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Artist's Rendering of Gathering Flax in Ancient Egypt, 1930

Egypt - Ancient Egypt, Gathering Flax
New York State Archives, NYSA_A3045-78_16972
Document Description
Artist's rendering of Ancient Egyptian artwork showing the harvesting flax, c. 1500 B.C., 1930.
What are the people doing in this picture? 
The Egyptians used pictures to tell a story.  Why would they draw pictures instead of writing a story?
What items of clothing are the people wearing in this picture?
Look also at "Metal Working" and "Ladies at Their Toilet."  All of these pictures show some aspect of daily life in ancient Egypt.  What is similar about the elements of the pictures?  What is different?  Which one gives you the clearest picture about Egyptian life?  Why? 
Historical Challenges
Find and illustrate the poses used most often in Egyptian artwork. Explain what the purpose of each pose was. (For example, when both hands were shown held up and out to the sides with the palms facing forward, it symbolized protection.)
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: Figures in Egyptian art were drawn according to a standard proportion. Using figures in different Egyptian drawings or paintings, measure the heads, torsos, and legs to find out what the proportion was.
Science: Egyptian artwork was very colorful. They used charcoal for black, malachite for green, etc. Experiment with different berries, plants, and even beetles to see what colors you can make.
English Language Arts: Choose a single Egyptian drawing or painting and interpret its meaning.
Malek, Jaromir. Egyptian Art A&I (Art and Ideas). Phaidon Press, Incorporated, July 1999. ISBN: 0714836273
Cole, Joanna. Ms. Frizzle's Adventures: Ancient Egypt (Magic School Bus Series). Scholastic, Inc., July 2003. ISBN: 0590446819

Historical Context
This artwork is a copy made in 1930 of The Metropolitan Museum of Art's print of a 1500 B.C. Egyptian wall relief. The picture shows ancient Egyptian workers harvesting flax. Some of the activities shown include pulling the flax up by the roots, knocking dirt off the roots, binding stalks into bundles, and removing seeds.

Art in ancient Egypt was known for its uniformity.  No one wanted anything original or different.  When painting or drawing the human body, artists wanted to show the parts of the body as completely as possible.  For example, when artists drew a head, they drew it as a profile so that both the front and back of the head could be seen at the same time.  

The size of the figures in the artwork signified their importance.  Kings were the largest figures, often drawn larger than life to suggest their godlike powers.  Other figures, such as wives or servants, were much smaller than the king.  The key figures were shown almost frozen in position, usually standing, sitting, or kneeling.  The positions of their hands gave greater meaning to what the characters were actually doing.

Artists used colors as symbols.  Red and orange had many meanings, including power, blood, and the desert, while yellow stood for the sun and Ra (the sun god).  Cooler colors, like blue and green, represented water and plants.

Essential Question
How does art contribute to the development of a society?
Check for Understanding
Describe the image depicted in the artwork and explain the purpose of the art.