Erich Lessing

Catching some rays. Stelae and reliefs from Amarna, such as this 3.5-foot-tall alabaster carving, depict Akhenaten and his wife, Nefertity (lower left), worshiping the god Aten, represented in Egyptian art as the sun disk. Known initially as Amenhotep IV, Akhenaten changed his name in the fifth year of his reign, when he moved Egypt’s capital to Amarna. Having rejected most of ancient Egyptian religious practice, Akhenaten chose to worship a single god, Aten, thus acquiring the nickname “heretic king.” Akhenaten felt an intimate connection with Aten and referred to himself as “fair child of the sun disk.” Consequently, Aten is depicted in a loving, paternal way: Its rays become outstretched hands that protect the king and the royal family from harm.