The Palette of King Narmer


Making an art product is usually a tedious and complex process, as well as its description and analysis. This is because at times there are no generally accepted rules of interpretation of the icons and symbols featured in the work of art. This essay attempts to describe, analyze, and interpret a work of art to enhance the understanding of its depiction. The art object under consideration is the Palette of King Narmer. Analysis indicates the Pallet of King Narmer as a valuable artifact in Egypt, as well as shows the significance of the events of 31st century BC.

Expressive Qualities of the Art Piece

The Palette of King Narmer exhibits several expressive visual qualities. One of the core elements of designs that have been appropriated is a line. The Palette uses both active and inactive lines (Carroll 56). The active lines bring out the form of the carvings, for example, of King Narmer, the serpopard, etc. Inactive lines divide the representation into various segments with different, often distinct depictions. The artist of the Palette of King Narmer did not make efforts to distinguish lines through depictions in the sense of bold, thick, delicate, implied, or actual. Another outstanding visual quality is the form (Carroll 63). Since this is a carving made on a tablet, the art appropriates 3 Dimension form as its basis. The carving was probably made with a chisel and is, therefore, a subtractive form of art (Sayre 421). The process involves merely conceptualizing the depiction and carving it out of the flat surface of the media.

Texture has also been used to convey the image of royalty. Texture refers to the roughness or smoothness of the surface of the work of art (Carroll 70). In this case, it is a rough texture since it has some spaces raised and others sinking in. The Narmer Palette also appropriates positive and negative spaces to achieve emphasis and aesthetics (Sayre 302). It does not cram everything or haphazardly place various components of the subject matter to achieve a composition. Crucially, the picture does not appropriate color. The Palette of King Narmer is monochromatic, meaning that it has a single color throughout. The piece of artwork assumes the color on the media on which it was carved out, the siltstone which is grayish-green in color. The major disadvantage of a monochromatic piece is that it may be hard to discern the true nature of the symbols and icons depicted in the piece of artwork. Since there is no use of color, the use of tone and other elements of design were conspicuously absent.

The View

The Palette of King Narmer is 63 centimeters in length. It takes the form of a tablet that is closed-fist in shape (Elshamy 113). Both of its sides have images carved out. The carving is derived from a flat form of siltstone which was a popular medium of artistry during the 31st century BC. The color of the media, siltstone, is a shade of a mixture of green and grey hues (Sayre 421).

The front part has three major scenes, arranged in a structured layer form from the top to the bottom. In the first part, King Narmer performs an inspection of some sort of his renowned slain enemies. He wears a red crown while carrying a mace accompanied by a flail signifying Lower Egypt (Brewer 86). The king of Lower Egypt wore a red crown whereas that of Upper Egypt wore a white one. This, therefore, symbolizes his authority over the lower part of Egypt. Behind the king, there is a seal bearer, whose identification is represented by a rosette accompanied by a club, as the King’s servant holds his sandals (Elshamy 112). In front of King Narmer, there is an individual with long hair that is identified as Tjet and is speculated to be a priest, though it was never confirmed if Tjet meant a priest. At the right bearers are depicted, representing the territories under Narmer. At the right hand of the segment, ten decapitated enemies lie with their heads placed between their legs. The lower segment depicts two people holding ropes tied to the necks of mythological creatures known as serpopards, a combination of leopard and serpent. Finally, the bottom part depicts a bull charging at an imaginary thing with his horns symbolizing the annihilation of enemies (Sayre 423).

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The front part also depicts King Narmer with a raised mace. On his side, just like in the aforementioned instance, the king is flanked by the sandal-bearer with the same inscriptions, the rosette symbol, probably indicating his name. The King is depicted holding his enemy by the head probably contemplating killing him (see fig.1). There is also a symbol of Horus aptly represented by a falcon with a stretched human hand. The falcon is depicted to be standing over papyrus reeds which were characteristic of the Lower Egypt Marshlands. This probably symbolizes where the war was fought and won (Sayre 422).

Elements and Principles of Design

The Palette of King Narmer also exhibits the use of several principles of design including emphasis, balance, proportion, pattern, and unity (Brewer 90). The balance is achieved through strategically placing symbols of unequal weight in different places to achieve asymmetrical balance. For instance, the large figure of King Narmer is canceled in weight by the many bodies of his slain enemies. The major noticeable element is hierarchical scaling. It incorporates the application of scale to portray the relative importance (see fig.1). This attribute is used in this art piece to show Narmer defeating his opponents who are smaller compared to him.

Another aspect is the Golden Mean Rule: experts apply the element to portray ratios that are interdependent. It allows the experts to come up with the concepts of art that are interrelated (Sayre 422). The Palette of Narmer is set on a proportion of root-five rectangle. Emphasis is achieved through the direction. The items in the artwork tend to be oriented towards the objects where attention is directed. Emphasis is also achieved through isolation, for instance, the falcon and size, as mentioned earlier. Lastly, unity is achieved through repetition and the creation of patterns, for instance, the depiction of serpopards and the image of the slain enemies, as well as through simplicity and harmony.

Dimensional Materials

The Narmer Palette commemorates his victory and the unification of both Lower and Upper Egypt (Sayre 422). Narmer pallet has a lot of significance in Egypt politically, culturally, socially, and economically (Kleiner 57). It is the significance of a region as the ship-harpoon-falcon indicates. The signs also denote the 7th lower provinces in Egypt. Other palettes were found to be similar to the pallet of Narmer, such as the label found in 1998 in Abydos. Similar to the piece of art, there is a catfish that is portrayed to strike an already defeated enemy. The headgear of the opponent has 3 papyrus plants and portrays symbolism, especially to the marshland on the piece of art (see fig.1). Both sources actually refer to the same event: a battle in a marshland.

Cultural Narratives

The Egyptians belief is that the kings of Egypt by the name of Pharaohs were the sons of the gods (Kleiner 57). For this reason, the pallet was a gift from King to his father, the god of Amun Ra. Normally, such palettes were used for grinding cosmetics for temple ceremonies, such as anointing and dressing divine images; incarnation. However, the sheer size and decorations made on the Palette of King Narmer indicate that this one, unlike the rest, was not intended for personal use but merely for display purposes (Sayre 422). It was meant to serve religious and political purposes to signify the inherent power of the Egyptian kings and gods.

During this period, around 31st century BC, there was a major focus on ritual and votive objects to offer to the Egyptian gods. All rulers and elite individuals, as well as anyone else who could afford it, donated various items to the temple to show their piety to the deity and increase their connection to the deity (Sayre 422). After some period of time, the temple would get full of these gifts and more space was needed for new votive donations (Kleiner 57). The old items would be cleared out and since they had been sanctified, they would be buried in a pit under the temple floor. This is probably the reason why the palette was excavated after staying buried under the ground for centuries.


In conclusion, the Palette of King Narmer is a valuable artifact of Egypt and a significant portrayal of the events taken place in the 31st century BC. Its expressive visual qualities include the use of active and passive lines, a 3D form, and a rough texture. However, it does not appropriate color and tone. As for design principles, the artwork employs asymmetrical balance, scaling to achieve proportion, dominance, and size to achieve emphasis, and simplicity to achieve unity. It however fails to employ other design principles such as rhythm, movement, variety, and pattern. Lastly, the cultural perspectives of the art make it a vital artifact in the Egyptian cultural context. The Narmer Palette is, therefore, not only of political and cultural significance to the Egyptians but also an artistic masterpiece to the rest of the world.

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