Saturday, June 8, 2013

History Mystery: Amarna Capital Of Heretic Pharaoh -4

The wealthier houses at Amarna were like miniature estates. They included gardens and many outbuildings, all enclosed by rectangular gardens and many outbuildings, all enclosed by a rectangular wall, and were largely self-sufficient. The kitchens were always situated in the outbuildings, as were the cattle sheds, stables, kennels, a well and the servants’ quarters. Grain brought from the west bank of the river was stored in a large courtyard equipped with grain lofts. Soil had to be brought in from outside the city to enrich the gardens, which were tended with exceptional care. Trees planted in rows according to species were often arranged around a large, rectangular pond. Most gardens contained a chapel, with an engraved stone showing the royal family making an offering to the Aten. Images of the Disc and of Akhenaten, his prophet, were everywhere in the city. In the desert space outside the city, the pharaoh built a number of royal palaces where he and his family could retreat for relaxation. At Maru-Aten, to the south of the town, he constructed several artificial lakes, the largest of which might have been used for water sports. In the middle of another lake, on an island, were three pavilions – in oasis of calm which may have served as the pharaoh’s summer palace. Another royal residence to the north of the town seems to have included a zoological garden. Frescoes here and elsewhere in the city bear tribute to Akhenaten’s delight in nature, depicting an exotic world of flowers, birds, and water plants. The Egyptians had always lived close to nature, and the animal kingdom featured prominently in their art. The Amarna period brought greater spontaneity – a more vibrant sense of life, independent of its mythological associations. The rigid lines of conventional art melted into more fluid forms. Representations of the human figure, for instance, began to show how people really looked, rather than following an established stereotype.

Musculature was examined, the casual gesture revealed. These new developments are most evident in the countless representations of the pharaoh and his family. Many cravings show scenes from their private life. On one relief, the royal couple heartily enjoys a meal. Akhenaten holds a chop, Nefertiti a piece of chicken; they are eating with gusto. Another relief shows the royal couple side by side on a chariot Akhenaten holding the reins and Nefertiti embracing him. Such displays of intimacy must have outraged traditionalists. Charmingly casual though the scene often was the royal couples were always represented with the Disc of the Sun blazing overhead. The rays of the heavenly body were drawn as long lines terminating in a hand which held a looped cross an ankh – the hieroglyph symbolizing life. Even in death, the image of the pharaoh and Aten accompanied the citizens of Amarna. Tombs were built in the wall of cliffs along the eastern frontier of the city. Like other Egyptian burials, they were decorated with scenes from the dead person’s earthly existence. But at Amarna, Akhenaten himself, crowned by the rays of the Sun, always dominates the pictures. All the mythology of the Egyptian underworld was swept away by Akhenaten’s reforms. The occupants of the tombs faced the unknown under the protection of the pharaoh alone.

It was he who illuminated his subjects’ burial places, and he acted as their exclusive guardian against the terrors of the afterlife. An entire village for the tomb workers was built near the cliffs, laid out according to a careful plan. Five streets ran between its terraced houses linking some 70 dwellings, all more or less identical except for the foreman’s larger house. The village limits were marked by a mud-brick wall. Death masks and casts have been excavated from the villa of a sculptor named Thutmose. The modeling room and studio contained chisels and drills, and models of heads fashioned out of gypsum plaster. Such likenesses were the sculptor’s stock-in-trade, from which portraits would later be carved in stone. Many customers were private were private individuals, from fairly low-born citizens who had profited by Akhenaten’s favour to the highest in the land. The head of Nefertiti found at Amarna is the work of Thutmose. The piece combines the formal simplicity of traditional Egyptian art with the naturalism encouraged by Akhenaten. It has none of the distortions which mar some of Amarna’s stone reliefs. While Thutmose was clearly one of the foremost artists of his day, he was not the sculptor-in-chief.

 That high title belonged to a certain Bak, whose father had been head sculptor under Amenhotep III. Whether Bak resented Akhenaten’s personal influence on the arts is not known. Like everyone else at Amarna, he paid at least token homage to the pharaoh’s new vision of he world, styling himself as chief sculptor, ‘whom his majesty himself taught’. Other excavations at Amarna have revealed little new information about the ordinary routines of daily life. Most of the workers were involved in farming the land; irrigating the fertile banks of the Nile according to age-old traditions. But frescoes and figurines from the period do reflect important changes in high society since the days of the Old Kingdom. These are nowhere more evident than in the styling of clothes. Under the Old Kingdom, the Egyptians had always dressed simply. Men wore nothing more than a loincloth, long or short, sometimes pleated, sometimes starched. Women wore long, tight-fitting dresses fastened at the shoulder with straps. The material in both cases was plain white linen. The difference between the clothing of the rich and the poor lay principally in the fineness of the fabric.

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