Relief of Akhenaten Sacrificing Duck to Aten

On this block from a temple relief, Akhenaten, recognizable by his elongated features, holds a duck toward the Aten. With one hand he wrings the bird’s neck before offering it to the god. In this relief, the artist has cut the outlines of the figures into the surface in a technique called sunk relief.

Sunk relief appears mostly on the exterior of buildings, where the outlines cast shadows, emphasizing the sunlight. During the Amarna period almost all relief was executed in this technique.

Akhenaten Sacrificing Duck to Aten
Relief of Akhenaten Sacrificing Duck to Aten

Amenhotep IV, who succeeded his father Amenhotep III in 1353 BC, was officially responsible for an unprecedented move in the history of ancient Egypt. He introduced a new cult, that of Aten, the sun disc, and imposed it as the state religion in place of the cult of Amun, the main god of Thebes.

Akhenaten (the new name of Amenhotep IV) and his entourage completed the break with the political-religious apparatus that had prevailed in the New Kingdom until then by moving the capital from Thebes to Amarna, 350 km to the north. Here they built a new city, Akhetaten, the ‘Horizon of the Aten’. The need to build new sacred buildings in a very short time determined, here as at Thebes, the use of smaller than normal blocks of limestone, called talatat, like those shown in the window.

New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, Amarna Period, reign of Akhenaten, ca. 1353-1336 BC. Painted limestone. Probably from Hermopolis, Middle Egypt, probably originally from Amarna (Akhetaten). Now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1985.328.2