Trial Piece with Relief of Head of Akhenaten

Period: New Kingdom, Amarna Period

Dynasty: Dynasty 18

Reign: reign of Akhenaten

Date: ca. 1353–1336 B.C.

Geography: From Egypt, Middle Egypt, Amarna (Akhetaten), Petrie/Carter excavations, 1891–92

Medium: Limestone

Dimensions: H. 35 cm (13 3/4 in.), w. 23.4 cm (9 3/16 in.); d. 4.9 cm (1 15/16 in.)

Credit Line: Purchase, Fletcher Fund and The Guide Foundation Inc. Gift, 1966

Accession Number: 66.99.40


Akhenaten, perhaps the most controversial ruler of ancient Egypt, was the tenth king of Dynasty 18, the son of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye. He came to the throne as Amenhotep IV and ruled under that name for three years. His principal queen was Nefertiti, who bore him six daughters, and another queen, Kiya, is also known. In the third year of his reign, he changed him name to Akhenaten, which means "Effective for the Aten." This signals his belief that the power of light as manifested in the sun disk, or Aten, was the ultimate force in the universe. In the eighth year of his reign, all other gods appear to have been banned and the Aten elevated to the one and only god. This led to later generations characterizing him as the "heretic pharaoh." Akhenaten built a new capital named for himself at Tell el-Amarna, dedicated to his new god, with vast palaces and open-air sun temples. The entire court relocated there, building their villas and tombs on this previously unoccupied site.

This so-called sculptor's model came from the excavations of William Flinders Petrie at Tell el-Amarna in 1891–92. It depicts Akhenaten in the earlier, more exaggerated style of his reign, with elongated, slitlike eyes, protruding lips, and a drooping chin. He wears a bag wig or head covering without a uraeus, perhaps an indication that the piece was never finished.