Coptic art, Christian art in the upper Nile valley of Egypt. Reaching its mature phase in the late 5th and 6th cent., the development of Coptic art was interrupted by the Arab conquest of Egypt between 640 and 642. Its subsequent course was marked by the influence of Islamic art and a repetition of earlier forms. In contrast with the aristocratic taste prevailing in cosmopolitan Alexandria, which was in close touch with the leading artistic centers of the Roman Empire, older and deeply ingrained traditions remained in force in the upper Nile valley, where an intensely religious culture drew its following chiefly from the lower classes.
Coptic art is characterized by a high degree of stylization verging on abstraction. Forms are flattened out, and individual motifs acquire bold simplicity and decorative character. Subject matter represents both Christian and Roman sources. Remains of wall paintings reveal scenes from the Old and New Testaments and images of the Mother and Child. Some of the archaeological sites are El-Bagawat, Oxyrhynchus, Sakkara, Bawit, and Antinoë. Representative examples of Coptic art are in sculpture, textiles, ivory, and illumination. Coptic architecture, as shown in the 5th-century White and Red monasteries near Sohag, showed traces of local Egyptian traditions.
See K. Wessel, Coptic Art: The Early Christian Art of Egypt (1965) and D. L. Carroll, Looms and Textiles of the Copts (1988).
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