An Analysis of the Famous Statue of Akhenaton
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Akhenaton was the first pharaoh to introduce the concept of monotheism, the worshipping of only one god, as opposed to polytheism, the worshipping of many gods. The people of Egypt had usually depicted gods in either animal or human form in their paintings and sculptures in order to help give them a physical form that they could worship. However, under Akhenaton’s new ideas, the only god was Aton, which was represented with the form of a sun disk. Artwork also changed in sync with this change in religion. The statue of Akhenaton incorporated these new changes, and the statue itself acts like a symbol for Akhenaton’s revolutionary ideas.
The statue has many interesting and defining characteristics. The statue of Akhenaton is made of sandstone and is approximately 13 feet high. Upon seeing it for the first time, the first thing that becomes apparent is that one of the arms is broken off. Aside from this, the statue has almost perfect symmetry. Because of the position of the hands, it can be safely assumed that both arms mirrored each other. The statue has good balance. It does not vary much in width. The headdress is almost twice has tall as the face, and the headdress surrounds the entire face, almost acting like a frame for it. This gives importance and draws focus towards the face. This is significant because the entire statue, especially the face, uses many feminine characteristics. In this statue of Akhenaton, the thighs are wide, the hips are narrow, the face is elongated and narrow, the lips are large, the arms and fingers are narrow and long, and there are breasts. The face is also important because it is looking straight ahead. This makes any person want to stare right back at it. Again, this helps to bring focus to the unusual characteristics used in the statue.
There are a limited number of explanations as to why the statue of Akhenaton uses these feminine characteristics. One is that Akhenaton was deformed from some disease. According to Gardner’s Art through the Ages, “Modern doctors have tried to explain his physique by a variety of illnesses. They cannot agree on a diagnosis, and their premise – that the statue is an accurate depiction of a physical deformity – is probably faulty.” (69) Some of these feminine characteristics also appeared in other art at the time, and not just in art depicting Akhenaton, so the chances of him actually looking like this are slim. Another reason for the style used in the statue is that Akhenaton wanted it to look the way it does. There is a direct relationship between Akhenaton’s religious ideas and his artistic ideas. Again, Akhenaton’s god was Aton, the sun disk. And much like his sexless god, Akhenaton chose to have himself depicted in art as an indefinable sex; neither completely male nor female.
The statue ends at the thighs. This was probably a conscious decision made by either Akhenaton or the sculptor. Before Akhenaton, the ankles of figures in statues were generally proportionately thicker than the rest of the body. The Egyptians did this to provide more support for the statue. However, if the statue of Akhenaton was of a complete body, and if the entire statue kept the same feminine characteristics, then the ankles would have most likely been much narrower than the ankles of statues before Akhenaton. The ankles would have been much like the arms of the statue, and keeping in mind the large size of the statue, this would have put too much stress on the ankles.
The statue is not colored at all. It is simply the color of the stone. By doing this, more attention is given to the shape and form of the figure. Also, by not coloring it, it makes the figure seem less lifelike. Color can fade away over time, and if some of the surface breaks off at some point, it would leave a colorless area, which would make the statue seem more imperfect. By leaving it stone, it makes it seem more everlasting. This helps to show how Akhenaton wanted his new concepts about art and religion to remain long after he was gone. This idea can also be supported by the fact that the statue is very large. It is 13 feet high and the statue isn’t even an entire body. It would have been almost overwhelming to stand next to it. Akhenaton chose to have the statue this size because he wanted the characteristics, and thus his concepts of art and religion, to be obvious and unmistakable.
This statue is quite different from the artwork being produced before Akhenaton. This was not a slow, gradual development in Egyptian art. This sudden change was a conscious one made by Akhenaton. He wanted art to look like this. Previous artwork generally used figures that didn’t look like any one person in particular, but were thought of as perfect human figures. This statue of Akhenaton is far from that. It is neither an attempt at realism or naturalism. This statue of Akhenaton was created while keeping his ideas about art and religion in mind, therefore it is not a literal depiction of him.
Not only was this sculpture produced using Akhenaton’s revolutionary concepts, it is also a symbol for those concepts. It is hard to determine exactly what sex this figure is. Again, this is directly linked to Akhenaton’s god Aton, which was depicted as a sun disk. But even more than that, it almost looks as if rays of sunlight are emanating from the figure’s genital region, which happens to be covered up, which again makes it hard to determine the sex of the figure. In a way, this statue may have been more of a symbol of Aton than a depiction of Akhenaton. But if nothing else, it produces a link between Akhenaton and Aton. Most importantly, this statue of Akhenaton was not meant as a literal depiction of the pharaoh. It was a symbol for Akhenaton’s revolutionary beliefs on art and religion.