Akhenaten Sacrificing a Duck

Period: New Kingdom, Amarna Period

Dynasty: Dynasty 18

Reign: reign of Akhenaten

Date: ca. 1353–1336 B.C.

Geography: From Egypt; Probably from Middle Egypt, Hermopolis (Ashmunein; Khemenu); Probably originally from Amarna (Akhetaten)

Medium: Limestone, paint

Dimensions: H. 24.5 cm (9 5/8 in); w. 54.5 cm (21 7/16 in); th. 7 cm (2 3/4 in)

Credit Line: Gift of Norbert Schimmel, 1985

Accession Number: 1985.328.2


On this block from a temple relief, Akhenaten, recognizable by his elongated features, holds a duck toward Aten. With one hand, he wrings its neck before offering it to his god. Akhenaten believed that light was the only divine power in the universe and that the solar disk was the means through which this power came into the world. The deity is portrayed through the symbol of a solar disk with rays ending in small human hands, one of which holds an ankh, the hieroglyph meaning "life," toward the king's nose. The sun-disk symbol is a large-scale hieroglyph meaning "light." Although early depictions of Akhenaten often appear strangely exaggerated, later in his reign sculptors attempted a more naturalistic style, emphasizing a sense of space and movement. In this scene, Akhenaten's hands grasp the struggling duck. The artist's attempt to capture a single moment in time is unusual in Egyptian art. However, Akhenaten's right hand is twisted so that all five fingers can be seen, a pose that conforms to the Egyptian convention of presenting each part of the body as completely as possible.

On this block, the artist has cut the outlines of the figures into the surface in a technique called sunk relief. This technique was used most commonly on the exterior of buildings, where the strong sunlight would emphasize the outlines.