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The Art of Akhenaten
A Formal Analysis of House Shrine and Akhenaten Making Offerings

The Art of Akhenaten
A Formal Analysis of House Shrine and Akhenaten Making Offerings  
       One of the most enigmatic pharaohs of Egyptian history, Amenhotep IV, had grown up in the most powerful family in ancient Egypt. Once he became pharaoh and ruler of Egypt’s empire in 1378 BCE, he changed his name to Akhenaten, “effective spirit of Aten”, and was known to the people as “the heretic king. Early in his reign, Akhenaten encouraged ideas by using art as a way of emphasizing his political and religious intentions of doing things differently; therefore, changing Egyptian society. This was true for the following reasons. Politically, when Akhenaten denounced the state deities, he altered the artistic style and technique of ancient Egypt, by the intimate settings and placements of him and his royal family. Religiously, the forced monotheistic religion was artistically stylized by having the new deity, Aten, as the main theme in his reliefs. These emphases were what came to be known as Amarna art, an erratic, sensual, new style of art that celebrated the vibrancy and movement of the real world during Akhenaten’s reign. Akhenaten’s famous two relief sculptures, House Shrine and Akhenaten Making Offerings, reflect the revolutionary changes in art and religion and therefore of politics during the reign of this monotheistic pharaoh.

Akhenaten and his family were the only royal family that was intimately described by the king as displaying love and devotion under the protection of Aten. In House Shrine (figure 1), the limestone stele, depicts King Akhenaten and his “Holy Family” starring his wife Queen Nefertiti and his two daughters. It was intended to be stored in a private room in the Amarna palace. The stele is decorated with an intimate scene showing the daily life of the Holy Family. The sculptor’s color choice of bright, yellow limestone background shown in this art piece complements the sun that shines down on all the individuals. The use of fine lines emphasizes the sun shining down on Akhenaten and his family. This sense of illumination by both the sun and indirectly by the family expresses that they are full of love and happiness. Often times bright colors are associated with love and happiness, such as this yellow limestone stele.

The sunken relief technique is also used. As Janson explained in his text it was a popular technique amongst Egyptian art sculptures. In this technique, the sculptor cut sharp outlines into the stone’s face, and modeled the figures within the outlines, below the level of the background, rather than carving away the surface around figures to allow them to emerge from the stone. Light shining onto the stone’s surface then cast shadows into the out-lines, animating the figures without compromising the solid planar appearance of the wall. In this art piece the sunken relief technique gives further emphasis of the sun above shining over them and creates shadows throughout the art piece by the deep incisions of the curved lines along the back of King Akhenaten’s neck and Queen Nefertiti’s right shoulder tracing down her arm. In addition, there are deep incisions along the outline of his children, which give the shadows symbolism that presents the whole family as the focal point of the piece. However, the incisions along the children do not run as heavy as the ones on Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and the sun god. By using heavier incisions it gives the idea that these three figures are of greater importance. In conclusion, the choice of color gives the mood of the stele, the lines tell us the focal point and establishes the important figures. Overall, this piece is well put together.

In the beginning of Akhenaten’s religious reform, the official state religion was still based on polytheism with Amun rising above...
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