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Work Akhenaton and Nefertiti

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: The New Kingdom (circa 1550 to circa 1069 BC)

Akhenaton and Nefertiti

© Musée du Louvre/Chr. Décamps

Egyptian Antiquities
The New Kingdom (circa 1550 to circa 1069 BC)

Author(s):
David Elisabeth

To the visitor to the Louvre who wishes to see Nefertiti, the Department of Antiquities can offer only this group, which shows Akhenaton and his wife, side by side, holding hands, and looking straight ahead. This small sculpture bears witness to the specific religious practices of Akhenaton's time: it would have been made for a private altar, before which a family offered its devotions to the royal couple.

An Official Portrait

The king and queen are shown hand in hand, as if walking forward together. They stand quite far apart, entirely unbending as they stare straight ahead, without the ghost of a smile. They are clothed in very fine, close-pleated linen, and wear broad collars on their shoulders. As in most of their official portraits, the king wears the Blue Crown (kheperesh) and the queen a tall flat-topped headdress. Hand-holding couples, royal or otherwise, are not very common in Egyptian art, but are found from the Old Kingdom onward. Typologically, then, there is nothing unusual in this group. It conforms exactly to the conventions of the Amarna style: the canon of proportions is short, the male and female bodies are similar, the neck stretched forward, the head raised, and ribbons blow in the wind. The typical anatomical distortions of the Amarna style are all present: the narrow, round shoulders; the short upper torso; swollen belly, hips and thighs; and slender arms and legs.

A Revealing Inscription

Behind the figures is a wide back-plate. On the reverse, two columns of hieroglyphs each bear three cartouches: the two cartouches of the sun god, followed by the king's in the left-hand column and the queen's in the right-hand column. In Egypt, the king had always acted as intermediary between gods and men. In Akhenaton's time, this role fell to the royal couple, both man and woman, and more importantly so than ever. The "discarnate" Sun was represented only by its visible manifestation - the Aten-disk - and the sovereigns were its only earthly embodiment. In religious scenes, they are therefore the only ones to receive the Sun's rays. The inscription on this statuette also establishes a close relationship between the Sun and the king and queen. Behind the king one reads: "May the Sun live, ruler of the horizon, who rejoices on the horizon as the illumination that comes from the Aten-disk, may he live forever and ever; the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Neferkheperure-Waenre, may he live." Behind the queen, the name of the god, given in the same way, is followed by: "The great royal wife Neferneferwaten-Nefertiti, living forever and ever."

The Religion of Akhenaton: No Salvation, but through the King and Queen

During excavations at Amarna, a number of small steles and statues representing the king and queen were discovered in the private dwellings. Many of the houses had a shrine, before which families would pay homage to the royal couple - the sole living, earthly manifestation of the inaccessible solar disk. Easily portable, this statuette would probably have been used in such domestic worship. It is the godly titles that allow the object to be more precisely dated, as they do not appear in this form before the ninth, or even perhaps the fourteenth year of the reign of Amenophis IV Akhenaton. The statue was thus produced between 1345 BC and the death of the king in 1337 BC.

Bibliography

Ch. ZIEGLER, J.-L. BOVOT, Art et archéologie : L'Egypte ancienne, Ecole du Louvre/RMN/Documentation française, Paris, 2001, p. 206-207, fig. 110.

Le Monde de la Bible, 2000, tome 124, p. 20-21.

G. ANDREU, M. H. RUTSCHOWSCAYA, C. ZIEGLER, L'Egypte au Louvre, Hachette, Paris, 1997, p. 54-55, notice 13.

Catalogue de l'exposition Pharaohs, Treasures of egyptian Art from the Louvre, Cleveland, 1996, p. 60-61, 96

C. Aldred, Akhenaten and Nefertiti, Londres, 1973, p. 63, pl. 39-40.

Technical description

  • Akhenaton and Nefertiti

    New Kingdom, Eighteenth Dynasty, after year 9 of the reign of Amenophis IV Akhenaton, between 1345 and 1337 BC

  • Sculpture (in the round), painted limestone

    H. 22.2 cm; W. 12.3 cm; D. 9.8 cm

  • Louise, Ingeborg and Atherton Curtis bequest, 1938

    E 15593

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    The New Kingdom
    Room 25

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