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Stela of Akhenaten, Nefertiti and Family

Stela of Akhenaten, Nefertiti and Family

Stela of Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and Family

This Stela of Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and Family is an altar image of the Pharaoh, his queen Nefertiti, and their three children. On the left sits Akhenaten on a stool, handing a jewel to his eldest daughter, who stands in front of him. Nefertiti sits opposite him, on the right playing with two of their daughters on her lap. In the upper part, in the middle of the stela is the disk of the Aten, whose rays end in hands holding the symbol of life. The hieroglyphic inscriptions are the names and titles of the people depicted. The stela is bordered on three sides by a band of further hieroglyphs, marked with blue paint.

This depiction of the members of the royal family is extremely stylized, with elongated heads, protruding stomachs, broad hips, thin arms and legs, and exaggerated facial features. Significantly, and for the only time in the history of Egyptian royal art, Akhenaten’s family are shown taking part in domestic activities, showing affection for each other, and being caught in mid-action. Also, Nefertiti begins to be depicted with features specific to her, although questions remain as to whether the beauty of Nefertiti is portraiture or flattering idealism.

This depiction of a family group with its unique stylistic features is associated with the Amarna period in Ancient Egypt. Such stelae were found mainly in the graves at Amarna, which was the capital of Egypt under Akhenaten. These stelae were altars, which were placed in private chapels or houses. They were used for the worship of the royal family and the sun-god Aten.

This limestone stela was discovered by Ludwig Borchardt (1863 – 1938), a German Egyptologist at Tell-el Amarna, in 1912. When the archaeological finds from Tell-el Amarna were divided between Egypt and Germany, this stela remained in Egypt, and the Bust of Nefertiti went to Germany. The German Oriental Company, which financed the excavation and the country of Egypt, had a 50-50 agreement. Controversy surrounds the circumstances of the export of the Bust of Nefertiti.

Amarna Period

The Amarna Period was an era of Egyptian history when the royal residence of the pharaoh and his queen was shifted to Akhetaten in what is now Amarna. It was marked by the reign of Amenhotep IV, who changed his name to Akhenaten (1353–1336 BC) to reflect the dramatic change of Egypt’s polytheistic religion into one where the sun disc Aten was worshipped over all other gods.

During Akhenaten’s reign, royal portraiture underwent dramatic change. Sculptures of Akhenaten deviate from the conventional portrayal of royalty. Akhenaten is depicted in an androgynous and highly stylized manner, with large thighs, a slim torso, drooping belly, full lips, and a long neck and nose.

Akhenaten’s son, Tutankhamun, was the last of his dynasty and the Amarna kings. He died before he was twenty years old, and the royal line of the family died out with Tutankhamun.

Akhenaten

Akhenaten ruled for 17 years and is famous for abandoning traditional Egyptian polytheism and introducing worship centered on the Aten. Akhenaten tried to shift his culture from Egypt’s traditional religion, but the shifts were not widely accepted. After his death, his monuments were dismantled and hidden, his statues were destroyed, and his name excluded from the king lists, and traditional religious practice was gradually restored.

Later rulers without direct of succession from the 18th Dynasty and who wanted to found a new dynasty, discredited Akhenaten and his immediate successors, referring to Akhenaten himself as “the enemy” or “that criminal” in the records. Thus Akhenaten was all but lost from history. That is until the discovery during the 19th century of the site of the city, he built and designed for the worship of Aten at Amarna.

Modern interest in Akhenaten and his queen Nefertiti comes partly from his connection with Tutankhamun, and from the unique style of the arts he patronized, and partly from ongoing interest in the religion, he attempted to establish.

Explore Egyptian Art

Stela of Akhenaten and his family

  • Title:                    Stela of Akhenaten and his family
  • Year:                    1353–1336 BC
  • Period:                 Amarna, 18th Dynasty, New Kingdom
  • Material:              limestone
  • Discovered:          1912
  • Find Site:              Tell-el Amarna
  • Dimensions:        43.5 cm x 39 cm
  • Museum:              Egyptian Museum, Cairo

Reflections

  • A family portrait for the ages?

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“Each truth you learn will be, for you, as new as if it had never been written.”
– Egyptian Proverbs

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Photo Credits: 1) Français: Photo personnelle de Gérard Ducher (user:Néfermaât). English: Personal picture of Gérard Ducher. [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)]

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