The meaning of colour in Ancient Egypt

The ancient Egyptians used mineral compounds to add colour to their art. As a result, some of the colours are still vibrant and beautiful thousands of years later. They made jewellery out of amethyst, garnet, jasper, onyx, hematite, turquoise, lapis lazuli, copper, malachite (a form of copper ore), gold, silver, faience and shells.

Buy Silver, Amethyst, Turquoise, Lapis Lazuli, Malachite, Black Onyx and Red Jasper from Kemet Design

Modern cultures consider many of the materials used by the ancient Egyptians to be semi-precious (like turquoise) or cheap (like glass) but to the Egyptians it was not just the value or scarcity of the materials that mattered (although of course gold and silver were particularly highly prized) but the symbolic meaning of the colours and the beauty of the image that they could construct from it. Colours were not used randomly, but were intended to convey meaning and imbue an image with greater power. The ancient Egyptian palette was formed around six main colour groups: green (wadj); red (desher); blue (irtyu or khesbedj); yellow (khenet or kenit); white (hedj or shesep); and black (kem).

copyright J Hill 2010
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Predynastic period Early Dynastic Old Kingdom First Intermediate Middle Kingdom Second Intermediate New Kingdom Third Intermediate Graeco-Roman period Late period