Copyright 2000 www.cosmopolis.ch Louis Gerber All rights
Pharaohs of the
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, LACMA:
March 19 - June 4, 2000; Rijksmuseum Leiden, The Netherlands:
November 23, 2000 - February 18, 2001. (photo: detail of colossal
statue of Amenhotep IV with "nemes" and double crown. Dynasty
18, reign of Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten, 1353 - 1336 B.C. Sandstone,
Egyptian Museum, Cairo). Get the catalogue from Amazon.com.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art – LACMA –
presents Pharaohs of the Sun: Akhenaten,
Nefertiti, Tutankhamen, one of the most important international
presentations of Egyptian art and culture in recent decades. On view from
March 19 through June 4, 2000, the exhibition covers the revolutionary epoch
known as the Amarna Age (1353 to 1336 B.C.) when the Pharaoh Akhenaten assumed
the throne of Egypt at its peak of imperial glory. Organized by The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Pharaohs of the Sun brings to life the Amarna Age through more than
250 pieces of sculpture, relief, ceramics, jewelry, and objects from daily
life. The exhibition is organized chronologically and consists of works from
35 museums and private collections from around the world—including two
magnificent, colossal statues from the Cairo Museum which have never left
Egypt before. The exhibition also includes a three-dimensional model of the
city of Amarna, providing visitors with a unique perspective of the
organization of the city and its key monuments. Pharaohs
of the Sun is the largest re-assembly of objects from this prolific
17-year period in Egyptian history since the city of Amarna was abandoned
3,500 years ago.
Decorated balustrade fragment Amarna, Great Palace.
Dynasty 18, reign of Akhenaten, 1353 - 1336 B.C. Crystalline limestone,
Egyptian Museum, Cairo.
the reign of Akhenaten, Egypt garnered strength from an adherence to age-old
principles of religion and rulership. Considered by some a genius and others a
heretic, Akhenaten brought radical change in religion and art. He did away
with the polytheistic worship of multiple gods and introduced the worship of a
single god, Aten, “the light of the sun,” which was represented as the
sun’s disk. Abandoning Egypt’s traditional capitals of Memphis and Thebes,
Akhenaten established the new city of Akhetaten (Horizon of Aten) known today as Amarna. This site had never
been occupied before and belonged to no god, making it easier for the king to
promote his new religion. Akhenaten
opened the way for monotheism. He also did away
with the idealized images that had characterized Egyptian art for the previous
1,500 years and replaced them with works that captured a more tender and less
formalistic image of the human body.
introduce the radical change in artistic form, the exhibition Pharaohs
of the Sun opens with a
monumental Sculpture of King Thutmose III,
which represents the traditional portrayal of kingship, showing a trim,
youthful king. Egypt’s empire was consolidated under Thutmose III’s son,
Amenhotep II, and grandson, Thutmose IV. During this time, trade and
prosperity increased, giving rulers the freedom to exercise their influence in
such areas as religion and art. The next ruler, Amenhotep III (Akhenaten’s
father) reigned for more than 30 years and can be seen as the catalyst for the
monumental changes to come.
III brazenly proclaimed himself a god in his own lifetime. The manner in which
he depicted himself went against tradition, as the idealized royal figure took
on a rounded abdomen and other dramatic features. These new attributes can be
seen in Amenhotep III offering, a
kneeling image of King Amenhotep III with a round face and ample torso, and Head
of Amenhotep III wearing a solar
diadem with its massive wig and elegant, elongated eyes.
the last years of Amenhotep III’s life, he may have ruled with his son,
Amenhotep IV (later to be known as Akhenaten), who was married to Nefertiti.
At this time, Amen was the most important god in the land and his priesthood
the most powerful. In a move that would foreshadow the events to come,
Amenhotep IV built at least four giant temples in the Karnak precinct of
Thebes dedicated to Aten. There, in both sculpture in the round and in relief
representations, Amenhotep IV broke with tradition even further than his
father in the portrayal of the pharaoh’s body. In a radical departure from
the millennium-old tradition of proportion that governed previous artists’
renderings of the human figure, this king had himself depicted with an
elongated head and facial features, skinny upper torso, voluptuous hips and an
Colossal statue of Amenhotep IV with "nemes"
and double crown Dynasty 18, reign of Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten, 1353 -
