Wednesday, 3 February 2010

The heretical pharaoh : Akhenaton

Artistically and philosophically the pharaoh Akhenaton was a radical.

Akhenaten, first known as Amenhotep IV (meaning Amun is Satisfied), was a Pharaoh of the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt. He is especially noted for attempting to compel the Egyptian population in the monotheistic worship of Aten, says

Akhenaten's chief wife was Nefertiti, made world-famous by the discovery of her exquisitely moulded and painted bust, now displayed in the Altes Museum of Berlin, and among the most recognised works of art surviving from the ancient world.

Styles of art that flourished during this short period are markedly different from other Egyptian art, bearing a variety of affectations, from elongated heads to protruding stomachs, exaggerated ugliness and the beauty of Nefertiti.

Significantly, and for the only time in the history of Egyptian royal art, Akhenaten's family was depicted in a decidedly naturalistic manner, and they are clearly shown displaying affection for each other. Nefertiti also appears beside the king in actions usually reserved for a Pharaoh, suggesting that she attained unusual power for a queen.

Artistic representations of Akhenaten give him a strikingly bizarre appearance, with an elongated face, slender limbs, a protruding belly, wide hips, and an overall pear-shaped body. It has been suggested that the pharaoh had himself depicted in this way for religious reasons, or that it exaggerates his distinctive physical traits.

Following Akhenaten's death, a comprehensive political, religious and artistic reformation returned Egyptian life to the norms it had followed previously during his father's reign. Much of the art and building infrastructure that was created during Akhenaten's reign was defaced or destroyed in the period immediately following his death. Stone building blocks from his construction projects were later used as foundation stones for subsequent rulers' temples and tombs.

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