Week 3 (Asteria)

The art piece I chose to look at was the Palette of Narmer (found on page 50 in chapter 5). The palette is about 2 feet tall and 1.3 feet wide.


Source: Tiradriti, Egyptian Treasures, pp. 40-41

Palettes in ancient times were decorative but were also most commonly used as a cosmetic plate. The ridges from the carvings would be used to grind or mix makeup. Since this specific palette was double sided, it would be used more as a ceremonial piece rather than a functional tool (Kinnaer).

There are many things depicted on this palette. In a lot of the art, the size of the depictions correlate to importance.



The king, Narmer, is the largest figure, and is placed in the center of the palette to highlight his importance. The carvings of humans are not completely anatomically correct and are depicted for aesthetics.  The positioning of the body, unique to Egypt, depicts his profile and his eye, with the front of his torso in view, and the profile of his legs. His knees are decorated for aesthetic purposes (Adams 50).



King Narmer is holding the head of an enemy at his feet. The enemy is depicted as smaller in size. The mace in Narmer’s hand brings this piece to motion. Beneath the king and his captured foe are two dead enemies. The two defeated men foreshadow the fate of his captured prisoner.



Next to the king’s head is the falcon god, Horus (Adams 51). This palette was originally found in a deposit in an early temple of the falcon god (Calvert). The falcon god identifies with the king during his lifetime, as suggested by it having human arms rather than a bird claw. It is clear that artwork from Egypt is not organic, and does not depict the subject as it is, but rather in a way that highlights the strengths/weaknesses of the subject. The falcon depicted on the palette is unusually big compared to Narmer. The size of its body is bigger than the king’s servant (depicted on the left), showing the sheer importance of the falcon god.



Looking on the opposite side of the palette, once again, King Narmer is the largest amongst his bearers and decapitated enemies. His power and victory are made highlighted with the contrasting scene of the defeated. His crown is different than the one on the opposite side. The crown he is wearing now is the red wicker crown of Lower Egypt. The one on the opposite side is the white war crown of Upper Egypt.



Below the action scene are two beasts with their necks outstretched, forming a circle. This deep crevice is where the grinding of makeup would occur if this palette was not a ceremonial/decorative piece. The taming of the beasts symbolizes the power of the king.



Below the two animals, a bull is depicted. Contrary to before, where the two animals were tamed, the bull symbolizes the strength and vigor of the king. The man next to the fallen walls show the bull’s triumph (Kinnaer).

Reading more on the history of King Narmer, he was the first king during the first dynasty in Egypt; thus, his power and glory are highly celebrated due to his military conquests (Mark).

It was really interesting to read and look through the different styles of art from Egypt. There are some where the body is not depicted naturally, some where the body is sculpted as if the rulers had a perfect body, and there are some where the rulers had physical flaws just like all humans do. I think it’s interesting to compare how we perceive photoshopped photos in modern day as fake and unrealistic, whereas the style of art in Egypt was highly praised. Even when kings die at an old age, all depictions of them are youthful and they are in great shape.

It is also very interesting to see that a lot of the artwork is monuments/tributes to the rulers. The pyramids and the sphinx are enormous monuments for the deceased rulers, and are still kept today on the outskirts next to the city. Even though we have large monuments like the Lincoln Memorial, the pyramids (serving as tombs) are enormous.

Adams, L. S. (2011). A History of Western Art (5th Edition ed.). New York , New York: McGraw Hill.

Calvert, Amy. “Palette of King Narmer.” Smarthistory, 5 Aug. 2015

Kinnaer, Jacques. “The Narmer Palette.” The Ancient Egypt Site, The Ancient Egypt Site, 17 Jan. 2017

Mark, Joshua J. “Narmer Palette.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 4 Feb. 2016.

4 thoughts on “Week 3 (Asteria)”

  1. This was so interesting, Asteria! Do you know if the palettes used for make-up were as detailed and ornate as this one? That seems like a lot of work just to crush make-up! Maybe we have more in common with the Ancient Egyptians than we think. They seemed to be a society filled with vanity and focused on looks. Sounds familiar… Your analysis was really great and I learned so much from your post!


  2. I looked up some of the other palettes used for make up and it seems that they are also decorated. Even if they don’t have as many intricate details as this one, they all have the big circular dip in the middle.

    I agree, it’s so interesting that even though the standards of beauty are different, make up is still used across different cultures.


  3. I really appreciate the format of your post. You gave us the full image of the palette at the beginning, but then cut it into smaller, more focused segments to explain each piece. That really helped me understand how much effort went into this piece regarding the process and the several meanings behind it. It’s amazing to me that even though this palette is one solid color (unlike some of the vibrant Egyptian paintings), there is still so much energy and action flowing through it. Thanks for the excellent analysis!


    1. I agree that compared to other pieces of Egyptian artwork, there isn’t a whole lot of color. But even without the color, the subjects depicted pop out at the viewer (quite literally). The focus of the different subjects heavily rely on size and placement instead.


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