Egyptian Goddess Maat, 664-332 B.C. (Walters Art Gallery)
The secret to understanding the daily life and culture of ancient Egypt under its great rulers and pharaohs is right before our eyes—in its art and architecture. Examinations of these vast treasures reveal how they influenced Egyptian cultural identity and how religion shaped artistic production.
Using evidence from the most recent archaeological discoveries, Egyptologist Jacquelyn Williamson surveys the social and historical realities of this civilization from its early pyramids through the art created under King Akhenaten, who upended centuries of tradition to created new artistic conventions.
9:30–10:45 a.m. Understanding Egyptian Art: The Origins of an Artistic Tradition
The iconography of Egypt appears fully formed in the early dynastic period. No deity was as influential as the winged goddess Maat, the symbol of the laws of truth and justice that provide the driving force behind all Egyptian art and architecture. The first pyramid was inspired by earlier mud-brick structures that were as massive and awe-inspiring as anything the Egyptians ever built.
11 a.m.–12:15 p.m. Wonder and Majesty: The Art of the 4th Dynasty
Egyptian art flowers during the wealth and might of the 4th Dynasty, with its kings and elites embodied in statues that capture the elegance of eternity. The pyramids of the Giza plateau reflect only part of the engineering mastery and innovations introduced by the architects of this dynasty.
12:15–1:30 p.m. Lunch (participants provide their own)
1:30–2:45 p.m. The Elegance of Discord and the Beauty of Empire
The Middle Kingdom unified the country after a period of upheaval. The memory of this period, characterized by economic decline and civil war, inspired remarkable works of conceptual art that gave voice to the nation’s anxiety. In contrast, the stability and wealth of the 18th Dynasty—an era that even produced a female king—allowed art and architecture to flower in unexpected ways.
3–4:15 p.m. The Art of Heresy: Akhenaten and Nefertiti
Amunhotep III’s reign was one of the wealthiest and most artistically innovative in the 18th Dynasty. His son Akhenaten ushered in a period of great artistic industry as well, but in an unexpected way: He and his wife Nefertiti broke entirely with tradition by claiming that no gods existed but one, the sun god called the Aten. Their heresy inspired some of the most visually arresting art works in history.
Williamson is an assistant professor of ancient art and archaeology at George Mason University.
World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1 credit*
*Enrolled participants in the World Art History Certificate Program receive 1 elective credit. Not yet enrolled? Learn about the program, its benefits, and how to register here.
S. Dillon Ripley Center
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Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)