Quiz: Egyptian Color Symbolism

Aug 01 2019
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Color was an integral part of everyday life in ancient Egypt. The use of color was a bold clue that transported the observer to the substance or heart of the matter. When Amon was portrayed with blue skin, it alluded to his cosmic aspect. When it was said that one could not know the color of the gods, it meant that the gods themselves were unknowable and could never be completely understood. The Egyptian palette was made up of six colors that were all created from minerals: red, green, blue, yellow, black and white.


Match These Colors With The Meanings Below:
Green, Red, White, Black, Blue, Yellow
  
Meaning:Night, Death, Resurrection, Fertility
Imperishable, Eternal, Indestructible
Life, Victory, Anger, Fire, Chaos Vegetation, New life, Growth
Sky, Water, Heavens, Primeval Flood, Creation, Rebirth
Omnipotence, Purity, Cleanliness, Simple, Sacred

Answers Below

Answers:

Green – Vegetation, New life, Growth
Red – Life, Victory, Anger, Fire, Chaos
White – Omnipotence, Purity, Cleanliness, Simple, Sacred
Black – Night, Death, Resurrection, Fertility
Blue – Sky, Water, Heavens, Primeval Flood, Creation, Rebirth
Yellow – Imperishable, Eternal, Indestructible

More In-Depth Answers:

1. The color green was the color of Vegetation, New Life and Growth. Green malachite was a symbol of joy and the land of the blessed dead was described as the “field of malachite.” In Chapter 77 of the Book of the Dead, it is said that the deceased will become a falcon “whose wings are of green stone”. The word for green, Wadj, means to flourish or be healthy.


2. Red was the color of Life, Victory, Anger, Fire and Chaos. During celebrations, ancient Egyptians would paint their bodies with red ochre and wear amulets made of carnelian, a deep red stone. The god Seth who slew the serpent Apep daily had red eyes and hair. Red was also a symbol of anger and fire. A person who acted “with a red heart” was filled with rage. “To redden” meant “to die”. Seth while the god of victory over Apep, was also the evil murderer of his brother Osiris. His red coloration could take on the meaning of evil or victory depending on the context in which he was portrayed. Red was commonly used to symbolize the fiery nature of the radiant sun and serpent amulets representing the “Eye of Ra” (the fiery, protective, and possibly malevolent aspect of the sun) were made of red stones. Mummies of pharaohs contained a tiny reproduction of the human heart, which was always made from a red stone.


3. White was the color suggesting Omnipotence, Purity, Cleanliness, Simple and Sacred. Due to its inherent lack of color, white was the color of simple and sacred things. The name of the holy city of Memphis meant “White Walls.” White sandals were worn at holy ceremonies. The material most commonly used for ritual objects such as small ceremonial bowls and even the embalming table for the Apis Bulls in Memphis was made from white alabaster.


4. Black was a symbol of Night, Death, Resurrection and Fertility. It a natural symbol of the underworld and of resurrection. Osiris, the king of the afterlife was called “the black one.” Queen Ahmose-Nefertari, patroness of the Necropolis, was usually portrayed with black skin, while Anubis, the god of embalming, was shown as a black jackal or dog. The color black could also be symbolic of fertility and even life! The association with life and fertility is likely due to the abundance provided by the dark, black silt of the annually flooding Nile. The color of the silt became emblematic of Egypt itself and the country was called “kemet” (the Black Land) by its people from early antiquity.


5. Yellow denoted the qualities of being Imperishable, Eternal and Indestructible. It was best symbolized by both the sun and gold. The skin and bones of the gods were actually believed to be made of gold. This accounts for why the statues of gods were often made out of or plated with gold. Mummy masks and cases of the pharaohs were also often made of gold. When the pharaoh died he became the new Osiris and a god himself. In art, the divine beings would be represented by golden skin while most others would have the classic reddish-brown and pale pink skin tones of humans.


6. Blue was symbolic of the sky and of water. In a cosmic sense, this extended its symbolism to the heavens and the primeval floods taking on the meaning of life and re-birth. Blue was also a symbol of the Nile and its association with crops, offerings and fertility. The phoenix, a symbol of the primeval flood, was patterned after the heron. Herons naturally have a gray-blue plumage. Egyptians, however, usually portrayed them with bright blue feathers to emphasize their association with the waters of creation. Amon was often shown with a blue face to symbolize his role in the creation of the world. By extension, the pharoahs were sometimes shown with blue faces  when they became identified with the God Amon. Baboons, which are not naturally blue, were portrayed as blue but it is not certain why. The gods were said to have hair made of lapis lazuli, a blue stone. 

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