Representations of the eyes in Egyptian paintings.

One of the visitors to our website has asked "why, when the head of a person is painted in profile in Egyptian wall paintings, it is both eyes rather than just one that are shown?"

In Egyptian paintings or reliefs (wall carvings), the head of a person was always shown in profile (there are very few exceptions to this rule) and only one eye was actually represented (so the question is mistaken in assuming the opposite). The eye was, however, shown as if seen from the front.

The reason for this was that the Egyptians represented human figures as composite pictures, with different parts of the body shown in their most characteristic and most easily recognizable views: the head in profile, the eye in front view, the shoulders in front view, the arms and hands in profile, the stomach in three-quarter view, the legs again in profile. Some modern artists, for example Picasso, used a similar method. But it would have been impossible to see all of these parts in this way at the same time.

Painted scene in the tomb of Nebenmaet (TT 219), on the west bank of the Nile opposite Luxor. S. Schott photo. 8995. Copyright Griffith Institute, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

© Jaromir Malek 2001

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