Relief of an Amarna Woman

This sandstone sunken relief of a woman dates from the Amarna Period, and it is easy to tell the era she is from due to the style in which she is depicted. The artistic manner is most definitely from the period of Akhenaten’s experimental reign, however, this piece was actually found in Thebes and not Amarna (the modern name of the location of Akhenaten’s capital city, “Akhetaten”).

After the end of Akhenaten’s reign, the dismantling and restoration back to the old ways began. The kerfuffle of who’s, when’s, why’s and how’s, still perplex Egyptologists to this day, and you can find multiple books filled with multiple theories of how the 18th Dynasty and Akhenaten’s experiment truly came to an end.

Sandstone sunken relief of an Amarna woman. c. 1353-1336 B.C.
Sandstone sunken relief of an Amarna woman. c. 1353-1336 B.C.
Now at the Brooklyn Museum (64.199.1) but is sadly not on display.

What it is agreed upon, however, is that at some point, the dismantling certainly took place, which included taking stone and other pieces of rubble back to Thebes to be reused for future building works by other kings.

This love of recycling, was great for the Egyptian economy, but is not so great for Egyptologists and archaeologists, however, when it comes to Akhenaten’s reign, his style is often easy to pinpoint out due to the specific manner in which he chose.

Egyptologists can use Akhenaten as a turning point, not just in religious values, but artistic representation, as it is safe to say some of his revolutionary artistry did seem to maintain some kind of influence long after his reign ended. Even a 19th Dynasty king like Seti I, who purposely left Akhenaten from his famous King’s List, has artworks that maintain the fluidity and line work that was developed and flourished in the Amarna age.

The face of this woman is elongated, and she rather looks similar to the elongated stylised depictions of Akhenaten himself. This reason for elongation is unknown, and as always, many have their theories.

The detail of the woman’s wig however is lacking, but the fluid line work of her arms, her profile stance, and her wig adorned with a perfume cone and floral detailing showcases the touch of splendour that came with Akhenaten’s artistic revolution. Also note, the translucent pleated linen adorning her arms, most definitely Late 18th Dynasty, even Nefertiti herself is seen in such a style.

It must be stated, however, that Egyptians did not have art for ‘art’s sake’. The tomb walls and the statues we see from Ancient Egypt, were not simply for aesthetics, but functional.

They held spiritual purpose and were there to provide sustenance to the deceased, as well as presenting them at their best, be it; ploughing the fields, or tombs filled with autobiographies of how amazing one was in their life, and how they are most definitely deserving of all the rewards of the Afterlife.

Akhenaten’s era, however, saw a more personal touch to these depictions. We can the king eating with his mother, or kissing a daughter, or even having his beloved Nefertiti sat upon his lap.

These images tended to be found within tomb walls or on shrines to the family, as through Akhenaten you found Aten.

Instead of the various gods of the Egyptian pantheon, Akhenaten’s Atenism provided Akhenaten himself as the go-between between the divine and mortal, therefore the Egyptians of the Amarna age were encouraged to worship through Akhenaten and Nefertiti, thus having shrines with the royal families depicted became quite common.

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