Art of the Ancient World, C. 5000 B.c.e.–400 C.E.

Ancient Egyptian Art

Why does art from the Amarna period look so different from other Egyptian art?

During the New Kingdom, a ruler named Amenophis IV broke away from the traditional religious values of Egypt and focused his worship on a single god: the sun god, Aten. In order to honor Aten, he changed his name to Akhenaten. This pharaoh not only broke away from religious customs, but artistic customs as well. Much of the art made during his reign features the god Aten depicted as a sun disc with linear rays emanating from it. Each ray has a small hand, often pointing down towards Akhenaten, which represents divine blessing. Images showing Akhenaten, such as a limestone relief featuring the ruler and his wife, Nefertiti, are unusual in that the pharaoh is not traditionally idealized. He looks almost ugly, in fact, with a protruding chin and long, thin body. In the relief, he is shown sitting with Nefertiti, playing with their children. It is a warm, family scene that is quite different from conventional pharaonic works, from periods both before and after.


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