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No. 5, April 2000
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Pharaohs of the Sun
Akhenaten, Nefertiti, Tutankhamen
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.
Until 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.

To 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.
 
Amenhotep 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.
  
During 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 overhanging belly.


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 Amarna 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 appeared.
 
Akhenaten 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.
 
Because 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.
 
Amarna 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.
The 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.
 
Tutankhaten—later 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.
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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).
 
Catalogue: Pharaohs 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.
 

www.cosmopolis.ch
No. 5, April 2000
current edition & archives
Art  Film  Music  History  Politics  Archives
Links  Advertise  Feedback  German edition  Travel

Copyright 2000  www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.