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Akhenaten (ca. 1350 BC)

Akhenaten (ca. 1350 BC)

New Kingdom Egypt

In the middle of the New Kingdom, around 1350 BC, the Greeks were building their megaron palaces at Mycenae and Pylos. The Hittites were just developing the use of iron. The Jews were wandering around the Israeli hills.

What’s the New Kingdom?
Who were the Hittites? 
More ancient Egypt articles

A new pharaoh: Akhenaten

But the Egyptians had a new Pharaoh who made some dramatic political changes, and also some changes in art styles which were just as interesting.

What’s a Pharaoh?

Another statue of Akhenaten

Another statue of Akhenaten

This Pharaoh’s name was Akhenaten (Ah-ken-AH-ten).

Akhenaten’s new religion

Akhenaten seems to have wanted people to believe in the Aten – a single god that controlled everything. He may have been the first monotheist. It’s possible that Akhenaten got his religious ideas from people in Sudan or West Africa.

What is monotheism?
More about Amun and the Aten
Early African religion

Akhenaten’s new city: Amarna

We call the kind of art that Akhenaten liked the Amarna style, because Amarna was the name of the new city that Akhenaten made people build for him. A lot of those people seem to have been children and teenagers, and a lot of them died of overwork. They may have been enslaved. So when we look at the great sculptures and buildings from Amarna, we should remember the suffering that went into them.

Were there slaves in ancient Egypt?

Akhenaten and Nefertiti and their daughters

Akhenaten and Nefertiti and their daughters

The art of Amarna

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.

Nok sculpture from West Africa, about 500 BC(The Barakat Gallery)

Nok sculpture from West Africa, about 500 BC(The Barakat Gallery)


An African art style?

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 from about 900 BC is kind of like Amarna art.

What did West African art look like?
More Africa articles

Queen Nefertiti

Egyptian stone carving of Nefertiti, Akhenaten, and their daughters

Nefertiti, Akhenaten, and their daughters

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.

(I’m not including the famous bust of Nefertiti, because I’m worried that it may be a fake made in the 1800s.)

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
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