Cartouches of Aten

This block of crystalline limestone once graced the railing of a stairway in a temple of the god Aten. It is in the form of a double cartouche, which usually enclosed the name of the king.

In this relief instead, the cartouches contain the names of the sun disk Aten, the one god of king Akhenaten: “Ra-Horakhty rising in the Horizon” “in his name as the light which is in the Aten”. The name of the king is carved on the sides. The object thus links the god to his only intermediary on earth, the king.

Cartouches of the god Aten
Cartouches of the god Aten

In ancient Egypt, a cartouche was a distinctive oval shape with a horizontal line at one end, used to enclose the names of kings and other important individuals. It served as a royal nameplate or a protective amulet, symbolizing the eternal and divine nature of the person whose name was inscribed within it.

The cartouche was typically adorned with hieroglyphic symbols and was often found on monuments, tombs, and other significant artifacts. It played a crucial role in ancient Egyptian art, hieroglyphic writing, and the identification of rulers and deities.

Related: Top Recommended Reading for the Amarna Period

The ‘Amarna revolution’ was not only a religious but also an artistic one. The art of this era is recognizable by its unmistakable sinuous shapes and the singular expressiveness of faces and gestures, which end up surviving, albeit in a less marked manner, in the following epoch.

The Amarna Period lasted less than twenty years: with the advent of the still-child Tutankhaten (‘living image of Aten’), soon to be renamed Tutankhamun (‘living image of Amun’), traditional cults were restored. Akhetaten was abandoned and became a quarry for building material.

The Amarna interlude, however, marked the transition to a new political, cultural and artistic phase.

New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, Amarna Period, reign of Akhenaten, ca. 1353-1336 BC. Limestone, 107.5 x 78.5 x 46 cm. From the Temple of Aten at Karnak. Now in the Egyptian Museum of Turin. C. 1378