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13 / The Body

Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) and Nefertiti
Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) and Nefertiti
Artist / Origin Unknown artist, Tell el-Amarna, Egypt
Region: Africa
Date New Kingdom, Amarna Period, 1345–1337 BCE
Material Painted limestone
Medium: Sculpture
Dimensions H: 8 3.4 in. (22.2 cm.), W: 4 3/4 in. (12.3 cm.), D: 3 7/8 in. (9.8 cm.)
Location Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
Credit Courtesy of Giraudon/ Bridgeman Art Library International

expert perspective

Deborah VischakLecturer of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University

Additional Resources

“Egyptian Antiquities: The New Kingdom, ca. 1550 – 1069 BC.” Louvre Museum Web site. http://www.louvre.fr.

Malek, Jaromir. Egyptian Art (Art and Ideas). London: Phaidon, 1999.

Robins, Gay. Art of Ancient Egypt, revised edition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008.

Robins, Gay. Proportion and Style in Ancient Egyptian Art. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994.

Silverman, David, ed. Ancient Egypt. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) and Nefertiti

» Unknown artist, Tell el-Amarna, Egypt

This statuette depicting the pharaoh Amenhotep IV (later called Akhenaten) and his queen, Nefertiti, exemplifies the unique developments that took place in Egyptian art of the Amarna Period.

Up to this point, Egyptian representations of the human body had, over the course of a millennium, changed very little. The ideal form of the king or pharaoh was an angular one that emphasized physical strength, as well as youth. The new style of art drained the body of its robust muscularity. The pharaoh’s body (and those who followed his model) was now soft and round, with sloped shoulders, a protruding belly, an ample breast, and heavy thighs. The bodies of Amenhotep and Nefertiti shown here are much closer to one another in form than are those of men and women from other periods. The Amarna Period also introduced new levels of intimacy and informality to artwork. Shows of familial affection, such as the joined hands of king and queen seen here, appeared in Egyptian art for the first time. Other works of the period are notable for the relaxed poses of the individuals depicted.

Many theories have been put forth to explain the rather sudden and short-lived shift in aesthetic preference in Amarna art. But whatever the reason or reasons, it is clear that this was but one of a number of cultural changes initiated by Amenhotep IV, whose reign lasted from circa 1353 to 1336 BCE. Perhaps the most radical reform advanced by the pharaoh was the introduction of monotheism to Egypt. Abandoning the traditional panoply of gods worshipped by those who came before him, Amenhotep devoted himself to just one god—Re. Unlike traditional representations of gods in Egypt, which were anthropomorphic, in Amarna Period representations of Re appears consistently as a solar disc, called the Aten. Amenhotep’s decision to change his name to Akhenaten, meaning “servant of the Aten,” reflects his commitment to Re; it also emphasized the special bond that pharaohs of Egypt were believed to have with the divine. Cartouches of the sun god, Akhenaten, and Nefertiti on the back of the statuette allude to this strong connection between gods and rulers. Small pieces such as this one have been discovered in excavations of houses of the period. Some scholars believe that these were intended for household shrines dedicated to the king and queen as representatives of the supreme sun deity.

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