The 13th Dynasty was a time of weak rulers-50 or 60 in 150 years. The Second Intermediate period (14th-17th dynasties) was again a time of divided rule in Egypt. The Hyksos, foreign invaders from western Asia, entered the land and set themselves up as rulers in their own right. This had a lasting impact on the land, because the Hyksos brought to Egypt new technology and, at the same time, gave the Egyptians a broader view of their place in the Mediterranean world. Once again, however, the reunification of Egypt came from Thebes, the foreigners were expelled, and a single kingship was established. The New Kingdom, beginning with the 18th Dynasty, came to be a period of great power, wealth, and influence exemplified by extensive foreign trade and conquest.
The kings of the 18th through the 20th dynasties were great builders of religious architecture. With the capital reestablished at Thebes, special attention was paid to the local god Amon, who became the most important deity in Egypt. The temple complex at Karnak, the cult center of Amon, was added to by virtually every ruler in the New Kingdom, resulting in one of the most impressive religious structures in history. Gigantic pylon gateways, colonnaded courts, and many-columned halls decorated with obelisks and statues created an impressive display directly attributable to the power of the king and the state.
On the west bank, near the necropolis of Thebes, temples for the funerary cult of the kings were built. During the New Kingdom the bodies of the rulers were buried in rock-cut tombs in the arid Valley of the Kings, with the mortuary temples at some distance outside the valley. Of these, one of the first and most unusual was the mortuary temple (circa 1478 BC) of Hatshepsut at Dayr al Bahri, built by the royal architect Senemut (died about 1482 BC). Situated against the Nile cliffs next to the 11th Dynasty temple of Mentuhotep II, and probably inspired by it, the temple is a vast terraced structure with numerous shrines to the gods and reliefs depicting Hatshepsut's accomplishments. Other kings did not follow her precedent; they built their temples at the edge of the cultivated land, away from the cliffside.
The rock-cut tombs were dug deep into the cliffsides of the Valley of the Kings in an effort-not always successful-to conceal the resting places of the royal mummies. The long descending passageways, stairs, and chambers were decorated in relief and painting with scenes from religious texts intended to protect and aid the spirit in the next life.
In the 19th Dynasty, Ramses II, one of the greatest builders of the New Kingdom, created the gigantic rock-cut temple of Abu Simbel in Nubia to the south. Hewn into the mountainside, with four colossal figures of the king in front, it was saved between 1964 and 1968 from immersion beneath the waters of the new AswanAswan High Dame and halls of the entire temple were cut out of the mountain and moved to a higher location.
As in all periods, domestic and palace architecture was of perishable mud brick. Enough remains have been preserved, however, to convey an idea of well-planned multiroomed palaces with painted floors, walls, and ceilings. Houses for the upper classes were arranged like small estates, with residential and service buildings in an enclosed compound. Examples of the modest workers' dwellings can even be found, clustered together in villages very much like those of modern Egypt.
The art of sculpture in the New Kingdom reached a new height. The severe stylization of the Old Kingdom and the bitter realism of the Middle Kingdom were replaced with a courtly style combining a sense of nobility with a careful attention to delicate detail. Begun in the reigns of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III, this style reached a maturity in the time of Amenhotep III that was never again equaled in Egypt. Portraits of rulers were imbued with grace and sensitivity, as were depictions of the courtiers.
The art of the time of Akhenaton, son of Amenhotep III, reflects the religious revolution this king set into motion. Akhenaton worshiped Aton, the sun god, and he believed art should have a new direction. Early in his reign a realism bordering on caricature was employed, but this developed into a style with a subtle beauty and a deep sense of feeling, qualities embodied in the painted limestone head (circa 1365 BC, Staatliche Museen, Berlin) of Nefertiti, Akhenaton's queen.
While relief carving was used during the New Kingdom principally for the decoration of religious structures, the art of painting came to dominate the decoration of private tombs. The necropolis at Thebes is a rich source of information on the slowly changing artistic tradition as well as of vivid illustrations of life at the time.
The medium of painting made possible a wider range of expression than sculpture, allowing the artist to create colorful tableaus of life on the Nile. Officials are shown inspecting the exotic tribute brought to Egypt from all parts of the known world. The crafts of the royal workshops are depicted in meticulous detail, illustrating the production of all manner of objects, from massive sculptures to delicate jewelry. Funerary rites are illustrated from the procession to the tomb to the final prayers for the spirit. One of the standard elements in Theban tomb painting, known as early as the Old Kingdom, is a representation of the deceased hunting and fishing in the papyrus marshes, pastimes he would have wanted to enjoy throughout eternity.
The decorative arts of the New Kingdom are equal to the sculpture and painting in their high level of accomplishment. Ordinary objects for the use of the court and the nobility were exquisitely designed and made with great care. Nowhere is this better shown than in the funerary items from the tomb (discovered in 1922) of Tutankhamen, in which rich materials-alabaster, ebony, gold, ivory, and semiprecious stones-were combined in objects of consummate artistry. Even the pottery of the New Kingdom partakes of this rich love of decoration, with brilliantly painted surfaces employing mainly floral motifs. From the evidence of tomb paintings and the decorative arts, the Egyptians of this time took particular delight in a richly colorful life.
Playing: Ana Wel 3azab Midi