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Akhenaten: Deformed King or Sassy Sculptor?

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Once in a while, chance or genetics throw into the world an individual so special, so divergent in their way of thinking, that the whole of humanity will be condemned to acknowledge their existence for as long as written records shall prevail.

Akhenathen looking gorgeous. Sandstone. Karnak, East Temple of Gempaaten

But when the man and the myth intersect with the freaky visual representations left behind… very little makes sense. Why are Akhenaten‘s statues and paintings so… strange-looking? Did the King suffer from physical deformities or some illness? Or did he have a sculptor that was as revolutionary as the man himself?

It has been suggested that Akhenaten suffered from Frohlich’s Syndrome. This may explain his strange appearance, but one side effect of that disease is impotence – and Akhy had at least 6 daughters. Some more risque theorists have said he was actually a she, but… well, you figure that out yourself.

These are just some of the speculations around the figure responsible for completely changing Egypt’s daily life but, in any case, the result is compelling. Never in the history of the Empire had art changed so drastically in a matter of years, nor would it ever again, in my opinion (with the exception of the Roman and Greek art influx, those mummies with curly hair look pretty stunning).

The Amarna style that began with Akhenaten was a significant and sudden break from Ancient Egyptian art. A new sense of movement and activity was added to the images; the statues and paintings show long and slender bodies (hands and feet in particular, notice they have carefully detailed nails!). After the King’s death, conservative forces led by the temple priests reimposed the old religion and the new capital was abandoned. All traces of his monuments in other places were defaced, so the only place left to find these strange figures is Amarna itself. The blocks have been re-used and turned inwards, but they are still there, telling us the story of a man who for some reason we might never understand, abandoned a pantheon of gods in search of a single, all-encompassing unit.

Luckily for us, the existence of “The King’s Favourite and Master of Works, the Sculptor Thutmose” was also confirmed in 1912 when his workshop was found in the abandoned and defaced Amarna. Thutmose is also the genius behind the famous bust of Nefertiti (she was Akhenaten’s wife).

If her sculpture weren’t so goddamn beautiful, I’d say the true reason behind the King’s loving portrait was that the “favourite” thing went both ways ;)

Here are some beautiful examples of the wacky King and his sassy Amarna artists:

 

 

 

yisela

UX Designer and Anthropologist, hardcore gamer, obsessive reader and improvised artificer of crafts. I cheated on population genetics with graphic design and since that the three of us have been living happily ever after. I enjoy writing little pieces on practically anything that catches my eye, but I lean towards those occasions when art overlaps with science.

Have an opinion!