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First Family of the Sun: the Strange Art of Akenaten

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In the middle of the 18th Dynasty, in the period of Egypt’s New Kingdom, a young pharaoh suddenly changed his name to Helper of the Sun, closed the great temples, moved the country’s capital, and declared worship of the Aten, the disc of the Sun, to be the sole state religion.  To promote this radical new order, an astonishing new system of visual art was formulated, apparently at Akenaten’s personal direction, to distinguish the ruler and his family from all that had gone before.  Far from simply being a form of caricature used for propaganda, art of the Amarna period (named after the location of his new capital) is some of the most refined in all of Egyptian history.  In this lecture we will see the grotesque exaggeration of the king’s physical features, contrasting with the beauty of his queen Nefertiti, the role played by their children in public life, and the survival of Akenaten’s new art forms after the old ways were established under his son, Tutankhamen.