Amarna in 3 Acts: Defining Vignettes from an Incomparable Era
Three important aspects, in many ways, defined and shaped the Akhetaten years and the post-Amarna period. His detractors in the new disposition erased Pharaoh Akhenaten’s memory in great haste—an overwhelming humiliation being the omission of Amarna kings in the Abydos List. But, considering events in the centuries that followed, was the Heretic right to have been wary of the Amun cult; and did he elevate Nefertiti not merely as his co-regent, but as a funerary goddess as well?
Detail of a colossal sandstone statue of King Akhenaten that was found in the Karnak Temple shows the ruler’s names and titles within cartouches. Luxor Museum. (Photo: Petra Lether)
ACT 1: Nefertiti and the Beautiful Death
Well into the reign of Amenhotep III, new elements were added to Queen Tiye’s portraiture; and this included her representation as a sphinx trampling enemies in the Asasif tomb of her steward Kheruef (TT192)—iconography hitherto reserved solely for the pharaoh—to accentuate her role as the monarch’s divine and temporal partner. A notable head of the elderly Tiye was crafted after the demise of her husband, and is proof of her divine status ante mortem.
Queen Tiye is depicted in an unusual fashion in the tomb of her steward Kheruef (TT192). In this relief, she is shown as a sphinx, indicating her domination over the hostile women of the country. This representation was reserved for ruling pharaohs.
Made of yew wood with silver, gold and glass; not until the advent of the Greeks a thousand years later did portraiture depict old age with such haggard realism. Arielle P. Kozloff and Betsy Bryan provide more insight: “This famous image chronicles not only the queen’s aging but also the baroque and exaggerated realism of the styles promoted at el-Amarna by Akhenaten.”
(Left) Head of a statuette of Queen Tiye wearing a double-feathered crown. This masterpiece is made of yew wood with silver, gold and glass. Neues Museum, Berlin. (Right) A limestone statue of Amenhotep III that originally stood within his Mortuary Temple in western Thebes. British Museum.
In a rare, surviving life-sized Granodiorite sculpture fragment of Tiye, she wears a double uraeus pendant from a modius crown, on top of which are bases of two tall feathers with a sun disc in the center. Tiye was the first queen to be depicted in this fashion. Researchers say that the addition of the sun disc to the standard queen’s modius and plumes implies an increased solarization of the consort’s role. Elsewhere, she was presented as goddess Ma’at, the personification of cosmic order; and also, Taweret, the hippopotamus deity.
Another masterpiece of sculpture is the tiny, petite-faced and crowned greenstone head discovered by Sir Flinders Petrie in Sinai in 1904. Upon discovering it, he declared: “This piece alone was worth all the rest of our gains of the year.” Further, Amenhotep III constructed a temple in Tiye’s honor in Sedeinga in northern Sudan, where she was worshiped as a manifestation of Hathor. This building was the “pendant to Amenhotep III's own, larger temple at Soleb.” In ancient times, Sedeinga was known as the ‘Fortress of Tiye’.
The astute and stern matriarch: Small greenstone head identified as Queen Tiye by her cartouches and distinctive uraei headdress. Found by Flinders Petrie in Sinai. Egyptian Museum, Cairo.
At the onset of Akhenaten’s rule, it appears Nefertiti, his Great Royal Wife, performed the role of a funerary goddess. This is as unorthodox as it gets, evidence for which can be had from recovered statuary and other forms of representation from Akhetaten.
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- Akhenaten: Imperishable Art of an Iconoclast: Creativity Blossoms in the Desert—Part I
- The Art of Amarna: Akhenaten and his life under the Sun
- The Unique Sculptures of Thutmose…and a Secret Love for One of His Muses?
Top Image: Collage of Egyptian art, design by Anand Balaji. (Photo credits: Heidi Kontkanen and Petra Lether );Deriv.
By Anand Balaji