Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Akhenaten – An Ancient Egyptian Liberal

Pharoah Akhenaten ruled in Dynasty XVIII,
about 3400 years ago, and was quite the liberal.
Comic books of ancient Egypt, these works depict the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten. A liberal for his time (almost 3400 years ago), Akhenaten was married to the half-sister of Tutankhamen.

King Tut is today's most famous pharaoh, but according to ancient art expert Sam Merrin of the Merrin Gallery, it's because of the pristine condition of his surviving tomb, which was discovered by archeologists in 1922. For his time, Tutankhamun wasn't anything special, and ruled ancient Egypt only for nine years.

However, what's special about Akhenaten is that he was the first pharaoh to denounce polytheism. The most evident characteristic that typifies these artworks to his new, monotheistic reign is that both are presented in a modern, state-of-the-art manner.

Let's elaborate.

Akhenaten's figure is made to be cartoon-like. His outline is clearly defined through engraved lines, much like in many of today's comic books (with black ink).

Sunk relief of Akhenaten, where he is presented
in a comical manner.
More importantly, this is an early example of where the artist's own free expression and interpretation can shine through in such a divine context – a pharaonic legacy to be carried into the after-life. Although, one can argue this was common in pre-historic art, it was was very new for the time in lands governed by kings – like ancient Egypt. Making fun at authorities was punishable by death, and a cursed after-life.

The pharaoh himself is physically elongated and certain comical features are exceptionally defined. His body appears feminine in contrast to his predecessors: hulking embodiments of pharaonic male-mass.

These were idealized and made to appear godly, and overall stiff in appearance and also in the sense that they adhered to rigid social norms.

The liberal, pharaoh Akhenaten is also known as Akhenaton or Ikhnaton.

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