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Museum piece #12 – ÄM 21834, ÄM 17852

ÄM 21834, ÄM 17852 Portrait of Queen Tiye with a crown of two feathers (Source: Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection, Berlin).

Objects ÄM 21834 and ÄM 17852 are a portrait of Queen Tiye and a crown consisting of a sun disk, cow horns and a pair of feathers, dating to the 18th Dynasty Amarna Period, and which currently reside in the Berlin Altes Museum’s Egyptian and papyrus collection. The two pieces were discovered at Medinet el-Ghurab, which is located near to the entrance to the Faiyum Oasis, south of modern Cairo.

The crown and the head had been separated in the Altes Museum for many years. After the crown was ‘rediscovered’ within the collection, the two pieces were subsequently reunited.

Tiye was the wife of the pharaoh Amenhotep III and the mother of Amenhotep IV, who later became Akhenaten. During the Amarna period, Akhenaten attempted to eradicate the majority of the traditional gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt in favour of the Aten, the visible sun disk. The portrait of Tiye reveals much about the religious movement of the Amarna period, and emphasises that changes were already occurring during the reign of Akhenaten’s father, Amenhotep III.

The type of crown worn by Tiye in the portrait is usually worn by goddesses – the cow horns and sun disk are associated with the goddess, Hathor, and their presence on the crown indicate Tiye’s divine status. During the reign of Amenhotep III, Tiye was worshipped as a living manifestation of the goddess Hathor, at Sedeinga in Nubia, and was also considered the divine consort of the deified king, Amenhotep III.

Computerised tomography image of the Queen Tiye head showing the khat-headdress (Source: Arnold, ed., 1996, 32).

The head was modified in antiquity to include the plumed crown (so frequently seen in depictions of Tiye); however, computerised tomography (left) has revealed that the statue is adorned with the khat-headdress beneath the crown and brown covering.

The khat-headdress is traditionally worn by the four funerary goddesses, Isis, Nephthys, Selket and Neith, as seen on the canopic chest of Tutankhamun where they undertake a protective role. Although the statue of Tiye was not part of the funerary equipment of Amenhotep III, it is likely that it was created for his funerary cult at Ghurab. Here, at the very beginning of the reign of Akhenaten, we see a queen functioning as a funerary goddess, an unorthodox motif that was repeated in the Amarna period proper – the granite sarcophagus of Akhenaten has images of Nefertiti at each of its four corners in place of the four protective goddesses.

It seems that the Amarna royal women were called upon to fill a void created by the religious ‘revolution’ – with the attempted eradication of the majority of gods and goddesses, Tiye and Nefertiti were used as funerary goddesses to ensure the protection of the bodily remains of Amenhotep III and Akhenaten in the absence of the traditional protective deities.

It is believed that the portrait of Queen Tiye was modified during the restoration of the traditional religious beliefs and practices in the post-Amarna period, when the motif of queen as funerary goddess was no longer acceptable.

Bibliography:

Arnold, D., ed. 1996. The royal women of Amarna: images of beauty from ancient Egypt. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Freed, R., D’Auria, S., Y. Markowitz, eds. 1999. Pharaohs of the sun: Akhenaten, Nefertiti, Tutankhamen. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts.

Hornung, E. 2001. Akhenaten and the religion of light. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

Reeves, N. 2005. Egypt’s false prophet, Akhenaten. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.

Silverman, D., Wegner, J. and J. Houser Wegner. 2006. Akhenaten and Tutankhamun: revolution and restoration. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

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