Akhenaton's Egypt
King Akhenaton

According to the Brittanica,

The earliest monuments of Amenhotep IV, who in his fifth regnal year changed his name to Akhenaton ("one useful to Aton"), are conventional in their iconography and style, but from the first he gave the sun god a didactic title naming Aton, the solar disk. This title was later written inside a pair of cartouches, as a king's name would be. The king declared his religious allegiance by the unprecedented use of "high priest of the sun god" as one of his own titles. The term Aton had long been in use, but under Thutmose IV the Aton had been referred to as a god, and under Amenhotep III those references became more frequent. Thus, Akhenaton did not create a new god but rather singled out this aspect of the sun god from among others. He also carried further radical tendencies that had recently developed in solar religion, in which the sun god was freed from his traditional mythological context and presented as the sole beneficent provider for the entire world. The King's own divinity was emphasized: the Aton was said to be his father, of whom he alone had knowledge, and they shared the status of king and celebrated jubilees together.


c1350 BCE
Karnak, Egypt
Dynasty 18
Form:  Akhenaton is seen in the pose that many pharaohs have taken but his arm and legs have broken off.  He has an elongated face and a weak upper body.  He has a protruding belly and very feminine, curvy thighs.  He is not portrayed idealistically as other pharaoh's have been but in a new stylized manner not seen before of again after his rule.

According to the Brittanica,

After the banishment of all Egyptian gods except Aton, Akhenaton limited artistic subject matter mainly to depictions of himself and his family, both in casual domestic scenes, which were his favourite, and in concert with Aton, who was shown as a golden orb radiating beams of light that ended in little hands proffering the sign of life, the ankh, to Akhenaton and his queen, Nefertiti. It was in the method of portraying the Pharaoh and his family that the most remarkable aspect of Amarna art lies, for the old stiff canon was abandoned in favour of a "naturalistic" depiction, which showed them more as actual human beings. Essentially it was a secularization of art that took place; the royal family was now shown in the same casual poses and settings as servants and commoners had been depicted in the past. Some experts see the depictions of Akhenaton himself--with an elongated head, slender neck and limbs, and protruding belly--as artistic overstatements of basically real physical attributes, possibly the result of a rare disease that deformed his head and hips. Whatever the reason, the expressionistic physical type eventually became canonized and was used to some degree in most depictions of human form throughout the Amarna period.

Iconography:  While still showing the traditional iconography of kingship: the crook, flail, beard and headdress, this statue's caricaturish naturalism is symbolic of all of the changes that have been made during Akhenaton's rule. 

Context:  Akhenaton was the the ruler of Egypt during the eighteenth dynasty.  Originally named Amenhotep IV,  he changed his name to Akhenaton after the sun god Aton.   He was known for instilling his ideas of monotheism and for his encouragement of creating art for everyday life rather than restricting them to tombs. He encouraged others to focus on the present rather on the afterlife. He moved the capital to a new site that he called Aton, named for the new god.  He emptied all the other temples and erased the name Amen from everything, including his own name.  Never is Aton represented in any way other than as sun rays, he does not take human or animal shape as the other egyptian god were prone to do.  It is because of this new religion and philosophy that art changed drastically after this period.  This introduced the new subject matter of depicting everyday life and the depiction of figures in a more caricaturish and less idealized manner.

It is believed that Akhenaton was either a product of inbreeding or a victim of physical distortion because of his elongated
and larger facial features. The characteristics of the art shown above may be a portrayal of the transition from customary Egyptian art, which was directly related to the previous religion, to the new kind introduced by Akhenaton and influenced by his principles.


c1350 BCE
Dynasty 18
Form:  Akhenaton has an elongated head and a very protruding chin.  He has an elongated nose and droopy eyelids.  He has very large ears and wears the traditional neme's headdress and false beard.

Iconography:  These features may be iconographic of inbreeding.  The may also be an icon of the breach from tradition Egyptian art to the style that Akhenaton created.  The nemes headdress and  the false beard are symbols of kingship.

Context:  The evidence of inbreeding in the very beginning of the dynasties and at the very end is strong because it is documented.  During the middle of the dynasty it is not very documented nor is it proven through DNA analysis.

Portrait of Akhenaton in a 
sunken relief
c1350 BCE
Dynasty 18

According to the Brittanica Encyclopedia, 

In a sunken relief, the outline of the design is first incised all around. The relief is then carved inside the incised outline, leaving the surrounding surface untouched. Thus, the finished relief is sunk below the level of the surrounding surface and is contained within a sharp, vertical-walled contour line. This approach to relief sculpture preserves the continuity of the material's original surface and creates no projection from it. The outline shows up as a powerful line of light and shade around the whole design.


Queen Tiy
c1350 BCE
Kom Medinet el-Ghurab, Egypt
Dynasty 18
Form:  This portrait is made from yew wood, silver, gold, lapis lazuli, cloth, clay, ebony, and alabaster.  It is very naturalistic, it even shows her wrinkles.

Iconography:  This is an icon of Akhenaton's desire to wipe out all traces of the old religion.  It is also an icon of the blood lines that make up Akhenaton.

Context:  Queen Tiy is the mother of Akhenaton and she was hs fathers main wife.  She actively supported her son during his rule.  This portrait was first made during the rule of her husband.  In it she was made to look like Isis and Nephthys.  When Akhenaton changed the religion it was altered because if portrayed the old gods.  The headdress was covered and a plumed crown was attached, it is now missing but it would have looked like the one Nefertity wore.  It is said that Queen Tiy was a commoner that Akhenaton's father married for love, if this is true, then Akhenaton could not have been completely inbred.