1336 B.C. Sandstone, Egyptian Museum, Cairo.
The king and his family moved to
around the sixth or seventh year of his rule (1347 - 46 B.C.). At this point,
he underscored his break with the Amen priesthood by changing his name to
Akhenaten, “one who is effective for Aten.” Later he even authorized the
destruction of the name and all images of Amen, wherever and whenever they
and his Queen Nefertiti were of course Amarna’s most important inhabitants. Sculpture
and stela under Akhenaten provided many intimate glimpses of the royal
family with their children—a type of representation unheard of under
previous pharaohs. A pristine example of this type of family intimacy is
depicted in Stela of the royal family,
a delightful image of Akhenaten and Nefertiti playing with three of their
daughters under the protective rays of Aten.
Maya and Meryt, Saqqara. Dynasty 18, reign of Horemheb,
1310 - 1292 B.C. Limestone, Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden.
The city was a spectacularly colorful
place, with walls, floors and ceilings painted or inlaid with colorful mosaic
tiles. Portions of this brilliant array
are seen in Bullock in a thicket, a
fragment of a faience tile in greens and reds representing a calf among flora,
as well as Floor painting with marsh
plants. Several objects from everyday life are also represented, including
an early toilet seat, musical instruments, jewelry, oil lamps, mirrors and a
3,500 year-old fragment of clothing.
nothing existed in the area of Amarna before Akhenaten, temples, palaces,
administrative buildings, barracks, granaries, food-preparation areas, roads,
houses, estates, formal gardens and tombs were all constructed at an
incredible pace. This remarkable city, whose population scholars estimate was
between 20,000 and 50,000 people, is represented in the exhibition through a
20-foot, three-dimensional model, aerial photographs of the excavation site,
and views of current excavations.
remains a pristine example of a planned city from the middle of the second
millennium B.C. Excavations began in the 19th century, and continue today. All
present understanding of this historically pivotal time period derives from
excavations and from representations of the city’s institutions carved in
relief on tomb or temple walls.
succession of rulers following Akhenaten’s death is unclear, and several
theories exist. One postulates that Smenkhkara, possibly the son of Akhenaten
and his second wife Kiya, claimed the throne because he was married to
Akhenaten and Nefertiti’s daughter. Another suggests that Nefertiti and
Smenkhkara were one and the same. It also has been suggested that Nefertiti
ruled as pharaoh with Akhenaten until his death, and possibly after. Proof of
her power is evident in art; she was depicted in the archetypal images of
kingship—the king smiting an enemy—in Relief
of royal barge with Nefertiti smiting.
Nefertiti is the only queen who was ever depicted in such a manner.
to be known as Tutankhamen—became Egypt’s next pharaoh in 1332 B.C. He may
have been Akhenaten’s son by Kiya, although that also remains speculative.
Not yet 10 years old when he assumed the throne, he was already married to
Akhenaten’s third daughter, Ankhesenpaaten. At this point the city of Amarna
and the young Aten religion were very vulnerable, and no match for what
remained of the long-standing traditions of Amen’s empire. Within a short
time, and obviously pressured by others given his young age, Tutankhaten led
the people of Amarna back to Thebes, changed his name to Tutankhamen and
reinstated the god Amen, restoring the power of this priesthood. Although the
power of Aten and Akhenaten had waned, the artistic influences of the Amarna
Age were still strong. This can be seen in Tutankhamen
wearing a blue crown, with its large eyes and full, curving lips, as well
as a spectacular, life-size sculpture of General
Horemheb as a scribe, depicted in the naturalistic, Amarna style.
Exhibition itinerary: Los
Angeles County Museum of Art (March 19 – June 4, 2000); Art
Institute of Chicago (July 17 - September 24, 2000); Rijksmuseum
Leiden, The Netherlands (November 23, 2000 - February 18, 2001).
of the Sun: Akhenaten, Nefertiti, Tutankhamen, Nov. 1999, 320 p., 400 color photographs, 250 black and white illustrations. 14
essays, with an introduction by Rita Freed, a chronology of ancient Egypt, maps and a
glossary. $60 for the
hardcover and $29.95 for the softcover. Get the catalogue from Amazon.com.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art:
museum hours: Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday noon-8 pm; Friday noon-9 pm; Saturday and
Sunday 11 am-8 pm; closed Wednesday.