Aten Relief from Amarna, Egypt [Object of the Day #15]

July 5, 2012

Aten Relief from Amarna 1539 - 1292 BCE
Aten Relief from Amarna 1539 – 1292 BCE

During the Amarna period in Egypt in the 18th Dynasty, the heretic Pharaoh Akhenaten lead a religious revolution that reduced Egypt’s pantheon from a multitude of Gods, to just one, the Aten, or the Sun God. This quartzite shows Akhenaten with his eldest daughter Meretaten. The block originally belonged to the pylon gateway of a royal “sunshade” or solar chapel dedicated to the worship of the Aten. This building was ornately decorated with inlaid faience, now missing, composing the figures of Akhenaten and Meretaten, as well as most other parts of the decoration. The sunshade chapel was a relatively small, probably single-chamber, building that would have originally stood on a raised podium inside of a larger building. The inscriptions state this building to have been located “in Akhetaten” – the capital city of Tell el-Amarna. This piece was part of what was once a larger block that included the door frame and lintel of the left side of the chapel pylon. It was cut down during the reign of Merenptah (Dynasty 19) when the block was reused as a plinth for a sphinx. Inscriptions on the edges of the block have the titulary of Merenptah and the epithet: “beloved of Ra-Horakhty in Heliopolis.” The reused block must have stood in a temple at Heliopolis. It was reused a third time as a door theshold in Medieval Cairo.

Detail of Relief
The Aten’s rays with human hands at the end reach out to Akhenaten

The Aten is depicted only as a sun disc with rays ending in human hands reaching out to the Pharaoh who worships him. This is the only visible anthropomorphic depiction of the Sun God.

Penn Museum Object #E16230.

See this and more objects like it in Penn Museum’s Online Collection Database.