Statue of Akhenaten
Date: c. 1345-1335 BC
Culture: 18th Dynasty New Kingdom Amarna
Country of origin: Egypt
Accession number: AN1924.162
Location: Ground Floor, The Amarna ’Revolution’ Gallery (25)
For many, the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten is the first gay icon. Amarna period art is famous for its intimate depictions of affection between Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti. However, the discovery of a carved stela in the 1920s, showing Akhenaten affectionately touching the chin of another male figure, inspired generations of writers and painters to depict Akhenaten as homosexual. Other writers have interpreted the other male figure as Nefertiti, however. Akhenaten remains a queer icon though. His androgynous depiction in art, seen in the wide hips and prominent breasts in this limestone statue, has also led to suggestions that the pharaoh was intersex or had a genetic condition that affected his appearance. However, it is more likely that he cultivated an androgynous image of himself on purpose, in an imitation of the male and female attributes of his creator god, the Aten. Until his mummy is firmly identified, the debate is likely to continue.
This sandstone statue of the king Akhenaten contains many androgynous physical characteristics which have led to contemporary speculation on his gender and sexuality. Akhenaten was a progressive pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty, who introduced great changes to ancient Egyptian religion and art. Some scholars suggest that Akhenaten’s feminine physique may have been an attempt to portray himself as both the male and female divine, in imitation of the creator god he promoted, the Aten. By depicting himself as both and promoting the Aten almost monotheistically, he could replace the other gods, like Isis, Amun, Hathor and Tawaret, and become the all-seeing, all knowing, “mother and father of all human kind" . On the other hand, some scholars have suggested that Akhenaten had a medical condition that changed his physique and contributed to his feminine appearance, but this also raises questions about how realistic ancient Egyptian art was. Recent studies of a mummy found in KV55, a tomb in the Valley of the Kings, believed to be Akhenaten by some Egyptologists, shows no signs of obvious physical deformity, however.
G R Mills
Read more about Akhenaten by G R Mills
 Ross, R. 1905. 'A Note on Simeon Solomon’, The Westminster Gazette, 24 August 1905, p.1-2.