The First shaded Painting in History from Ahetaten Palace
in the city of Ahetaten
During the Eighteenth Dynasty under the rule of the Pharaoh Akhenaten (r.
1353-1335 B.C.), the Egyptian art style underwent a drastic change from its
traditional style. This change in art technique during the fourteenth
century was called the Amarna Period.
Under Akhenaten's rule, the worship of most of the Egyptian gods was
abandoned and replaced by a monotheistic religion based around the belief in
the god Aten. Aten was identified with and represented as a sun disk or
light and not in animal or human form, which was how the gods had been
represented in pervious dynasties. Besides changing religion from the
worship of multiple gods to one god, the pharaoh also changed his name from
Amenhotep IV (servant of the head-god Ahmun) to Akhenaten (servant of the
sun) and moved his capital city downriver from Thebes to Tell el-Amarna.
Queen Nefertiti Riding her Chariot
During the Amarna Period, art moved towards a more relaxed, realistic
portrayal and away from the traditional stylized and rigid formality of the
previous dynasties. It focused on showing nature, the pharaoh, and his
subjects in natural poses and personalized images of family, daily life, and
domestic scenes. Many of the paintings and tomb reliefs of Akhenaten, his
wife Nefertiti, and their daughters depict intimate affection and tenderness
in their manner.
At this time artists were encouraged to show volume, shape, and fluidity
in their works and to reveal physical imperfections of the body. Akhenaten
is shown with an effeminate, misshapen body, full-lipped face, heavy-lidded
eyes, weak arms, narrow waist, protruding belly, wide hips, and fatty
thighs. These traits may have been the result of some illness he had or were
the portrayal of a new expressionistic style. Besides these imperfections of
body, Akhenaten, his family, and his subjects were also shown with
exaggerated and elongated heads and bodies, and the lines that make up these
images were curved and graceful suggesting a more carefree and poetic
attitude toward art.
Information about color use in artwork at this time is scarce, but it
seems that the same meanings and uses placed on color followed similar
techniques used before the Amarna Period.
Some art historians, as stated in Gardner's Art Through the Ages,
believed that Akhenaten's shift away from the traditional style of art
towards a more expressionistic and individual style was due to a “deliberate
artistic reaction against the established style, paralleling the suppression
of traditional religion” and that "Akhenaten's artists tried to formulate a
new androgynous image of the pharaoh as the manifestation of Aten, the
sexless sun disk.” This may have been the case or Akhenaten was just trying
to make sure that he and the changes he brought to Egypt during his reign
were not forgotten.
After Akhenaten's death his heir Tutankhaten (living image of Aten)
changed his name to Tutankhamun (living image of Amun) and restored the
kingdom back to polytheism. Akhenaten's city of Tell el-Amarna was
abandoned, and most of the artwork from this period was destroyed. However,
aspects of the art style from Akhenaten's reign such as the sense of
tenderness and affection can still be seen in some of Tutankhamun's
treasures found in his tomb.
Royal Chief Sculpture Djehutmose
Royal Chief Artist Yuti & his Wife
Taught by his majesty
'An Overseer of the
works at the red mountain for the pylon, Chief of the artists teacher of the
king himself, an overseer of the sculptors from life at the grand monuments
of the king for the temple of the sun's disk in the city of Akhetaten, son
of the chief of the artists Men, born of Roy in An'.
The family tree of Bek
Men + Roy ('of Heliopolis in the North'), (under Amenhotep III)
Bek + Taheret (under Akhenaten)
The tombstone of Bek
Inside the niche are two little standing figures of a man and a woman.
The inscription reads:-
(on the right side) - 'A royal sacrifice to Horemkhu, the Sun's disk, who
enlightens the land; that he may vouchsafe to accept the customary offerings
of the dead on the altar of the living sun's disk, in favour of the overseer
of the sculptors from life, and of his wife, the lady Ta-her'.
(on the left side) - 'A royal offering to the living sun's disk, which
enlightens the world by its benefactions in order that it may vouchsafe a
complete good life, united with a reward of honour, joy of heart, and a
beautiful old age, in favour of the artist of the king, the sculptor of the
lord of the land, the follower of the divine benefactor, Bek'.
'The inhaling of the holy incense, the receiving of the unction in favour
of the artist of the king, the overseer of the sculptors, Bek: The inhaling
of the fragrance of the incense in favour of the overseer of the works of
the lord of the land, Bek:
'That thy soul may appear, that thy body may live, that thy foot may
march out to all places, in favour of the artist of the king, and overseer
of the sculptors, Bek:
'That he may grant me to drink wine and milk, and that the king may
receive the sacrifice of the dead, in favour of the lady Ta-her'.
Inscription on a rock face near Aswan
On the left is Bek offering to Akhenaten, the defaced figure (erased in
antiquity), and on the right is Bek's father offering to Amenhotep III
Limestone stela with a
seated figure of Akhenaton