King Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti ("The Wilbour Plaque"). Egypt, purchased near Amarna by Charles Edwin Wilbour in 1890. New Kingdom, late Dynasty 18, latter part of the reign of Akhenaten (circa 1352–1336 b.c.) or slightly later. Limestone
Many modern day viewers of these images are quite fascinated with the way Akhenaten is portrayed, which has led to the pharaoh being referred to as the 'first individual in human history'.
At the time, the way that Akhenaten and his family were depicted was strikingly different than anything created in Egypt. Even today we are shocked by the bodies of these individuals, at how the pharaoh and his family are shown participating in everyday activities, and at how they are often shown displaying affection towards one another. In addition, Nefertiti appears next to Akhenaten in a large number of the surviving works, hinting at her role in both the family and the government. These new conventions in art were scandalous. Gone were the rigid forms and stylization, perfect bodies, and strict organization of space. Instead, we see overlapping, crowded spaces, and interaction between forms.
Akhenaten, Nefertiti and their children
In addition to the changes in art and religion, Akhenaten also changed the way in which temples and buildings were constructed (use of smaller blocks and mortar) and the use of old fashioned inscriptions often used inside temples (now more modern).
“Early in his reign Akhenaten used art as a way of emphasising his intention of doing things very differently. Colossi and wall-reliefs from the Karnak Aten Temple are highly exaggerated and almost grotesque when viewed in the context of the formality and restraint which had characterised Egyptian royal and elite art for the millennium preceding Akhenaten's birth. Although these seem striking and strangely beautiful today, it is hard for us to appreciate the profoundly shocking effect that such representations must have had on the senses of those who first viewed them and who would never have been exposed to anything other than traditional Egyptian art.” Source
Akhenaten himself is often described as a “philosopher” of sorts. He left behind vast amounts of written documents outlining his beliefs and his reasoning for the move to a new capital called Akhetaten (el-Armarna). Importantly, because this city was occupied for such a short time, archeologists have been able to find vast amounts of information concerning how ancient Egyptians actually lived.
The Armana Letters, 382 known tablets found at the site of the official records office of the pharaoh.
When he died, a co-regent named Smenkhkare (who was possibly Nefertiti) ruled for a short time with a child who went by the name Tutankhamun (originally Tutankhaten). It is during this time that Akhetaten was abandoned and the old gods were restored. Akhenaten’s name was erased from the temples and statues, as the Egyptians tried to forget about this period in their recent history.
One of many questions that could be asked: Is Akhenaten a “hero” or a “villain”? (He is often referred to as one or the other)
Be sure to back up your answer with research.
Comments due by Monday 9-24.