A fragment carved in sunken relief with remains of red pigment, showing the figure of a Nubian servant facing to the right. He holds a bouquet of flowers (possibly lotus flowers) in his right hand, which he appears to be offering; since he is facing to the right, his outstretched arm is shown across his body.
Usually Egyptian art depicts foreigners either as prisoners (then often bound in some way), or in scenes of foreign tribute. However, in the reliefs at Akhetaten foreigners were given prominence, a honorable position and dignity, something that they achieved in no other period of Egyptian art (Cooney, p. 42).
The relief was made from sandstone, a fine-grained stone mainly consisting of quartz sand, originating from weathered rocks and compressed back into a compact whole, with small amounts of clay, calcium carbonate, iron oxide or silica. As opposed to limestone, the grainy character of sandstone gives the relief its typical soft contours.
The fragment comes from a so called talatat block. Early in the reign of king Amunhetep IV / Akhenaten (circa 1353–1336 B.C., the first monarch in history who was a monotheist) the use of stone blocks of a standardized size was introduced for the construction of temples and palaces in Karnak and el-Amarna, making the building work easier. These blocks were roughly 55 x 25 x 25 cm (1 by 0.5 by 0.5 Egyptian cubit). After the death of Akhenaten the use of these blocks was abandoned, and the temples that he built were quickly dismantled, as was his newly founded capital Akhetaten. Within a generation of Akhenaten’s death almost everything had disappeared, and the tens of thousands of blocks were reused in other constructions, as filler material for temple pylons, and as foundation blocks for large buildings; in Hermopolis alone some 2,000 blocks from buildings that originally stood in neighbouring Akhetaten have been found, and in Thebes, which was the capital of Akhenaten during his first years on the throne, more than 100,000 blocks have been recovered, about a third of them decorated with relief scenes.
These blocks are usually referred to as talatat blocks, but the origin of the term is somewhat disputed; many assume that it is related to the Arabic word thalatha, "three", used by the modern Egyptian workmen who excavated the blocks and noticed that they were all three hand spans wide; the word was introduced into the idiom of Egyptology by the inspector of antiquities in Karnak and Egyptologist Henri Chevrier.
Literature: For the way the head of the Nubian is depicted compare John D. Cooney, Amarna Reliefs from Hermopolis in American Collections (New York, The Brooklyn Museum, 1965), p. 41-42, nos. 22-22a; for a scene showing two Syrians and two Nubians with a feather in their caps ibid, p. 85-86, no. 51b.;
Barry J. Kemp, The City of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. Amarna and its People (New Aspects of Antiquity) (London - New York, Thames & Hudson, 2014).
New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, reign of Akhenaten, circa 1353–1336 B.C.
Height 19 cm (without mount).
With Galerie Arete, Zürich; thereafter collection of Verena and Peter Schnell, Zürich, acquired from Galerie Arete on 17 June 1972.
Fragment as shown, with some chipping along the edges and on the surface; overall surface wear with some pitting and scratches. Some flaking to the pigment, and with some naturally occurring salts in a few areas. A shallow groove at the waist of the body. The remnants of two metal screws from a previous mount are visible on the back. Professionally mounted with two metal tangs drilled at the bottom of the fragment.