Ancient Egyptian Color

by Margie Deeb
Ancient Egyptian Color Excerpted from Margie Deeb’s book, The Beader’s Color Palette

For roughly 3,000 years tomb painting in Pharaonic Egypt employed a consistent palette: three- to four-color combinations hinged on red or yellow. These combinations, and the hues within them, varied. But overall, the palettes remained consistent.

Because much of their art was religious, the ancient Egyptians used color symbolically to convey messages rather than for realistic portrayal.

Minerals and metals were used for their spiritual and therapeutic values: lapis lazuli corresponded with joy; turquoise with delight.

Some were identified with specific deities: copper and malachite with Hathor; and gold with the deity of the sun.

Their limited painting palette represented the Nile valley landscape: yellow-red of the desert, blue of the river, green of papyrus, and pale blue of the sky.

Red is the most variable color because it came from local ochre sources. In Theban tombs it is a warm, earthy brown. In other areas the red leans heavily towards purple. Blues, blacks, and greens are predominantly accent colors.

The wealth of magnificent jewelry they left us employs a wide range of stones including quartz crystal, carnelian, amethyst, jasper, onyx, lapis, and silver and gold.

The ancient Egyptians developed the art of glass used for its own sake, and for imitation gemstone. Their glass beads, which held spiritual and magical properties, were the finest of the ancient world.

    Artist, designer, musician, and color expert Margie Deeb is the first to author of several beading books about color, including the popular The Beader’s Guide to Color and The Beader’s Color Palette (June 2008, Watson-Guptill).

    She teaches color courses for artists, interior designers, and beaders and her free monthly color column, “Margie’s Muse,” is available on her website. She produces a free graphically enhanced podcast, “Margie Deeb’s Color Celebration,” available on iTunes.

    Her articles have appeared in "Bead & Button" and "Beadwork" magazines, and she writes a regular color column in "Step-by-Step Beads" and "BeadBugle.Com" She has appeared on the 2008 PBS show “Beads, Baubles, and Jewels” speaking about color. Visit Margie’s website for her books, patterns, jewelry, inspiration, and more: The Art of Color for Bead Artists.

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