The pharaoh Akhenaten believed that light was the only divine power in the universe and that the solar disk was the means through which this power came into the world. Akhenaten's god, the Aten, is portrayed through the symbol of a solar disk with rays ending in small human hands. This Aten symbol serves as a large-scale hieroglyph meaning "light." In representations of Akhenaten, one of these hands holds an ankh hieroglyph, the symbol of life, to his nose.
On this block from a temple relief, Akhenaten, recognizable by his elongated features, holds a duck toward the Aten. With one hand he wrings the bird's neck before offering it to the god. Although early depictions of Akhenaten often appear strangely exaggerated, later in his reign sculptors attempted a more naturalistic style, emphasizing a sense of space and movement. Akhenaten's hands here are grasping and straining to hold the struggling duck. Such a scene, capturing a single moment, would never have been attempted in an earlier period. However, Akhenaten's right hand is twisted so that all five fingers can be seen, a pose that conforms to the Egyptian convention of presenting each part of the body as completely as possible. To the lower right appear the webbed feet of a second duck.
In this relief, the artist has cut the outlines of the figures into the surface in a technique called sunk relief. Sunk relief appears mostly on the exterior of buildings, where the outlines cast shadows, emphasizing the sunlight. During the Amarna period almost all relief was executed in this technique.
Blocks from Amarna formal structures were removed from the site after the end of the Amarna royal line, and were reused within constructions at other sites in Egypt. A good number of them were taken to nearby Hermopolis and used at the Temple of Thoth by Ramesses II. Many of those were uncovered in German excavations just before World War II, and many others now in collections around the world are traceable to that site. The new Amarna Talatat Project seeks to digitally reassemble the blocks to reconstruct scenes and determine the original buildings from which the blocks were taken at Amarna. One of the early results of the project was to place the Museum’s block in a larger – and surprising – context.
On the Museum block the single webbed foot and part of the body and beak of a second duck point to a larger scene involving either a duck on an offering pile or a second figure holding a second duck; such a second figure has been assumed to be Nefertiti. Now a match between the Museum’s block and one in the Ny Carlsberg Museum in Copenhagen (AEIN 1776) has been made revealing a female figure grasping a duck and extending it towards Akhenaten. The contours of the second duck and one of the Aten rays extend across the two blocks making the join certain. (Figure 1)
The Copenhagen block has for some time been recognized as a depiction of Kiya. The inscription names Meritaten and, indeed, the bare skull of the princes with an elaborate side-lock is recognizable. However, the inscription is carved over another earlier inscription where the titulary of Akhenaten’s second wife Kiya can be read, and the side-lock has clearly been carved out from the Nubian wig that is the characteristic headgear of Kiya.
The resulting scene then depicts Akhenaten and his second wife Kiya together performing a ritual under the rays of the Aten. (Figure 2) In certain scenes from the Great Aten Temple, Kiya and her small daughter are known to have followed Akhenaten, and Kiya is known to have performed certain rites alone, but it is surprising to see Kiya here as full participant alongside Akhenaten.
W. Raymond Johnson, Director of the Epigraphic Survey, Oriental Institute of Chicago, Amarna Talatat Project 2015
See further: W. Raymond Johnson, “The Duck-Throttling Scene from Amarna: A new Metropolitan Museum of Art/Copenhagen Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Amarna Talatat Join,” pp. 293-299, in Joyful in Thebe: Egyptological Studies in Honor of Betsy M. Bryan, edited by Richard Jasnow and Kathlyn M. Cooney with the assistance of Katherine E. Davis. (Atlanta: Lockwood, 2015).
Norbert Schimmel Collection, by 1964, published and exhibited frequently from that time. Donated to the Museum by Mr. Schimmel, 1985.
Settgast, Jürgen 1978. Von Troja bis Amarna: The Norbert Schimmel Collection, New York. New York: P. von Zabern, no. 287.
Dorman, Peter F., Prudence Harper, and Holly Pittman 1987. Egypt and the Ancient Near East in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 58, pl. 39.
Mertens, Joan, Catharine H. Roehrig, Marsha Hill, Elizabeth J. Milleker, and Oscar White Muscarella 1992. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, new ser., vol. 49, no. 4 (Spring), New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, pp. 25, 27.
Johnson, W. Raymond 2015. "The Duck-Throttling Scene from Amarna: A New Metropolitan Museum of Art/Copenhagen Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Amarna Talatat Join." In Joyful in Thebes: Egyptological Studies in Honor of Betsy M. Bryan, pp. 293–9.