, the royalty were keen to incorporate the religious beliefs on immortality into their belongings. Tombs presented a good medium for archiving these narratives and beliefs for their future lives.

In the same tomb, there exists an image of Sennedjem and his relatives, members of the royalty and nobility, worshipping the Osiris and Maat. This image is located on the upper register of the door. On the lower register, the royalty and nobility appear to be worshipping Isis and Ptah Sokar Osiris. In the same image, a priest can be seen conducting some sacred activity. It is, therefore, arguable that the theocracy played very important roles to the royalty. Originally, it was held that the royalty were exclusive in their presentations. Individuals who were not from their social classes could not be associated with them. However, the centrality of religion and the theocracy in ancient Egypt altered this presentation in the arts. Other social classes that held value began to be featured in artistic forms.

Inherkau was a nobleman during the 20th ancient Egyptian dynasty of Rameses III and IV. His primary duty was to serve as a foreman for the necropolis workers. He, therefore, held great importance to the royalty. Inherkau has a well preserved tomb. Once again, the influence of the theocracy can be seen on the nobility, through the paintings on his tomb. The antechamber features a painting of Inherkau, his wife seated across a priest seated. On the painting, the book of the dead can also be seen. The priest appears to play a musical instrument while explaining some narrative to them. From the wall painting, it can be understood that the two are receiving instructions regarding the afterlife or some other religious discussion. This painting highlights the value that was traditionally bestowed on the theocracy. It seems that they had to be included in most artistic narratives concerning death and immortality. As a result, later art on the nobility always mentioned the presence of the theocracy in one way or another. Theocratic principles were always present in the tombs. This is seen through the book of the dead and other religious artifacts.

Amenhotep III was a pharaoh that reigned towards the end of the 18th dynasty. This was a period that was characterized by prosperity throughout the kingdom. His tomb features narratives focused on immortality and some religious rituals, as advocated by the theocracy. On the North wall, he is seen to be escorted by his father’s ‘ka’ to Hathor. Amenhotep then receives life from Anubis and Osiris in following turn. In the image, there are different religious symbols. For instance, there are many instances of the ankh. This represents the ‘breath of life’ that is needed for survival in the afterlife. On other walls of the tomb, similar narratives can be seen. They all feature the internment of the pharaoh and his presentation to different gods and goddesses. From this tomb, it is seen that royalty and divinities have been granted a grand display. The numerous presentations of deities are attributable to the strong influence of the theocracy in the ancient Egyptian society. The social class and its religious views had managed to permeate into nearly every aspect of society. As a result, it was necessary that the royalty receive an artistic narrative that features theocratic values such as rituals associated to the afterlife (Kozloff & Bryan et al., 1992).

King Tutankhamun’s tomb (KV62) is the best known among the ancient Egyptian structures. This is attributable to its originality, in that, grave robbers had not managed to steal many things from it. In that respect, its wall paintings and other art have not been disturbed or damaged. Similar to life in the New Kingdom, Tut’s tomb maintains expansive theocratic power. Religious themes are seen in all the artifacts. On the south wall, the king is accompanied by Anubis as they go before Hathor. The same narrative continues whereby the king is welcomed into the underworld by Anubis, Isis and Hathor. On the west wall, there is a representation of the apes of the first hour. The north wall presents perhaps the most significant representation of religious ritual. There is a wall painting describing a narrative concerning the opening of the mouth ritual. This was an activity carried out by priests where some token words were spoken in order to ensure that the senses of the deceased would regain their prior form. It was believed that once the deceased had their senses rejuvenated, they had the capability to influence the lives of their relations. The theocracy, therefore, played an important role in the lives of the relations to the deceased. For example, if they performed the ceremony efficiently, the lives of the royalty would be influenced as had been intended. In that regard, the theocracy was granted great respect by the nobility and royalty. On the east wall of the tomb, there is a painting that depicts the funeral ceremony. It highlights members of the nobility pulling King Tutankhamun’s mummy (Reeves, 1990).

King Horemheb ruled during the 18th dynasty. His tomb features numerous wall paintings. In one, he is depicted to have sat down across a priest. He was attending some form of a ritual. In another depiction, he appears to lead an army. Above the image is a set of symbols representing various theocratic symbols. This narrative highlights the involvement of the theocracy throughout the Egyptian society, in the form of religion. In Horemheb’s tomb, the antechamber is dominated by scenes of the king with the gods. The walls are characterized by multicolored bands of yellow, white, black, blue and green. On the South wall, there is a presentation of Anubis, in the form of a jackal. On the West wall, there is a narrative that depicts the presentation of Horemheb to Isis, by the god Horus. Isis holds a scepter and an ankh on her hands. These symbols represent power and life in ancient Egypt’s religious beliefs. In the narrative, it appears that the deities are providing Horemheb protection. It may, therefore, be deduced that the theocracy had a role in protecting the royalty from harm in the ancient Egyptian society. They offered religious protection through practicing rituals such as that of the priest seated across Horemheb (Davis, 1989).

In the ancient Egyptian society, the theocracy maintained a great power alongside the royalty and nobility. As the society developed a greater affinity for religion as it progressed from the Old Kingdom, so did the theocracy acquire more power. This is attributable to their involvement in all activities, from warfare to rituals associated to the death of pharaohs. They were regarded important as a result of the belief that they could influence future lives of the people. For example, if they did not conduct funeral rituals properly, an individual’s soul would be lost wandering in the netherworld for all eternity. As a result, they maintained a significant presence in artwork on tombs owned by the royalty and nobility. The same applies for their teachings which are seen in symbols such as the ankh and was.









Davis, W. (1989). The canonical tradition in ancient Egyptian art. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press.

Kozloff, A., Bryan, B., Bernam, L. & Delange, E. (1992). Egypt’s dazzling sun. Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art.

Morenz, S. (1973). Egyptian religion. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

O’neill, J. & Allen, J. (1999). Egyptian art in the age of the pyramids. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Reeves, C. (1990). The complete Tutankhamun. London: Thames and Hudson.



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