What's the Amarna Period? - Ancient Egyptian Art
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Akhenaten and Amarna

Akhenaten (ca. 1350 BC)

December 2016 - In the middle of the New Kingdom, around 1350 BC, when the Greeks were building their megaron palaces at Mycenae and Pylos, and the Hittites were just developing the use of iron, and the Jews were wandering around the Israeli hills, the Egyptians had a new Pharaoh who made some dramatic political changes, but also some changes in art styles which were just as interesting.

Another statue of Akhenaten

This Pharaoh's name was Akhenaten (Ah-ken-AH-ten). The kind of art that Akhenaten liked is called the Amarna style, because Amarna was the name of the new city that Akenaten made people build for him.

Akhenaten and Nefertiti
Akhenaten and Nefertiti and their daughters

We have a lot of art left from the Amarna period. Amarna art shows people in very dramatic and exaggerated ways. Some people have thought that Akhenaten himself must have looked very ugly, because the statues of him look so weird. But probably it was just a fashion in carving statues.

clay statue of a man hugging his knees
Nok sculpture from West Africa, about 500 BC
(The Barakat Gallery)

Possibly, Akhenaten or his artists meant to create an Egyptian art style that was closer to the art of other places in Africa and less like West Asian art. There isn't much African art from the 1300s BC left, but some later West African art is kind of like Amarna art.

Nefertiti (now in Berlin)

This carving shows Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti (neh-fur-TEE-tee) and three of their little daughters. They seem to be a very loving family. Their god, the Aten, is represented as a circle in the sky shining down on the royal family.

Here is another famous statue of Nefertiti. The reason she looks kind of funny is that one of her glass eyes has been knocked out.

Learn by doing: Representing yourself
More about New Kingdom art

Bibliography and further reading about the Amarna period:

Eyewitness: Ancient Egypt, by George Hart. Easy reading.

The Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt (Yale University Press Pelican History of Art), by William Stevenson Smith and William Kelly Simpson (revised edition 1999). The standard for college courses.

Egyptian Art, by Cyril Aldred (1985). Another standard.

Akhenaten: Egypt's False Prophet, by Nicholas Reeves (2001).

Akhenaten: King of Egypt, by Cyril Aldred (1991).

More about Egyptian art
More about Ancient Egypt
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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