The roles of elite women of the New Kingdom

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Predynastic Egypt (ca 5000-3100BC)

Hunter-gatherers of the Predynastic Period settled near the Nile and these new settlements resulted in the division of ancient Egypt into two kingdoms, namely Upper and Lower Egypt in approximately 3200BC (Smith 1998:8). The Predynastic peoples established the first type of art forms, namely cave paintings, depicting their interactions with the local animals. The art comprised mainly geomorphic or polymorphous designs with very little or no information concerning social status (Bianchi 1995:2533). In the Badarian Period (before 4000BC) the first two-dimensional representations were developed by using the incised method to decorate pottery. Knapp (1988:35) believes that the Badarian people were skilled craftsmen and artists. Metalworking (copper) had already made its appearance as well as the manufacturing of ivory- and clay objects. The Naqada I Period (formerly known as the Amratian Period) that followed the Badarian reflects designs of an animal nature, especially the hippopotamus, and the portrayal of human figures. It was during the Naqada I Period that the first images of women appeared (Scott 1997). These were called “dancers” and comprised small painted figures of women with upraised arms. (Figure 10).

Old Kingdom (ca 2686-2181BC; Dynasties III-VI)

The Old Kingdom was characterised by impressive art and architecture. This period formed the basis for the development of art throughout the remainder of Pharaonic Egypt. Some of the architectural features of the Old Kingdom still exist, namely the pyramids and the sphinx of the Giza Plateau near modern day Cairo (Malek 1999:85). These monuments reflected the ideology of the king, the importance of death and the afterlife, and the establishment of a hierarchical society. Aldred (2004:44) implies that “prosperity and confidence was reflected in the technical progress of the arts”.


During the Old- and Middle Kingdoms, the proportions of the human body in paintings, reliefs and freestanding sculptures were based on an empirical view and not on the proportions of the particular models (Azarpay 1995:2507-2519). Vermaak et al. (2000:6) suggest that the proportions of the human body played an important role in drawing and that certain essential parts were emphasised. Initially, in this period the surfaces of buildings were sparingly decorated, but this soon changed to such an extent that there was scarcely a wall or pylon that was not covered with pictures or hieroglyphic inscriptions. These were ideal for the carving of two-dimensional representations since the surfaces were smooth. Initially only raised reliefs were carved on monuments, but by the end of the Fourth Dynasty, sunk reliefs were introduced into the artistic work (Schäfer 1986:76; Russman et al. 2001a:16).



During the First Intermediate Period, tombs were rock-cut and sparsely decorated with scenes in poor quality raised relief. Most of these scenes depict either soldiers reflecting the political instability of the period or offering scenes (Malek 1999:157; Aldred 2004:111). The same hieroglyphs were used as in the Old Kingdom and the pictorial characters did not change during this period. The reliefs that survive were mostly carved on stele and were placed on the rectangular panels above the tomb entrances. The most famous elite women of the First Intermediate Period were Princess Kawit, Queen Nofru, Queen Ashayt, Queen Kemsit and Queen Tem from the Eleventh Dynasty.


Pyramids of the Middle Kingdom were badly built and reduced soon afterwards to heaps of rubble and sand. Their funerary reliefs and statues originated from the Memphite Old Kingdom and, according to Russman et al. (2001a:18) the “Old Kingdom classicism and naturalistic beauty had been transformed into a new, more muted style”. Private tombs and temples contained statues and inscriptions that requested passers-by to pray to the owner. The remarkable monument of this dynasty was Mentuhotep II’s mortuary complex, built against the cliffs of western Thebes at Deir el-Bahri (Wilkinson 2000:23). Mentuhotep II had various wives. Queen Nofru was followed by Princess Kawit, (Figure 28) the royal companion of Mentuhotep II, who was known as the “Sole Favourite of the King”. Tem was also a wife of Mentuhotep II and known as the mother of Mentuhotep III. Her tomb47 was one of the largest burial sites ever found with a beautiful travertine and sandstone sarcophagus (Grimal:1992).


The development of art in the Middle Kingdom was influenced by the changes that took place in the social and political structures51. Royal or official statues were introduced during the Twelfth Dynasty and were especially designed for the funerary monuments of the rulers. Over life-size, they were much larger than previously, display great physical power as well as an overall progression in the statuary and portraiture (Aldred 2004:124). The proportion of the figures was based on that of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties and was executed in both twoand three-dimensional styles. The male figures were shown with broad shoulders and thick, muscular limbs, whereas female figures were slender with no muscularity. The proportions of the statuary were based on the grid lines of the Old Kingdom (Robins 1997:106-109).

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Table of Contents :

  • Chapter 1 Introduction
    • 1.1 Hypothesis
    • 1.2 Methodology
    • 1.3 Sources
    • 1.4 Composition
  • Chapter 2 Artistic overview of ancient Egyptian art
    • 2.1 Introduction
    • 2.2 Sources for ancient Egyptian Art
    • 2.3 Conclusion
  • Chapter 3 Chronological history of ancient Egyptian Art
    • 3.1 Predynastic Egypt (ca 5000-3100BC)
    • 3.2 The Early Dynastic Period (ca 3100-2686BC; Dynasties I – II)
    • 3.3 Old Kingdom (ca 2686-2181BC; Dynasties III-VI)
    • 3.4 First Intermediate Period (ca 2181-2040BC; Dynasties VII – X)
    • 3.5 Middle Kingdom (ca 2040-1650BC; Dynasties XI – XIII)
    • 3.6 Second Intermediate Period (ca 1750-1550BC; Dynasties XIII – XVII)
    • 3.7 New Kingdom (ca 1550-1069BC; Dynasties XVIII – XX)
    • 3.8 Conclusion
  • Chapter 4 The roles of elite women of the New Kingdom
    • 4.1 Introduction
    • 4.2 King’s Wife
    • 4.3 Female Pharaoh
    • 4.4 Co-Regent
    • 4.5 King’s Mother
    • 4.6 King’s Secondary Wife
    • 4.7 King’s Daughter
    • 4.8 King’s Sister
    • 4.9 Religious Roles
    • 4.10 Roles of elite women during festivals and rituals
    • 4.11 Elite women in War
    • 4.12 Diplomatic Roles
    • 4.13 Conclusion
  • Chapter 5 Profiles of elite women of the New Kingdom
    • 5.1 Ahhotep
    • 5.2 Ahmose-Nefertari
    • 5.3 Ahmose-Merytamun
    • 5.4 Ahmose
    • 5.5 Hatshepsut
    • 5.6 Neferura
    • 5.7 Tiaa
    • 5.8 Mutemwiya
    • 5.9 Queen Tiye
    • 5.10 Nefertiti (Nefertiti-Neferneferaten)
    • 5.11 Ankhesenamen (Ankhesenpaaten)
    • 5.12 Kiya
    • 5.13 Mutnodjmet
    • 5.14 Tuya, Mother of Ramsses II
    • 5.15 Nefertari
    • 5.16 Isetnofret
    • 5.17 Merytamun
    • 5.18 Tawosret
    • 5.19 Wives of Ramsses III
    • 5.20 Wives of the Later Ramesside Monarchs
    • 5.21 Conclusion
  • Chapter 6 Conclusion
    • Bibliography


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