Stela of Akhenaten and his family

The limestone stela shows King Akhenaten and his family as a “Holy Family.” It is considered to be an icon and was intended to be kept in a private chapel of an Amarna house. The stele, topped by the cavetto cornice, is decorated with a scene of an intimate moment from the daily life of the royal family under the protection of Aten. A cavetto cornice is a concave molding with a cross section that approximates a quarter circle.

Facing each other, the royal couple is seated on stools covered with cushions. Between them stands their eldest daughter Meritaten, while the younger daughters are seen on their mother’s lap. Akhenaten is portrayed with his characteristic features. He is depicted wearing the Blue Khepresh Crown and a pleated kilt. The King is holding out an earring to Meritaten.

Stela of Akhenaten and his family. Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 44865
Stela of Akhenaten and his family. Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 44865

Queen Nefertiti is shown wearing her characteristic high crown and a traditional long robe that is held in place with a belt. Akhesenpaaten is sitting on Nefertiti’s lap (who married Tutankhamun). Meketaten is standing (she died young).

Stele of the Holy Family

As Aten shines upon them, The King and Nefertiti play with three of their daughters. Prior to Akhenaten’s reign, it was unusual to portray royal families’ intimate moments, unlike in this 14th-century BC image.

The partnership of Akhenaten and Nefertiti heralded a series of great changes that their rule brought to Egypt—including the relocation of the capital city. The previous one was Thebes (now Luxor), a city closely linked to the ancient polytheistic divinities.

In a bid to escape the old order, Akhenaten moved to virgin territory some 250 miles north on the eastern bank of the Nile in Middle Egypt. There he erected his completely new capital, Akhetaten (now known as Amarna), as the center of his mold-breaking monotheism.

Detail of the stele of Akhenaten and his family
Detail of the stele of Akhenaten and his family

“The manner in which the royals were represented in the domestic-shrine stelae was relaxed and informal: the solar orb bestowing its life-giving rays upon a rather louche-looking king who, a selection of his children variously draped about him, affectionately chucks his wife under the chin.

Whether such images accurately reflect the truth of a happy family man at peace with his god, with himself and with the world is a matter of opinion. Given what we are beginning to discern of the Amarna system, the likelihood is that this is how the king wished to be perceived – as far from the reality of dictatorship as possible…”

Akhenaten: Egypt’s False Prophet, by Nicholas Reeves (#aff)

New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, Amarna Period, reign of Akhenaten, ca. 1353-1336 BC. Painted limestone. From Tell el-Amarna. Now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 44865