Akhenaten at the Corning Museum of Glass

A stylised glass portrait of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten. © Corning Museum of Glass

The reign of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten (either 1353–1336 BC or 1351–1334 BC) witnessed a number of changes in ancient Egypt. One of the most significant saw the shift of the capital from Thebes to Armana. In the establishment of an entirely new city, artists also dramatically changed the way in which they depicted the human form. The formal and idealised image of the human body was dropped to depict humans in a somewhat exaggerated manner. In what has come to be known of as Armana style within ancient Egyptian art, human figures were given thin limbs, sagging bellies, sumptuous lips, long oval eyes, and high cheekbones.

And these are the very formal qualities we see so beautifully captured in the opaque, turquoise glass portrait of Akhenaten (above). The long neck, exaggerated lips, high cheekbone, and long, slanted eye are not only typical of the way in which Akhenaten was portrayed by artists in this period, it is typical of art from Armana. As an inlay it would have been set within another object. Another well known artefact of the Armana style is Nefertiti’s bust, now in the Neues Museum in Berlin.

Where is this Glass Portrait of Akhenaten?

This exquisite object has only just been acquired by the Corning Museum of Glass, along with a late Roman glass bowl. The museum, located in the town of Corning, New York State, is one of the World’s leading glass museums. Here the collection of glass artefacts spans over 3,500 years and includes ancient glass from Egypt, Greece and Rome, making this one of the pre-eminent art and history of glass collections.

In addition to permanent displays of glass from Europe, Asia, the Near East and the Americas, the museum also curates many temporary exhibitions, Life on a String: 35 Centuries of the Glass Bead will open 18 May 2013 and close 5 January 2014.