RELIEF OF A BOWING COURTIER
18th Dynasty Amarna Period, ca. 1364 – 1347 BCE
Limestone and polychrome
Height: 8-5/8 inches (22 cm)
Width: 21-7/8 in. (53 cm)
Provenance: Ex. Khawam & Co., 1950s; R.K. Collections, Paris, Franceprior to 1983; European art market, 2014
Published: Hanke, R., Amarna Reliefs aus Hermopolis, 1978
Restoration: Polychrome partially restored
The Ancient Egyptian Amarna Period is entirely unique; in all of Egypt’s dynasties there has never been such a quick and radical shift in artistic style. In addition to a new art style the pharaoh Amenhotep IV also instituted a new monotheistic religion, as well as a new capital to act as the center for that religion.
One of the identifying features of this newly constructed capital was a difference in architecture, namely, the implementation of talatat stone blocks. Like the size of the block depicting the bowing courtier here they were far easier for individual workers to stack compared to the enormous sandstone blocks of more standard Egyptian buildings. However, this also meant that the building required more plaster in between blocks and was more susceptible to the ravages of time. The beautiful talatat stones were each intricately carved and fit together to form mosaic-like murals. At the end of the Amarna period the city quickly became abandoned seeing as it was mostly occupied by those of the court, and these would have returned to the previous capital of Thebes to serve the next pharaoh, one less taken by the new religion implemented by Pharaoh Amenhotep IV. With the natural decline of the buildings and the defacing of monuments bearing mention of Amenhotep IV and his monotheistic practices subsequent pharaohs would use these talatat blocks as fillers in the construction of architecture and pylons of their own. Their original arrangements would have been as beautiful and impressive as any murals decorating the walls of pharaohs come and gone.
This talatat in particular shows a courtier with the trademark paunch and slim shoulders that define Amarna period art, as well as a wig of coifed hair; the blue paint that remains in the courtier’s textured wig would have provided an added depth to the dark locks. He is bowing, one hand extended and one bent downwards towards his kilt which has, with time, become the same color as his skin. It is likely that the courtier is offering obeisance to either the pharaoh Amenhotep IV, who claimed to be the only true connection to the god of his monotheistic religion, or to the sun god Aten that took up the entirety of Amenhotep IV’s new pantheon.