Akhenaten came to the throne of Egypt around 1353 BC. The reign of his father, Amenhotep III, had been long and prosperous with international diplomacy largely replacing the relentless military campaigning of his predecessors.
The reign culminated in a series of magnificent jubilee pageants celebrated in Thebes (modern Luxor), the religious capital of Egypt at the time and home to the state god Amun-Re.
The new king was crowned as Amenhotep IV (meaning ‘Amun is content’) and temple construction and decoration projects began immediately in the name of the new king.
The earliest work of his reign is stylistically similar to the art of his predecessors, but within a year or two he was building temples to the Aten in a very different artistic style and had changed his name to Akhenaten in honour of this god.
Akhenaten was one of the most studied, despised, loved figures of ancient Egypt. Some times thought to be a religous zealot (of Aten the Sun God) who instigated a new form of art into the stuffy staid ways of ancient Egypt.
About Akhenaten there is an air of mystery – why did he choose to worship just one god and banish all the others? The radical changes Akhenaten made have led to his characterisation as the ‘first individual in human history .
Akhenaten’s ‘great king’s wife’ was Nefertiti and they had six daughters. There were also other wives, including the enigmatic Kiya who may have been the mother of Tutankhamun.
Royal women play an unusually prominent role in the art of the period and this is particularly true of Nefertiti who is frequently depicted alongside her husband.
Nefertiti disappears from the archaeological record around year 12 and some have argued that she reappears as the enigmatic co-regent Smenkhkare towards the end of Akhenaten’s reign.