Art Research Paper: Royal Women in the Art of the Amarna Period

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1962 words
Harvey Mudd College
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Research paper
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Of all pharaohs who ruled Egypt, there was one that stood out from the rest. During the span of his seventeen-year reign (1353-1336 BCE), Akhenaten directed a religious, cultural and artistic revolution that upset the nation by discarding decades of tradition with a new world order (Freed, Sue and Yvonne). When he died, his name got excluded from the king lists, and his portraits destroyed and dishonored. From the remnant pieces of evidence, Egyptologists were able to recreate his life history and reign, duration of spiritual upheaval and experiment unlike any other in the history of Egypt. Under his administration, Egyptian art underwent a significant transformation with centuries of rigid convention discarded for a new highly stylized artistic methodology filled with divine meaning (Silverman, Josef and Jennifer). This paper presents a research about the royal women in ancient Egypt. As such, the paper considers the representation of gender in ancient Egypt by examining images of royal women in the art of the Amarna period.

The Amarna period got named after the modern town of Amarna, on the East bank of the Nile in Middle Egypt. Currently, it is an archaeological site containing remains of Akhenaten. It was the capital city of the pharaoh of Akhenaten (Freed, Sue and Yvonne). It was a city built on new grounds without a complete trace of ancient cities. Akhenaten chose the site deliberately to signal a new beginning. Before he became Akhenaten, he was born as Amenhotep IV, son of Amenhotep III who ruled from the city of Thebes. Egyptian society was polytheistic, and citizens were free to worship many gods. However, the ruler at the period preferred a god opposite from the conventional ones. Amenhotep worship to the god was so devoted that he changed his name as a testament to his faith.

After changing his name, the king introduced radical changes among them art (Pischikova). Artistic styles had never witnessed changes before the new ruler took over. In a modern manner, arms and hands were narrowed and extended. Both men and women had enlarged hips and stomachs, stretched out heads and visible breasts. While the figures faced sideways rather than directly looking at the viewer, the scenes portrayed included close family scenes between Akhenaten, his wife Nefertiti and their daughters (Freed, Sue and Yvonne). One great torso is executed with skill and precision to display Nefertiti looking majestic. Early scholars predicted they king might have suffered from the genetic disorder. The artistic representations might have depicted his physical appearance. Others concluded that the changes were part of his religious reform aimed at showing that men and women were part of the same gender spectrum.

Amenhotep III seemed to have lived surrounded by powerful women. Apart from his many wives, he had four daughters whose importance matched that of his wife. Some of the royal women included Tiye. She gets remembered as the commoner queen of ancient Egypt. Despite her lack of royal blood, she was a dominant figure in her husband's reign shown at the king's side on monumental statues and royal tombs (Arnold). Sitamun was the eldest daughter of the king. She gets demonstrated by inscriptions on the monuments of her parents and objects in the crypt of her grandparents. Henut-taneb was the second daughter of the king. Even if she does not identify with the title Royal Wife, the colossal statue at the central hall of Cairo Museum presents her at the side of her parents. She wears the vulture cap of the queen, and her name is within a cartouche. Others include Nefertiti, Isis, Nebet-ah, Baketaten, Meretaten and Ankhesenpaaten among others (Arnold).

Artistic changes introduced by King Amenhotep IV shocked both his subjects and the modern viewer (Pischikova). The colossal sculptures erected at the temple court appear different from traditional royal iconography. The kings enormous thighs were tightly drawn together by a knee-length pleated kilt. The upper edge got supported by a massive angular belt that sagged below pharaohs protruding belly. Long and sinewy arms crossed above a narrow waist. The hands were around what looked like breasts positioned unnaturally close to their shoulders. Above the hands holding the royal crook, a ceremonial beard got flanked by sharply ridged overextended clavicles (Arnold). The kings names were on the buckle of the belt. The god's names were on rectangular plaques similar to stamp seals fixed on the kings waist and arms.

Fig 1: Torso of a princess. Red Quartzite.

Images of Queen Nefertiti were almost universal like those of her husband. Most of the queens face apart from the chin, the right side of the mouth, ears and right cheek were preserved. The presence of two cobras indicated the image of Nefertiti rather than that of Amenhotep IV as queens were the only ones allowed to wear uraei during the 18th dynasty (Freed, Sue and Yvonne). Apart from the differences in royal accoutrements and hairstyle, the queens head was similar to that of the king (Arnold). When viewed close to each other, the two images appear to represent the same person in different attires. In prior arts, the kings and queens models had no similar features. Sculptures of gods and goddesses were all endowed with facial features of the ruling king and queen a representation of god on earth.

