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Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Royal hand

New Kingdom, Amarna Period
Dynasty 18
reign of Akhenaten
ca. 1353–1336 B.C.
From Egypt; Probably from Middle Egypt, Hermopolis (Ashmunein; Khemenu); Probably originally from Amarna (Akhetaten)
Limestone, paint
h. 23.5 cm (9 1/4 in); w. 27.5 cm (10 13/16 in); d. 3.6 cm (1 7/16 in)
Credit Line:
Gift of Norbert Schimmel, 1985
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 121
Amarna is the name that excavators have given to the site of King Akhenaten's residence in Middle Egypt, Akhetaten (the horizon of the god Aten). Akhenaten's reign (beginning ca. 1353 B.C.), including the years when the pharaoh resided at Amarna (ca. 1349-1336 B.C.), was characterized by a major revolution in ancient Egyptian religion and art. The king promoted worship of one sole god, the solar deity Aten. His artists, liberated from some of the confines of tradition, created works of hitherto unseen inventiveness and subtlety of execution.

Relief decoration in the Amarna temples included naturalistic details, such as this one, and transitory gestures that are unique in Egyptian art. Here, the gesture of a queen's hand was captured at the moment she pointed out marsh fowl to the king during a hunting interlude. The languid grace of the bent wrist and the sensitivity of the long fingers - represented with an unusual sense of perspective that depicts the thumb and index finger in the foreground - express perfectly the essence of Amarna art.

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. A recent study has been able to identify the mysterious block 1985.328.1 and the figure whose hand is represented, and has revealed that the block 1985.328.22 belonged to either the same or a related scene.

The hand depicted on block 1985.328.1 has long been appreciated for its languid beauty, but has not been satisfactorily explained. The original insight was in realizing that the exact gesture was already known from Tutankhamun’s golden shrine: Ankhsenamun, seated at the king’s feet, points elegantly towards fowl in the marsh while turning her head back to murmur to the king as she hands him an arrow. The museum’s block depicts precisely that sort of scene but on the scale of a palace or temple wall.

Then, in comparing other blocks from the Amarna period discovered at Hermopolis, a join was discovered that connects the faint traces of text in the upper right corner of our block with another that preserves text and the top of the head of a female turned to the right. The headdress was the "Nubian wig’’ of the King’s wife Kiya, recarved subsequently as they virtually always were to depict the princess Meritaten’s with her sidelock, and the traces of text reveal that it was the king’s second wife Kiya who was originally depicted! (Figure 1)

With the clue that a hunt in the marshes was represented, it was possible to associate 1985.328.1 with other blocks having wetland life as the subject, all in the same style and at the same scale. These depict watery life and the margins of a pool.(Figure 2) Among them is the museum block 1985.328.22, divided in the center by the broad vertical border of a pool indicated to the right by zigzag water lines. The pool is inhabited by a large fish and water lilies. To the left outside the pool, the top of the head of a human figure may be seen at the lower left. The figure carries apparently a spear on which are impaled a tilapia large fish and a limp, dead duck whose head and wing are visible.

Also among the blocks with marsh hunt subject matter are ones that indicate that figures of the seated king and a woman crouching at his feet also faced in the opposite direction. Possibly two different large scenes depicted the king’s wives, one of them definitely Kiya, attending him at a hunt in the marsh. Or, it may be only one scene with mirrored depictions of Akhenaten and Kiya by the marsh covered a large wall expanse.

Perhaps further research by the project will tell.

W. Raymond Johnson, Director of the Epigraphic Survey, Oriental Institute of Chicago, Amarna Talatat Project 2017

See further: W. Raymond Johnson, "A Royal Fishing and Fowling Talatat Scene from Amarna," KMT 26/4 (2015-2016) 40-50.
Norbert Schimmel Collection by 1964, published and exhibited frequently from that time. Donated by Mr. Schimmel to the MMA, 1985.

Settgast, Jürgen 1978. Von Troja bis Amarna: The Norbert Schimmel Collection, New York. New York: P. von Zabern, no. 286.

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, p. 57, no. 33.

Johnson, W. Raymond 2016. "A Royal Fishing and Fowling Talatat Scene from Amarna." In KMT, 26/4, figs. pp. 40, 41, 44.

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