Artistic Depictions of Akheneten and his Family.

For this weeks readings and lecture material, I thought the changes that occurred in how the pharaoh and his family were represented in art during the Amarna period were particular interesting.

First of all, the way King Akheneten himself is depicted is totally unexpected when one considers the history of Pharaohs being considered as almost god-like. He was depicted as having a heavy, bloated belly, wide hips, fleshy breasts, and a thin elongated face with narrow oval eyes, large lips, and a protruding bulbous chin. There are a couple of different theories as to why Akheneten would have been portrayed this way. One suggestion is that perhaps the pharaoh suffered from a glandular disease such as Frölich’s syndrome (Adiposogenital dystrophy), which is a condition sometimes secondary to a low-level of GnRH (Gonadotrophin Releasing Hormone) and is associated with dysfunctions of the feeding centers of the hypothalamus thus leading to increased caloric intake. Another theory is that Akheneten could have had Marfan’s syndrome, a genetic disorder of the connective tissue that causes those who suffer from it to grow to an unusually tall height and to have long limbs and long, thin fingers. The deformities cause by either of these conditions could be the reason why Akheneten was portrayed the way he was, however to me this seems unlikely, since his wife Queen Nefertiti is shown in the same exaggerated style. To me, the more likely theory is that Akheneten (and perhaps members of his family as well) were made to appear androgynous for reasons of religious significant since Aten (who was symbolized by Akheneten) was referred to as the “mother and father of all humankind”. However, since Akhenaten’s mummy has not been found, theories as to the true reason behind the unusual depictions of Akheneten cannot be tested on physical remains, and thus interpretations are presently limited to artistic portrayals alone.

Secondly, the way in which the royal family is portrayed shows them as casual and affectionate. The pharaoh, the queen, and their children are shown together in scenes of intimate familiarity, with Nefertiti seated on Akhenaten’s lap, or with the king or queen holding or kissing his young daughters. Such scenes are not known to have existed before or after the Amarna Period. It is possible Akhenaten had ideological reasons for such depictions of the royal family. This seems likely to me, however, why did this tradition not carry on, even in a small way?

1 thought on “Artistic Depictions of Akheneten and his Family.

  1. I wrote my blog on this topic as well, mainly because I found it the most interesting period out of the readings and lectures. My theory for the changes in art that happened during the Amarna period coincide with yours, that is, that Akhenaten used his image depiction to emulate the god Aten, who was shown as being androgynous. By closely assimilating himself in appearance with the god, he used a very tactical move to win over the Egyptian people to his uplifted role as a leeway to Aten. I believe a lot of the changes in art made during this period where made strategically to change the traditional Egyptian culture, introduce the soul worship of Aten, and to show a different side to the Pharaoh, one that I’m assuming Akhenaten wished would make the Egyptian people revere him. The affectionate scene could have been used in this way to make the Egyptian people feel comforted and looked after by their ruler instead of a cold and distant Pharaoh. However, like you said, these changes could have possibly been a fluke or the result of his actual genetically modified appearance, although most researchers do not coincide with this theory. Overall, the Amarna period is a fascinating time in Egyptian culture, one that was completely different from any time previous, and also forever afterward.

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