The similarity of Nefertitis features to that of the king was a recurrent phenomenon in art during the early years of their rule (Freed, Sue and Yvonne). Numerous reliefs from the sandstone of temple at Karnak showed the queen together with her husband performing ritual rights accompanied by their eldest daughter. Despite observation of some styles, the facial resemblance was unmistakable. Praying to Aten near an altar heaped with offerings, the queen wore similar ceremonial wigs of echeloned curls at her massive statue (Arnold). Over her forehead, double cobras emerge from below a fillet encircling the hair. Above the hair sat two large feathers and a disk between tow cow horns. Like her predecessor, the queen got linked through the elaborate headgear to Hathor, and the solar implication made the crown acceptable to believers in Aten.

The style of the reliefs recalled the significant distortions and elongations. Above a long neck, the face protruded to a degree only present in animals and not humans. The nose was so long that its tip formed a unit with the full mouth while the eyes under the brow were placed high almost touching the edge of the wig (Arnold). It left adequate space for the jaws and cheeks to form an emphasis of the jawbones as a significant physical element of the head. Though fascinating, the image does not project a pleasing feminine beauty. The lips were round, the small head is well balanced on the slender neck, cheeks are hollow, and the chin sags inappropriately. The image contradicts the image of the queen whose name meant the beautiful one and the predecessors imagery never departed from feminine polish and elegance.

After relocation of the royal residence, the relief fragments that came from columns of the Great Palace included figures of the queen and her oldest daughter. The facial representations again were similar to those of Karnak temple reliefs. The queen appeared with hollow cheeks, a large mouth and abstract eyes. The striking similarities albeit a noticeable difference distinguished style reliefs carved at Amarna and Karnak. The carvings appeared more rounded, outlines were softer, and individual features were alive than the previous ones. The changes in style could only get an explanation of the presence of a new group of artists at Amarna. When Akhenaten transferred his capital to Middle Egypt, it is likely that he employed artists who resided in Amarna. Reliefs carved for Hermopolis and Memphite cemetery displayed characteristics of a new style (Arnold). An example is an early Egyptian relief showing Queen Nefertiti. The facial appearance gets destroyed, but the upper body and the wig retains a fantastic three-dimension image. The queen's hair gets depth and roundness. It curves naturally and organically over the shoulder, and a play of light creates a shimmering textual effect. The ear is fleshy and the fillet binding the mass of the wig appears to have a life. The exact qualities of roundness and sensuousness differentiate Karnak works.

During the early years at Amarna, the statue of the king and queen were in the Great Aten Temple. They depicted the royal couple in many ways such as standing, kneeling and seated. Some figures held offering plates while others held large stelae engraved with names of Aten. Fragments of the highly regarded image changed the conception of the majestic image. The nose and mouth got sculptured in pieces from the temple statuary, and a chiselled line from the nostrils to the corner of the mouth became evident again. Three sculptures representing females in the royal family got created in the early phase of the Amarna art (Pischikova). They included a wooden head, the fragment for yellow jasper and a quartzite torso. The torso, a dark reddish quartzite, was roughly one-third life size and portrayed a young woman with a high narrow waist and a strikingly full lower body (Arnold). The expanse of the belly and thighs was reminiscent of the Great Mother Goddess figures. The ideal became a beauty standard today, and the extraordinary character of the torso becomes evident when compared to slightly earlier females.

The woman in the torso wears a garment consisting of a long tunic of fine linen. At the front of the neck, with a moderately open head slot of the tunic. Over the upper chest and right shoulder, the cloth hangs close to the body that the appearance of exposed flesh gets created. The tunics widely spaced pleats cling tightly. Over the tunic, the lady wears a shawl of fine narrowly pleated linen with fringes on two adjoining edges (Arnold). The corner where the two sides meet gets tucked under the lady's arm. It crosses diagonally between the clavicles to the left while long fringes hang over the waist and lower left hand. The use of the garment and pleats arrangement under the arm is reminiscent of the pleated kilt in the Karnak statue of Akhenaten.

The slight forward movement of the womans left arm balances the gesture of the now-lost right hand. In deciding from the remains of the shoulder, the right side should have stretched away from the body to the right. The lower part of the limb perhaps bent upward. A slab of the stone got attached to the right breast to support the arm. Since Egyptian stone statutes never included objects held in the hand of an outstretched arm, the side of the quartzite woman presumably touched a neighbouring figure (Arnold). The outstretched arm gesture was popular for statutes and statuettes of princesses. In Amarna statuary, it was rare in seated pictures to see the queen touching or embracing the king; standing royal couples often held hands.

Queen Tiye got represented by a considerable number of images in relief and the round. In most paintings, the sculptures depict the queen with a youthful round face by an overpowering wig. The angled eyes are large and almond-shaped, and the mouth looks squeezed. The mouth, chin and nose protrude beyond the lines of the forehead. Similar images are found not only in the kings representation but also private people. It is an official aspect that got granted to please the queen. There were shockingly different aspects in the face of the small head of Tiye that gets excavated from the Hathor sanctuary of Serabit el-Khadim in the Sinai Desert. They displayed the queen as having an ample tripartite wig (Arnold). The corners of her curved mouth are turned down and extended by sharply incised lines which get engraved with oblique folds i...

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