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Egyptian Painted Art

The architecture of the Egyptians is thoroughly polychromatic, they painted everything; therefore we have much to learn from them on this head. They dealt in flat tints, and used neither shade nor shadow, yet found no difficulty in poetically conveying to the mind the identity of the object they desired to represent. They used color as they did form, conventionally. Compare the representation of the lotus (No. 3, Plate IV.) with the natural flower (No. 1); how charmingly are the characteristics of the natural flower reproduced in the representations! See how the outer leaves are distinguished by a darker green, and the inner protected leaves by a lighter green; whilst the purple and yellow tones of the inner flower are represented by red leaves floating in a field of yellow, which most completely recalls the yellow glow of the original. We have here Art added to Nature, and derive an additional pleasure in the perception of the mental effort which has produced it.

The Lotus and Papyrus, types of Egyptian ornament
The Lotus and Papyrus, types of Egyptian ornament. Plate IV

The colors used by the Egyptians were principally red, blue, and yellow, with black and white to define and give distinctiveness to the various colors; with green used generally, though not universally, as a local color, such as the green leaves of the lotus. These were, however, indifferently colored green or blue; blue in the more ancient times, and green during the Ptolemaic period; at which time, also, were added both purple and brown, but with diminished effect. The red also, which is found on the tombs or mummy-cases of the Greek or Roman period, is lower in tone than that of the ancient times; and it appears to be a universal rule that, in all archaic periods of art, the primary colors, blue, red, and yellow, are the prevailing colors, and these used most harmoniously and successfully. Whilst in periods when art is practised traditionally, and not instinctively, there is a tendency to employ the secondary colors and hues, and shades of every variety, though rarely with equal success. We shall have many opportunities of pointing this out in subsequent chapters.

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