Akhenaten and Amenhotep: Two Egyptian kings on display at CMoG

The newly-acquired inlay portrait of the pharaoh Akhenaten is now paired with the sculptural portrait of Akhenaten’s great grandfather, Amenhotep II, in the Glass Collection Galleries at the Museum.

Portrait of King Amenhotep II and Portrait Inlay of the Pharaoh Akhenaten

Portrait of King Amenhotep II and Portrait Inlay of the Pharaoh Akhenaten

Ruling during significant periods in Egyptian glassmaking history, the pharaohs reigned during the 18th Dynasty, which lasted from about 1550 to about 1292 B.C. Amenhotep II governed from 1426 to 1400 B.C. and Akhenaten from 1353 to 1336 B.C.

Portrait of King Amenhotep II

Portrait of King Amenhotep II,
Egypt, 1426-1400 BC.
Deep blue glass with light tan surface.

Glassmaking began in Mesopotamia shortly before 2,000 B.C. However, it did not appear in Egypt until Amenhotep II’s reign. At this time, glass was rare, expensive, and available only to the upper echelons of society. These facts contribute to the significance of the Museum’s royal portrait of Amenhotep II. This piece is thought to be the earliest known glass portrait from Egypt.

Amenhotep II’s great grandson, Akhenaten, is well-known for the drastic changes he established during his reign. Akhenaten broke away from the time-tested belief in multiple gods by instating a monotheistic religion, worshiping the Aten, the light of the sun disk (following Akhenaten’s death, worship of the full Egyptian pantheon was restored). Akhenaten also uprooted the capital from Thebes and moved it to his newly-built city, Amarna.

Portrait Inlay of the Pharaoh Akhenaten

Portrait Inlay of the Pharaoh Akhenaten,
Egypt, about 1353-1336 BC.
Opaque turquoise glass.

Finally, the pharaoh approved of a new way of depicting the human form in royal portraiture, breaking the long-standing style of idealized proportions. The new “Amarna style” focused on exaggerating the body with sagging bellies, thin arms and legs, sumptuous lips, long oval eyes, and high, carefully carved cheekbones. These physical characteristics are present in the Museum’s inlay. If you research Akhenaten’s legendary family members – his consort, Nefertiti, and his young children, including Tutankhamun (also known as King Tut), for example – you’ll see that their portraits are also in the Amarna style.

It is likely that the Museum’s inlay portrait of Akhenaten was made at Amarna. An expedition sponsored by the London-based Egypt Exploration Society uncovered evidence of kilns used for the production of both glass and faience at this short-lived city.[1] The concentration of kilns, furnaces, and molds make it clear that this was a large scale operation which may have been state sponsored.[2] The Corning Museum of Glass features a full-scale cross-section model of one of the furnaces discovered at Amarna.

We hope you visit the Museum to see these exceptionally rare portraits of Amenhotep II and Akhenaten displayed together. You can likewise examine the furnace model from Amarna in order to get a better understanding of how glass was made during this time.

A full-scale cross section of an ancient furnace is on display in the Origins of Glassmaking gallery

A full-scale cross section of a furnace from Amarna is on display in the Origins of Glassmaking Gallery.

[1] Nicholson, Paul T. Brilliant Things for Akhenaten: The Production of Glass, Vitreous Materials and Pottery at Amarna Site O45.1. Exeter, G.B.: Run Press Ltd, 2007, 159.

[2] Ibid., 157.

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  1. Pingback: Rare Portrait at CMoG | UrbanCorning.com

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