Akhenaton and His Family
c1350 BCE
Tell al-Amarna, Egypt
Dynasty 18
Form:  This is a painted limestone sunken relief.  It is a picture of Akhenaton, his wife Nefertiti, and their three daughters.  It has the rays of Aton extending into hands that hold ankhs to the Akhenaton's and Nefertiti's nostrils.  They sit upon padded thrones and Nefertiti's throne has a stylized plant.  All of the figures are rendered in a fairly naturalistic and almost caricaturish manner and the figures are interacting and touching.

Iconography:  The stylized plant on Nefertiti's throne is a symbol of a unified Egypt.  This may be a symbol that she acted as a co-ruler with her husband.  The rays of Aton are a symbol of his blessing and the hands holding  the ankhs are a symbol that Aton is giving them the breath of life.  The ethem of this sunken relief is one that emphasizes the joys of everyday existence. It is a genre scene (a scene of everyday life) featuring the royal family.   The genre elements, naturalism, and the interaction of the figures, (notice Akhenaton is kissing his child) are symbolic of Akhenaton's affect on the religion of Egypt. 

Context:  This is one of the pieces that was revolutionary in its context because before the time of Akhenaton all of the art was tomb related.  Since this scen shoes the royal family in an everyday kind of scene it demonstrates Akhenaton's influence on the art of Egypt.


The Daughters of Akhenaton
c1350 BCE
Dynasty 18
Form:  This is another genre scene featuring the daughters of Akhenaton.  It is a fresco.  The daughters have exaggerated craniums but they are very naturalistic.  The bodies are formed of curves rather than the hard plains of the previous royal families.  It is a warmer, softer image and the composite view has changed slightly.

Iconography:  This piece symbolizes the very naturalistic way that the royal family can now be portrayed.

Context:  If Akhenaton's features are misshapen due to some genetic deformity then it would seem to make sense that his daughters would also have it.   The fact that they are portrayed in the same stylistic manner as their father gives more evidence to the theory that it was a style.  If it was a deformity due to inbreeding the chances that all three of  the children would exhibit this deformity are low.


Smenkhkare and Meritaten c1350 BCE
Tel el-Amarna, Egypt
Dynasty 18
Form:  This is a painted limestone relief.  Smenkhkare rests upon his staff with one leg behind him.  Both of the figures bellies protrude and there bodies are very naturalistic, made mainly up of curvilinear lines.  The detail of the clothing is very good.  The skin tones are darker

Iconography:  The lapse in the god like depiction of the bodies of royalty is an icon that things have changed not only religiously but in the art and government as well.  Now that the clothing has changed as well it is an icon that the style is evolving.

Context:  Smenkhkare was Akhenaton's half brother.  he help his brother rule during the last few years of his reign.  The pose that Smenkhkare is in was never seen before this painting.  The lapse from traditional clothing is something not usually seen as well.  It is art made for personal consumption.  It was a private stele that was commissioned while they were alive.

According to the Brittanica,

Smenkhkare 14th century BC king of the 18th dynasty of Egypt (reigned 1335-32 BC), probably in coregency with Akhenaton, his predecessor, for most of the period. He moved to Thebes from Akhenaton's capital, Akhetaton (modern Tell el-Amarna), and began restoration of the cult of Amon, the god of Thebes.

As shown by medical and serological analysis of his mummy, Smenkhkare was almost certainly a brother of Tutankhamen, his successor. Akhenaton was certainly, and Tutankhamen was perhaps, a son of Amenhotep III, Akhenaton's predecessor; therefore Smenkhkare was possibly also his son. After the death or downfall of Akhenaton's queen, Smenkhkare was married to Akhenaton's eldest daughter and elevated as coregent. The length of the coregency is a subject of debate, and he may also have had a short independent reign. Some scholars believe that Smenkhkare fashioned a reconciliation with the supporters of Amon, whom his father-in-law had persecuted severely, and restored the Amon cult at Thebes. 


Tell el-Amarna, Egypt
c1350 BCE
Dynasty 18
Form:  The color is what makes this piece exceptional.  The painted design of the band in the headdress beautifully matches her painted collar.  Her face is highlighted and shaded beautiful, giving the statue true depth.  She has a slender neck that slopes gently and a plumed crown.

Iconography:  Nefertiti is an icon for the ideal woman of the time.  Her makeup is iconographic of the the cosmetics worn by women of the time.

Context:  This piece was found in the artist Thutmose's workshop along with other things that had been commissioned for the royal family.  Busts like this one were rare, it may have been for the artist to base paintings on, it may have been meant to attach to a body, it may have symbolized a heavy flower on a thin stalk, or it may have been a rarity meant to stand as it is.  It is not a finished piece, Nefertiti's other eye has yet to be inlayed with a stone. 

genre n [F, fr. MF, kind, gender--more at gender] (1770) art that depicts scenes or events from everyday life usu. realistically 

mono.the.ism n (1660): the doctrine or belief that there is but one God -- mono.the.ist n -- mono.the.is.tic also mono.the.is.ti.cal adj -- mono.the.is.ti.cal.ly adv 

poly.the.ism n [F polytheisme, fr. LGk polytheos polytheistic, fr. Gk, of many gods, fr. poly- + theos god] (1613): belief in or worship of more than one god -- poly.the.ist adj or n -- poly.the.is.tic also poly.the.is.ti.cal adj 

Sunken relief:     Is when the artist starts with a flat piece of medium and carves into it the figures.  Thus, the figures are sunken into the medium.