Statue of Akhenaten and Nefertiti

This small, painted votive statue depicts King Akhenaten and his Great Wife Nefertiti. The king and queen are shown hand in hand (a notedly unusual pose in New Kingdom artwork), as if walking forward together.

They stand quite far apart, entirely unbending as they stare straight ahead, without the ghost of a smile. They are clothed in very fine, close-pleated linen, and wear broad collars on their shoulders. As in most of their official portraits, the king wears the Blue Khepresh Crown and the queen a tall flat-topped headdress.

Statue of Akhenaten and Nefertiti
Statue of Akhenaten and Nefertiti

Hand-holding couples, royal or otherwise, are not very common in Egyptian art, but are found from the Old Kingdom onward. Typologically, then, there is nothing unusual in this group. It conforms exactly to the conventions of the Amarna style: the canon of proportions is short, the male and female bodies are similar, the neck stretched forward, the head raised, and ribbons blow in the wind.

Related: Stela of Akhenaten and his family

The figures stand before a large slab, on the back of which two columns of hieroglyphs to the glory of the royal couple and of the sun are visible.

Easy to carry, this small object of domestic veneration testifies to Egyptian religious practices of the 13th century B.C.: it was probably intended for a private altar, before which families worshipped the ruling couple.

Statue of Akhenaten and Nefertiti
Statue of Akhenaten and Nefertiti

The typical anatomical distortions of the Amarna style are all present. The narrow, round shoulders; the short upper torso; swollen belly, hips and thighs; and slender arms and legs. Regardless of where Nefertiti’s mummy is now, the ancient Egyptians did not take kindly to her in the decades following her death. Tutankhamun undid Akhenaten’s religious reform; Amarna became abandoned, and images of Akhenaten and Nefertiti were destroyed.

Sculptures of Nefertiti have been found intentionally smashed to pieces or with their heads removed, Aidan Dodson, an Egyptology professor at the University of Bristol in the U.K, wrote in his book “Nefertiti, Queen and Pharaoh of Egypt: Her Life and Afterlife” (The American University in Cairo Press, 2020). “Many were smashed in antiquity sometimes to smithereens, at best they were decapitated.”

Despite her modern reputation as one of Egypt’s most famous queens, Nefertiti didn’t get the same respect from ancient Egyptians in the time after she died; her statues were smashed to pieces in retribution for her husband’s failed religious revolution.

New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, Amarna Period, reign of Akhenaten, ca. 1353-1336 BC. Now in the Louvre. E 15593

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