The sculpture of the ancient Egyptians followed many of the same strict rules as the paintings and carvings. Since most of the sculptures showed pharaohs or gods and were expected to help in the afterlife, it makes sense that the Egyptians would take the art form seriously.
Sculptures never showed illness. They never showed injury or deformity. These things had no place in the afterlife which was supposed to be just like life—if things were always perfect. The sculptures usually showed the pharaoh, sometimes with animal-formed gods, sometimes with family, sometimes holding offerings to the gods. The pharaoh always wore a peaceful expression and stood (or sat or knelt) in a confident pose that made him look young and strong.
The sculptures were also very well finished and perfectly polished. In the 1000s BC, the power of the pharaohs weakened and the quality of the statues worsened. The sculptures were still pretty spectacular (and huge), and the quality of the early centuries of Egyptian sculpture eventually returned.
Because the sculptures of rulers were often several stories tall, scaffolding had to be used. The Egyptians tied sturdy reeds together to create wide ladders. The sculptors could stand on the ladders to reach the middles and tops of the sculptures. Using chisels and wooden mallets, teams of sculptors chipped away at blocks of stone to create sculptures.
Other sculptors then worked on smoothing out the stone. They created sandpaper by pressing sand between a rock and the sculpture. The sculptor would rub until the sand had all fallen away, then added more and continued. You can imagine that this would take a long time if only one person worked on it. This is one reason why Egyptian sculptors worked in teams.
When the sculpture is smooth and perfect, the sculptors carved the name of the pharaoh into the back of the sculpture.
There were, of course, smaller sculptures made for the tombs of other Egyptians, but they weren’t as large or well-finished as those created for the pharaoh.
More Egyptian art to come! Check back tomorrow.