The Joy of Museums

Finding Beauty & Meaning in Museums

Akhenaten and Nefertiti with their Children

HouseAltar-AkhenatenNefertitiAndThreeOfTheirDaughters

“Akhenaten and Nefertiti with their Children” is a small house shrine stele made of limestone. Akhenaton and Nefertiti are shown with the three of their daughters. Nefertiti was the Great Royal Wife of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten.The body forms shown on the relief, the overlong proportions, wide hips, thin legs and the forward curved necks, are typical of the early Amarna artistic style.

Probably used as a home altar, this historic depiction provides a rare opportunity to view a scene from the private life of the king and queen. The daughters are being held and caressed by their parents in the presence of the god Aten. Aten is in the centre of the scene represented as a sun disc with sunrays ending in hands proffering ‘ank’-signs (life-signs) to the royal couple.

Amenhotep IV not only changed his name from Amenhotep to Akhenaten, he also changed the religion of ancient Egypt from polytheistic to monotheistic. Pharaoh Akhenaten ruled for 17 years and died during 1336 – 1334 BC and is famous in history for abandoning traditional Egyptian polytheism and introducing an early form of monotheistic worship centred on the Aten. However as in past Egyptian religions, only through the intercession of Pharaoh Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti could ordinary people partake in the divine salvation.

Spaziergang im Garten Amarna Berlin

A relief of a royal couple in the Amarna style

As well as a new religion, the royal couple introduced a new art form. The Amarna period, roughly 1353-1336 BCE, introduced a new form of art that was revolutionary compared to the previously known and revered art form in the Egyptian culture. This period challenged the norm of Egyptian society as Akhenaten choose to depict his reign in a vastly different and unique way from the rulers who came before him. Before Akhenaten’s rise to the throne, Egyptian art was stagnant, focused heavily on permanence both of the object and of the subject.

The family motif during the Amarna period is common. The Amarna family scenes are more intimate than those from the reign of any other pharaoh. The family motif may have originated with the new religion, as a way for Akhenaten and his family to set an example of piety to Aten for others in the court.

The Amarna style during the Amarna Period is characterized by a sense of movement and activity in images. Figures have raised hands with figures overlapping and scenes that are busy and crowded. The human body is portrayed differently with figures, always shown in profile on reliefs, they are slender with exaggerated legs and arms. Depictions of figures portray feminine qualities such as large hips, prominent breasts and rounded stomach and thighs. However other pieces, such the “Nefertiti Bust” show much less pronounced features of the style.

Some of the Amarna masterpieces that are part of the “Egyptian Museum of Berlin” that can be seen at the Neues Museum or the Altes Museum located at “Museum Island” include:

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Essential Facts:

  • Title:                     Akhenaten and Nefertiti with their Children
  • Date:                     1340 BCE
  • Period:                 New Kingdom, Amarna period, 18th dynasty
  • Material:             Limestone
  • Dimensions:      H: 32.5 cm
  • Discovered:        1912: Amarna, Egypt
  • Museums:           Egyptian Museum of Berlin, Neues Museum or Altes Museum, Berlin

Akhenaten Facts:

  • Name:                      Pharaoh Akhenaten, previously known as Amenhotep IV
  • Role:                         Pharaoh
  • Reigned:                  Approx. 1353–1336 BC
  • Famous Consort:  Nefertiti
  • Famous Son:          Tutankhamun
  • Historical Significance:  Attempted to introduce an early version of monotheism

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“It is not God’s will merely that we should be happy, but that we should make ourselves happy.” Immanuel Kant

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Photo Credit: 1) By UnknownKeith Schengili-Roberts (Own work (photo)) [Public domain, GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 2) By Photo: Andreas Praefcke (Own work (own photograph)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons