“Fragment Of a Wall Relief”
As I entered the upper Egyptian gallery at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology I noticed a women giving a lecture to a small group concerning some of the monuments in the gallery. Lucky enough, I got a chance to catch the end of her lecture, and coincidentally it was about this piece entitled “Fragment of a Wall Relief.” This particular piece is from the Amarna period or 18th dynasty of ancient Egypt, dating from about 1367-1350 BCE. I picked this piece specifically because of the period in which it derives. The armana period has boggled me ever since we learned about it in class. In this paper I hope to uncover the historical significance of this piece and how it relates to this most unusual period.
The ” Fragment of a Wall Relief” was presented free standing, but clamped to the floor with metal braces. I believe it stands at about seven and a half feet tall and about eight inches thick and is made out of quartzite. This monument is not placed behind glass or ropes, but simply placed in the middle of the floor for people to view from all sides. This was very surprising for me, not only due to the age of the monument but also it’s state of preservation. I observed that at sometime this piece had been broken in two, and has since been repaired. The “front” Of this piece may be well preserved because it had been lying face down in the sand for quite some time before it had been excavated. This piece in general has been weathered due to sand and wind for some time, but again still is in good condition.
This “Fragment of a Wall Relief’s” depiction of the setting at hand is pretty simple. At the very top of this monument, in the upper scene is the god Aten, once the sun god Ra, is shown as a disc shaped object with it’s rays shining downward. To either side of Aten are hieroglyphics, most likely stating the scene that’s at hand. Atens’ rays are shining downwards towards Akenaten and one of his daughters. Akenaten is shown with his hand raised towards Aten, holding some type of bowl. To the right of these two subjects are piled up offerings meant as gifts for the sun god. In the lower scene, again is Aten at the top, and according to the museum, Akenaten is offering a censure of burning incense. This part is unclear to me due to the state of the monument. In both scenes Aten and the hair and clothing of both subjects are sunken relief, which at one time would have been inlayed with glass. Also in both scenes Akenaten is represented with his arms and hands raised towards Atens rays. Akenaten is represented with profile head, frontal torso, and profile legs. In the top scene he seems to be wearing a kilt type garment and in the lower scene it’s unclear the type of garment he’s wearing but it seems to cover most of his body. Along the right hand side of the monument runs a vertical band containing various hieroglyphics and three sunken relief figures that end up breaking the band into three sections. At the bottom of this piece is the base of the monument, which is handled quite simply. The base is plain, there is nothing written on it, represented on it, it doesn’t extend out in any direction. The only point of the base I believe is to raise the subject matter to eye level. Along the side edges are hieroglyphics representing a ruler of another time. This is a later addition to the piece by another artist at a different time, it is said that the piece would have been placed face down and would have served as a base most likely for a sphinx or other statue.
The artist who created the “Fragment of a Wall Relief,” who is currently unknown, must have had a clear understanding of how line breaks up space. The artist uses line two divide the two scenes and also to create the base for the monument. Also, the horizontal line in the middle of the monument along with the base horizontal line acts also as a ground line for the two scenes represented. All of the figures seem to be very linear, by this I mean, there is no musculature involved nor is there facial expression. I’m not sure if this was always the case, but this is what I could observe in it’s present shape. As far as balance is concerned, there is a great deal of weight balanced between the two scenes. In both scenes are the same configurations of subjects and offerings conveying the same point of paying homage to the deity Aten. Repeating the same subjects and offerings seems to unify the monument as a whole along with conveying the message at hand, which seems to represent the Armana period well.
