April 16, 2012

Akhenaten Pharaoh and Throne's Power

A new artistic style
It is evident from the art of the Amarna period that the court officially emulated the king's unusual physical characteristics. Thus individuals such as the young princesses are endowed with elongated skulls and excessive adiposity, while Bek - the Chief Sculptor and Master of Works - portrays himself in the likeness of his king with pendulous breasts and protruding stomach. On a stele now in Berlin Bek states that he was taught by His Majesty and that the court sculptors were instructed to represent what they saw. The result is a realism that breaks away from the rigid formality of earlier official depictions, although naturalism is very evident in earlier, unofficial art.

Statue of Akhenaten in the early Amarna style.
The power behind the throne?
Although the famous bust of Nefertiti in Berlin (p. 123) shows her with an elongated neck, the queen is not subject to quite the same extremes as others in Amarna art, by virtue of being elegantly female. Indeed, there are several curious aspects of Nefertiti's representations. In the early years of Akhenaten's reign, for instance, Nefertiti was an unusually prominent figure in official art, dominating the scenes carved on blocks of the temple to the Aten at Karnak. One such block shows her in the age-old warlike posture of pharaoh grasping captives by the hair and smiting them with a mace - hardly the epitome of the peaceful queen and mother of six daughters. Nefertiti evidently played a far more prominent part in her husband's rule than was the norm.

Tragedy seems to have struck the royal family in about Year 12 with the death in childbirth of Nefertiti's second daughter, Mekytaten; it is probably she who is shown in a relief in the royal tomb with her grief- stricken parents beside her supine body, and a nurse standing nearby holding a baby. The father of the infant was possibly Akhenaten, since he is also known to have married two other daughters, Merytaten (not to be confused with Mekytaten) and Akhesenpaaten (later to become Tutankhamun's wife).

Nefertiti appears to have died soon after Year 12, although some suggest that she was disgraced because her name was replaced in several instances by that of her daughter Merytaten, who succeeded her as 'Great Royal Wife'. The latter bore a daughter called Merytaten-tasherit (Merytaten the Younger), also possibly fathered by Akhenaten. Merytaten was to become the wife of Smenkhkare, Akhenaten's brief successor. Nefertiti was buried in the royal tomb at Amarna, judging by the evidence of a fragment of an alabaster ushabti figure bearing her cartouche found there in the early 1930s.

The king's resting place
Akhenaten died c. 1334, probably in his 16th regnal year. Evidence found by Professor Geoffrey Martin during re-excavation of the royal tomb at Amarna showed that blocking had been put in place in the burial chamber, suggesting that Akhenaten was buried there initially. Others do not believe that the tomb was used, however, in view of the heavily smashed fragments of his sarcophagus and Canopic jars recovered from it, and also the shattered examples of his ushabtis - found not only in the area of the tomb but also by Petrie in the city.

Relief representing Amenhotep IV before he changed his name to Akhenaten, Neues Museum, Belin
What is almost certain is that his body did not remain at Amarna. A burnt mummy seen outside the royal tomb in the 1880s, and associated with jewellery from the tomb (including a small gold finger ring with Nefertiti's cartouche, p. 124), was probably Coptic, as was other jewellery nearby. Akhenaten's adherents would not have left his body to be despoiled by his enemies once his death and the return to orthodoxy unleashed a backlash of destruction. They would have taken it to a place of safety - and where better to hide it than in the old royal burial ground at Thebes where enemies would never dream of seeking it?

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