The Amarna period is named for the extensive archeological site at Amarna, where pharaoh Akhenaten moved the capital in the late Eighteenth Dynasty. This period, and the years leading to it, form the most drastic interruption to the continuity of style in the Old and New Kingdoms. Amarna art is characterized by a sense of movement and activity in images, with figures having raised heads, many figures overlapping and many scenes full and crowded. As the new religion was a monotheistic worship of the sun, sacrifices and worship were apparently conducted in open courtyards, and sunk relief decoration was widely used in these.
The human body is portrayed differently in the Amarna style than Egyptian art on the whole. For instance, many depictions of Akhenaten’s body give him distinctly feminine qualities, such as large hips, prominent breasts, and a larger stomach and thighs. This is a divergence from the earlier Egyptian art which shows men with perfectly chiseled bodies. Faces are still shown exclusively in profile.
Not many buildings from this period have survived, partially as they were constructed with standard-sized blocks, known as Talatat, which were very easy to remove and reuse. Temples in Amarna, following the trend, did not follow traditional Egyptian customs and were open, without ceilings, and had no closing doors. In the generation after Akhenaten’s death, artists reverted to their old styles. There were still traces of this period’s style in later art, but in most respects, Egyptian art, like Egyptian religion, resumed its usual characteristics as though the period had never happened. Amarna itself was abandoned and considerable effort was undertaken to deface monuments from the reign, including disassembling buildings and reusing the blocks with their decoration facing inwards, as has recently been discovered in one later building.
The Late Period (c. 664–332 BC)
In 525 BC, the political state of Egypt was taken over by the Persians, almost a century and a half into Egypt’s Late Period. By 404 BC, the Persians were expelled from Egypt, starting a short period of independence. These 60 years of Egyptian rule were marked by an abundance of usurpers and short reigns. The Egyptians were then reoccupied by the Achaemenids until 332 BC with the arrival of Alexander the Great. Sources state that the Egyptians were cheering when Alexander entered the capital since he drove out the immensely disliked Persians. The Late Period is marked with the death of Alexander the Great and the start of the Ptolemaic dynasty. Although this period marks political turbulence and immense change for Egypt, its art and culture continued to flourish.
This can be seen in Egyptian temples starting with the Thirtieth Dynasty, the Fifth Dynasty in the Late Period, and extending into the Ptolemaic era. These temples ranged from the Delta to the island of Philae. While Egypt underwent outside influences through trade and conquest by foreign states, these temples remained in the traditional Egyptian style with very little Hellenistic influence.
Another relief originating from the Thirtieth Dynasty was the rounded modeling of the body and limbs, which gave the subjects a more fleshy or heavy effect. For example, for female figures, their breasts would swell and overlap the upper arm in painting. In more realistic portrayals, men would be fat or wrinkled.
Another piece of art that became increasingly common during was Horus stela. These originate from the late New Kingdom and intermediate period but were increasingly common during the fourth century to the Ptolemaic era. These statues would often depict a young Horus holding snakes and standing on some kind of dangerous beast. The depiction of Horus comes from the Egyptian myth where a young Horus is saved from a scorpion bite, resulting in his gaining power over all dangerous animals. These statues were used “to ward off attacks from harmful creatures, and to cure snake bites and scorpion stings”.