Today's Inspiration- Family Times with Akhenaten and Nefertiti

by - Saturday, August 16, 2014

Akhenaten is my favorite leader of all Egyptian history, and before I went into contemporary art, I thought I would study him for a living (it turns out then I would have to study all the boring, non-curvy pharaohs as well, hence moving on to feminist art). For whatever reason, I love a good historical figure with Marfan's.

What makes Akhenaten so interesting in comparison to his counterparts, beyond the pretty admirable hubris of moving the capital city, choosing a new God, and undermining hundreds of years of tradition, was that he was so thoughtful, specific, and original in how he portrayed himself, his body, and his family. I have talked about his body types before, but for the last day of anniversary-planning week, I thought we could revisit how this very public figure displayed his affection for his family. You won't see this anywhere else.

Below the Rays of Aton, from
In this piece, on display at the Louvre, we see a relatively traditional rendering of the couple. Most pharaohs have relief portraits like these, where they stand with their wives, looking (and stepping) forward. Very often they are either holding hands or the wife has her hand on her husbands arm (I like this little bit of affection and connection are par for the course. Their headdresses and the width of their hips are already starting to diverge from conventional Egyptian representations.

Akhenaten and Nefertiti Under the Rays of Aton from
By this later point, we see the Amarna style really underway (elongated limbs, embracing their abnormal heads and torsos) , but this also diverges from the norm in that it is basically a domestic scene. A couple sits with their children in their laps, facing each other and loving on their babies. This may seem kind of cold or conventional now, but you will not find many other surviving piece of Egyptian sculpture that embraces such intimacy between family members or couples.

The sweet strangeness of this work makes it one my favorites of all time, and I think it can be instructive to reflect on how couples, relationships, and families have been portrayed (by themselves and others) as loving each other over centuries. We get in these ruts where a loving and healthy couple deserves one very prescriptive look to the outside world, but you could look at so many other couples who used art to break out of this simplistic mold. 

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