The subject matter is a great representation of what is going on during the Armana period. This piece again represents the ruler, Akenaten, and his daughter paying homage to the god Aten. According to The Dictionary of Art, volume I, “?the Armana style, created during Akenatens reign, according to which the king, his family and their relationship towards the god Aten, are the only proper subjects for art.” During his seventeen-year reign, Amenhotep IV changed the political, spiritual, and cultural ways of life for the Egyptians of this time. He basically restructured the government to go along with his ideals. In his fifth year of reign he changed the capitol of Egypt from what was Memphis and Thebes to Akentaten, which means “horizon of the Aten.” and also unifying upper with lower Egypt. Along with unifying Egypt the most powerful of all the changes was the changing of the spiritual of religious aspect of the society. He changed the system into a monotheistic society, the honoring of only one deity, which of course is Aten. With this came the rulers name change from Amenhotep IV or otherwise known as Amenophis IV to Akenaten, which translated means “one who is effective on behalf of Aten.” With all these changes, also came the change in artistic style. Akenaten was at this time is usually depicted as having very odd characteristics of a human. For instance he has long slender arms and legs with the exception of his almost swollen thigh area. Akenaten also had a protruding belly, almost women-like breasts, a long slender neck, elongated face an head, along with slanted eyes, thick lips, and a hanging chin. All this was thought as interpreting what the king actually looked like, but now historians believe it was the artists portrayal of “Living in Maat,” or the divine truth which was another of Akenatens beliefs at the time. During this period the sun god, once Ra, was now a circular shaped disk with its rays shining downward ending in human hands or the Egyptian symbol for life, the ankh. Also during this time Akenaten stresses the importance of family life, never before had this been the case in Egyptian culture. In many of the monuments of this period, Akenaten is shown with his wife Nefertitti, sometimes with one of his children, and sometimes with the whole family. All of this history seems to be represented in “Fragment of a Wall Relief.”
Many examples from this period have been recovered from modern day Tell el-Amarna despite the efforts of Akenatens successors. It’s known that after Akenatens death, his views and ideals were not very accepted with the Egyptians because much of the remains from this period were destroyed or reused for another purpose. One New Kingdom relief of ” Akenaten and His Wife Nefertti Offering to the God Aten,” in Vol. 9, in the Dictionary of Art is also a good example of the artistic style of the Armana period. In this monument, it shows Akenaten and his wife paying homage to the god aten rendered in carved relief. This is carved from limestone and the scene is a focal section of a larger piece, but what is shown is the standard depiction of Aten’s rays with the hands at the ends along with ending with a few ankhs. Under those rays is Akenaten standing erect, he is wearing a united crown, which is a combination of the white crown of upper Egypt and the red crown of lower Egypt, and with arms outward he is holding some type vessel. On Akenatens right or backside is a slightly smaller Nefertitti, once again showing hierarchic scale. In this representation, the focal point once again is paying homage to the deity, and with Nefertti at his side it shows the strong relationship with his family.
Another good example of this period is found in our textbook, “Akenaten and His Family.” In this monument Akenaten is shown with his family playing, while the ever-present Aten, shining above them. Again Akenaten is represented with the unified headdress, and all the identifying characteristic given to him, such as the elongated neck, pot belly, ect? Some of Atens rays with the ankh symbols are pointing towards Akenaten and Nefertittis’ nostrils, which depicts the “breath of life.” Again Akenaten wearing the unified crown and in this piece, it also gives us the assumption that Nefertitti might have co-ruled with Akenaten because of the symbols on her throne, the papyrus stalks and a bird, which is the unified symbol of upper and lower Egypt. Again Akenaten is with his family, now it’s the whole family, which stresses the importance of family. The representation of the figures is again in this Armana style and now holds true to all the subjects. In all of theses examples including “Fragment of a Wall Relief,” the Armana ideals are carried throughout. One thing I noticed, it seems that in all the monuments the hieroglyphics are placed strategically to balance out the scene. Along with this I noticed in both “Fragment of a Wall Relief” and “Akenaten and His family,” they both had a vertical band of hieroglyphs running along the right hand side, both maybe creating space. All three of these monuments carry out Akenatens wishes by conveying Akenatens and his family’s relationship to the god Aten.
To conclude, Akenaten had a profound influence on the Egyptian culture from art to their everyday way of living. Although this way of life did not prevail after his death, it still made a great impact on the way I view Egyptian art. I hope I uncovered why this piece is reminiscent of the Armana period and why it’s historically significant.
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