Ancient Egypt Art Law: What You Need to Know

If you are interested in ancient Egyptian art, you may wonder how it was regulated and protected by the law. Ancient Egyptian law was based on the concept of ma’at, which means harmony, balance, truth, and justice.

Ma’at was believed to be established by the gods at the creation of the world and maintained by the pharaoh, who was their representative on earth. The pharaoh was also the supreme judge and lawmaker, assisted by his vizier, who oversaw the administration of justice.

Ancient Egyptian art was closely linked to the religious and political power of the pharaoh and the elite. Art was used to express the divine nature of the king, his role in maintaining order and prosperity, and his connection to the gods and the afterlife.

Art was also used to glorify the achievements and values of the state, such as military victories, building projects, religious festivals, and moral virtues.

The protection and preservation of ancient Egyptian art was a matter of both religious and legal concern. Artworks were considered sacred objects that housed the presence of the gods or the spirits of the deceased. They were also valuable assets that belonged to the temples, tombs, or palaces where they were located.

Damaging or stealing artworks was considered a grave offense against both the divine and the human owners. Such acts could disrupt the cosmic order and bring misfortune to the perpetrators and their descendants.

There are many examples of ancient Egyptian laws that dealt with art-related crimes. For instance, in the Middle Kingdom (c. 2055-1650 BCE), a decree issued by King Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II warned that anyone who harmed or removed any part of his monuments would be cursed by the gods and punished by the king.

In the New Kingdom (c. 1550-1070 BCE), a tomb robber named Amenpanefer confessed that he had stolen gold, silver, copper, clothing, and other items from various tombs in Thebes. He was sentenced to death by impalement, along with his accomplices.

Ancient Egyptian law also recognized the rights and responsibilities of artists and craftsmen who created artworks for the state or private patrons. Artists were organized into guilds or workshops that had their own rules and regulations.

They were expected to follow certain standards of quality, originality, and accuracy in their work. They were also entitled to fair compensation and protection from exploitation or abuse. For example, in the Ramesside Period (c. 1295-1069 BCE), a group of tomb painters went on strike to protest against their low wages and poor working conditions.

They wrote a letter to their supervisor, demanding better treatment and threatening to stop working if their demands were not met.

Ancient Egyptian art law is a fascinating topic that reveals much about the culture, values, and history of this ancient civilization.

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