The effect of the Amon cult on New Kingdom pharaonic sculpture
O'Brien, Patricia (Student of art)
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New Kingdom pharaonic sculpture can be best understood when studied in relation to the struggle for control of the Empire between the Pharaoh and the Amon priesthood. The history of this struggle began in the XVIIIth Dynasty when Amon emerged as the national god of Egypt after the war of independence against the Hyksos. As Thebes became the established political and religious center of Egypt, the Pharaoh and the god Amon ruled the Kingdom as equal partners. At this time the Pharaoh was represented as the divine son of Amon in pharaonic art and stood in equal stature to his fellow ruler. But the wealth and power of the Amon priesthood began to increase as the Pharaoh was forced to embark on military campaigns to please and placate his divine father, Amon. With new wealth and power, the Amon pries·ts began to manipulate the Pharaoh and direct the affairs of the nation through oracular command. The stature of the Pharaoh began to wane as he fell victim to the will of divine oracles in the hands of the priest. The traditional hieratic depictions of the king in art were slowly replaced by postures of obeisance and submission. Eventually the priests used their oracular powers to select the Pharaoh of their choice and by promulgating an artistic propaganda of divine birth, they justified each successive Pharaoh's right to the throne. The growing power of the Amon priesthood was temporarily checked by the efforts of Akhnaton who attempted to restore the Pharaoh to his privileged position in religious dogma and ritual, while temporarily reducing the power of the Amon priests. By initiating the heretical Aton cult along with its revolutionary art, Akhnaton hoped to erase the memory of the Amon cult and the artistic propaganda which had perpetuated its power. He established himself as the incarnation of the god Aton and re-established the absolute power of the Pharaoh. Akhnaton's individuality and centrality were stressed in the Amarna art and his new artistic canons replaced the priestly canons of old. The short-lived attempt to free the Pharaoh from the control of the unscrupulous Amon priesthood subsequently ended with the reign of Tutankhamon who surrendered once again to the Amon cult. Tutankhamon's restoration of Amonism and his return to Thebes brought even more power to the priests than they had held before. The Amon priests gained full control of the pharaohs through their oracular directives and exacted everything they needed from the pharaohs they chose to support. In art, the post-Amarna pharaohs were represented as obedient servants who tried to maintain their precarious positions by placating Amon and his priests. The insecure pharaohs tried to prove their worthiness to Amon by demonstrating their strength and heroism in historic battle reliefs and colossal statuary. Eventually, the pharaohs were reduced to complete submission which was reflected in pharaonic sculpture by figures of pharaohs prostrating in complete obedience to Amon. The transmission of power from Pharaoh to priest was completed when the High Priest of Amon stood not only in equal power and authority beside the king, but finally assumed the position traditionally reserved for the Pharaoh. The kingship was finally assumed by the true masters of Egypt, the priests, who would control the throne of Egypt for centuries to come. Their final victory inflicted a mortal blow to traditional Egyptian pharaonic art. Art fell into stagnation and sculpture came to its fateful decline. The rightful heirs to the throne quickly faded out of sight, the last of a line of true claimants to the dignity of god-king.