Akhenaten and the Anarna Period
and His Wife Urel. Detail of a limestone relief, c. 1375 B.C. Tomb of Ramose, Thebes
Of the great projects built by Akhenaten hardly
anything remains above ground. He must have been a revolutionary not
only in his religious beliefs but in his artistic tastes as well,
consciously fostering a new style and a new ideal of beauty in his
choice of masters. The contrast with the past becomes strikingly evident
if we compare a head in low relief from the Tomb of Ramose, done at the
end of the reign of Amenhotep III (fig.
with a low-relief portrait of Akhenaten that is only
about 15 years later in
date (fig. 81). Figure
80 shows the traditional
style at its best. The wonderful subtlety of the carving, the precision
and refinement of its lines, makes the head of Akhenaten seem at first
glance like a brutal caricature. And the latter work is indeed an
extreme statement of the new ideal, with its oddly haggard features and
overemphatic, undulating outlines. Still, we can perceive its kinship
with the justly famous bust of Akhenaten's queen, Nefertiti (fig.
one of the masterpieces of the "Akhenaten
Akhcnaten (Amenhotep IV).
B.C. Limestone, height 3 1/8"
cm). Agyptisches Museum, Staatliche Museen, Berlin.
Akhenaten, Nefertiti and their children.
Small statue of Akhenaten wearing the Egyptian Blue Crown of War.
ñ. 1360 B.C. Limestone, height
cm). Agyptisches Museum, Staatliche Museen, Berlin
A standing/striding figure of Nefertiti made of limestone. Originally
from Amarna, part of the Agyptisches Museum Berlin collection.
What distinguishes this style is not greater realism
so much as a new sense of form that seeks to unfreeze the traditional
immobility of Egyptian art. Not only the contours but the plastic
shapes, too, seem more pliable and relaxed, antigeometric. We find these
qualities again in the delightful fragment of a wall painting showing
the daughters of Akhenaten (fig.
Their playful gestures and informal poses seem in
defiance of all rules of pharaonic dignity.
The old religious tradition was quickly restored after
Akhenaten's death, but the artistic innovations he encouraged could be
felt in Egyptian art for some time to come. The scene of workmen
struggling with a heavy beam (fig.
from the Tomb of Horemheb at Saqqara, shows a freedom and expressiveness
that would have been unthinkable in earlier times.
The Daughters of Akhenaten. c. 1360 B.C.
õ 16" (30 x 40.7
Museum, Oxford, England
Workmen Carving a beam, from
the Tomb of Horemheb, Saqqara.
ñ 1325 B.C.
Museo Civico, Bologna
The Tomb of Tutankhamen
Even the face of Akhenaten's successor, Tutankhamen,
as it appears on his gold coffin cover, betrays an echo of the Akhenaten
85). Tutankhamen, who died
at the age of 18, owes his
fame entirely to the accident that his is the only pharaonic tomb
discovered in our times with most of its contents undisturbed. The sheer
material value of the tomb (Tutankhamen's gold coffin alone weighs
pounds) makes it understandable that grave
robbing has been practiced in Egypt ever since the Old Kingdom.
Cover of the coffin of Tutankhamen, ñ. 1340 B.C. Gold,
inlaid with enamel and semiprecious stones,
of whole 72
cm). Egyptian Museum, Cairo
Gold death mask
Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
To us, the exquisite workmanship of the coffin cover,
with the rich play of colored inlays against the polished gold surfaces,
is even more impressive. As unique in its way as the gold coffin is a
painted chestfrom the same tomb, showing the youthful king in
battle and hunting scenes (fig.
These had been traditional subjects since the late years
of the Old Kingdom, but here they are done with astonishing freshness,
at least so far as the animals are concerned. While the king and his
horse-drawn chariot remain frozen against the usual blank background
filled with hieroglyphs, the same background in the right-hand half of
the scene suddenly turns into a desert. The surface is covered with
stippled dots to suggest sand, desert plants are strewn across it in
considerable variety, and the animals stampede over it helter-skelter,
without any ground-lines to impede their flight.
Here is an aspect of Egyptian painting that we rarely
see on the walls of tombs. Perhaps this lively scattering of forms
against a landscape background existed only on the miniature scale of
the scenes on Tutankhamen's chest, and even there it became possible
only as a result of the Akhenaten style. How these animals-in-landscape
endured in later Egyptian painting we do not know, but they must have
survived somehow, for their resemblance to Islamic miniatures done more
years later is far too striking to be
Tutankhamen Hunting. Detail
from a painted chest found in the king's tomb, Thebes, ñ. 1340 B.C.
of scene ñ. 20" (50.7 cm). Egyptian Museum, Cairo