Nowadays, artists switch styles as often as their wives change hairdos. But things were slower in Egypt. For 3,000 years, Egyptian artists respected the same old rules. Egypt's painters apparently learned theirs from papyrus scrolls which depicted almost everything they might be commissioned to produce. Art was mostly a matter of faithful copying; those who learned the trade became "scribes of outlines." But the painters who adorned Egypt's tombs had a bit more freedom than her sculptors and architects.

One liberty, which in itself amounted to a convention, was to leave a picture or two in each tomb unfinished. Another was to...

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