Red Jasper or Porphyry head of Akhenaten

A head of king Akhenaten made from Egyptian jasper or porphyry.

Red Jasper or Porphyry head of Akhenaten
Red Jasper or Porphyry head of Akhenaten

This head of Akhenaten is similar to portraits of the king that we believe come from early in his reign. The less exaggerated features of the soon-to-be “Amarna Period”, this serene, slight smile of the young king looks ahead, as he wears the blue “khepresh” crown of war. The uraeus would have been present but is sadly lost and damaged, as is the tip of his nose.

Made from an incredibly hard stone, with a beautiful red pigment, this head of Akhenaten would have been a part of a statuette.

The colour red in Ancient Egypt was often used to males in portraiture, to showcase an outdoorsman who was working in the sun, signifying strength and vitality. However, red is thought to have represented fertility and a protective essence also when used for amulets, protecting both the living and the dead.

However, sometimes, simply being able to make a statue from a precious or semi-precious stone was enough reason to do so, regardless of colour. The ability of the Egyptian to carve a delicate face from the hardest of natural and combined stones is an achievement the modern world still fawns over.

Painted limestone statuette of Akhenaten holding an offering tray, with identical facial features to the featured jasper head. Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 44867
Painted limestone statuette of Akhenaten holding an offering tray, with identical facial features to the featured jasper head.
Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 44867

This head is under 20cm, at 18.2cm tall, and just under 10cm wide, at 9.5cm, but as mentioned, the head would have been a part of a statuette (small statue). It was purchased by the Penn Museum from H. Kevorkian in 1927, and is currently in the “Collections Storage” section of the museum (Object no: E14364).

"Museum Bulletin I, no. 1 (January, 1930): 26-27". Accessed October 13, 2023.
Red Jasper or Porphyry head of Akhenaten

“It is interesting to note that while mounting the head for exhibition, the museum craftsman could not succeed in piercing the tiniest hole in the base of the neck, even with a steel drill, so hard is the stone, yet the Egyptian craftsman of three thousand years ago, working only with tools of stone and bronze, could model it so delicately and so craftily as to produce a portrait worthy to rank with the best of any nation then or now.”

A Portrait Head of Akhenaten.”Museum Bulletin I, no. 1 (January, 1930): 26-27″. Accessed October 13, 2023.

Side view of red jasper portrait of Akhenaten
Red jasper head of Akhenaten, c. 1539-1292 B.C.
Penn Museum. E14364

Akhenaten’s grandfather, king Thutmose IV, also had a red jasper statue, that until 1993, remained in fragments that were scattered across various museums around the world, including the Petrie Museum in London and the Musée du Louvre in Paris, France. The Met Museum itself writes:

Met Museum. 26.7.1398a
Met Museum. 26.7.1398a
Red Jasper head of Thutmose IV (fragments), c.1400–1390 B.C. Met Museum. 26.7.1398a
Red Jasper head of Thutmose IV (fragments), c.1400–1390 B.C.
Met Museum. 26.7.1398a

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