Fragmentary stele of Akhenaten

In this stele, Akhenaten is slouched on a low-backed, cushioned chair with side struts in the form of the ancient royal symbol for the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, which is partly obscured by the long sash of his pleated kilt. The Aten disk was above him, in the center of the stele. The hands at the ends of its rays reach out to bless its self-proclaimed son.

One of Akhenaten’s hands was raised, apparently toward a small figure in front of him, who would have been one of his six daughters by Nefertiti. Almost certainly, the complete composition showed Nefertiti seated opposite her husband, and probably more of the royal daughters.

Limestone fragmentary stele with Akhenaten
Limestone fragmentary stele with Akhenaten

Akhenaten’s names are written in the cartouches before his face. The delicacy of the features and the round breast, which prompted some early observers to suggest that it represents Nefertiti (whose name appears with Akhenaten’s in the framing inscriptions), are simply a softened version of his scrawny and strangely androgynous physique. Such details as the large, heavy-lidded eye suggest that the stele was made late in his reign. He is represented with a short, round, curled wig, unusual for this ruler.

The fragment has been reassembled from the two pieces into which it was broken. Traces of paint are still visible: blue on the king’s wig, the hieroglyphs and the dividing lines, and red on the king’s body, the streamers, girdle and cushion.

New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, Amarna Period, reign of Akhenaten, ca. 1353-1336 BC. Now in the British Museum, London. EA24431