The New Kingdom of ancient Egypt was a golden age of architecture
and art. A variety of factors combined to make the New Kingdom one
of the most creative cultures of the ancient world.
|Karnak featuring obelisks
The empire that the Pharaohs expanded through diplomacy, trade and
war brought Egypt centuries of political stability and prosperity.
Money poured into Egypt from its foreign lands, particularly Nubia,
home to the richest gold mines in the ancient world.
Giving thanks, looking good
Much of this money was used by the pharaohs to give thanks to the
gods who had helped them in their success. Commissioning magnificent
buildings and statues, obelisks and temples gave pharaohs the opportunity
to show off their wealth and generosity to their own people, as well
as to visitors from other lands.
The pharaohs also controlled the news through carvings on the temple
walls - an early form of propaganda. Pharaohs - particularly Hatshepsut and Ramesses II - used this power of information to its full capacity
, to legitimize their own reign and to rewrite failures into
Temples - the next big thing
The god to benefit most from all the building work was Amen-Re, the
chief of the gods. His temple at Karnak was expanded repeatedly. This
was done most notably by Ramesses II, who added 134 massive columns
shaped like papyrus trees, weighing more than 100 tons each.
Temples were one of the main architectural innovations of the New
Kingdom. They were the most important buildings in ancient Egypt -
cities like Amarna were built around a central temple, with roads
Hatshepsut began the trend by building a magnificent temple at Deir
el-Bahri. Others soon followed. Amenhotep III commissioned huge numbers
of enormous buildings and was the first to build the gigantic statue,
or colossus. The Colossi of Memnon dominated the plains around Thebes,
while the temples for the pharaoh and his wife, Queen Tiy, set new
standards in royal opulence.
But even these were overshadowed by the building program of Ramesses
II. Almost every temple in Egypt was rebuilt, redecorated or expanded
. In Thebes, the great temple to Amen-Re gained a new entrance
with four colossi of the pharaoh, to remind people who was in charge.
Tombs, not pyramids
The other major change was the move away from pyramids to tombs carved
out of the rock face, a trend started by Amenhotep I in around 1500
BC. Other pharaohs followed suit, building their tombs in what became
known as the Valley of the Kings, with other valleys used for queens
The tombs were exquisitely decorated with fine paintings or carved
reliefs of religious texts that would help the dead successfully navigate
their way to the afterlife. Other tombs contained idealized images
of everyday life that represented a person's hopes for paradise in
|Click on the image for a gallery view
A means to an end
The ancient Egyptians had no word for art and no concept of art for
art's sake. For them, the images had a more important purpose - representing
the life of the tomb's occupant and forming the basis of their life
Yet Egyptian art did evolve over the years. During the reign of Hatshepsut,
portraits of both men and women became more feminine, with heart-shaped
faces, arched eyebrows and kindly smiles. Art changed again in the
reign of Akenhaten. New portraits of the royal family replaced graceful
images with shocking new pictures. Kings and queens had skinny chests
and shoulders, and massive hips, thighs and buttocks. A short
shock Akenhaten's willingness to ditch tradition altogether was a
forerunner of things to come. But like his decision to abandon Thebes
and Amen-Re for Amarna and Aten, the changes died with him.
The backlash against his actions and ideas was brutal: ancient Egypt
was a conservative country and soon traditional paintings were back,
as the tombs of Tutankhamen and Ramesses II would demonstrate all
Where to next:
Religion in the New Kingdom
Egyptian society - Priests