New exhibition: Amarna – City of the Sun God

Published 24 November 2022

Join us on a journey to Egypt and the rise and fall of the ancient city of Amarna. The Glyptotek is providing a rare glimpse not only of the absolute monarchy and lifestyle of a famous pharaoh, but also of the lives and dreams of the people of ancient Egypt. The special exhibition ‘Amarna – City of the Sun God’ will run from 26 January to 18 June 2023.

What happens when a new pharaoh takes over as ruler and sets a completely different agenda? He replaces magical animal gods with the sun god Aten, heralding the start of a brand new religion and social structure. The year is 1350 BCE, and we are in ancient Egypt. The pharaoh Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti are in power. The sun god Aten is now the sole permitted god, and the new cult leads to major social upheaval. The royal couple move 250 km along the Nile and build a magnificent new royal seat – Amarna.

“For about 15 years Amarna reflected a vision of the ultimate society, dedicated to the ideal of the sun as the paramount, life-giving god. The newly founded city housed temples for the new god, palaces for the royal family, residential areas, workshops and burial grounds for the people. However, following the death of Akhenaten, Amarna was destroyed and abandoned, and Egypt turned its back on the new religion. It also meant that the city was forgotten for posterity. No new buildings were constructed on top of the ruins, so they are very well preserved,” says Tine Bagh, the Glyptotek’s Egyptologist.

Unique work connected for the first time in more than 3,000 years
The age of Amarna is also the story of a city’s sudden collapse. It was barely 20 years before the dream city turned into a ghost town. Because, when the pharaoh Akhenaten died, the city was destroyed and abandoned, and those that followed attempted to erase all traces of the period. But the brief life of the city makes Amarna a treasure trove for archaeologists, and excavations have revealed countless fragments of the city’s history.

Amarna had to be built quickly, using small blocks of stone covered in decorative motifs. As the city disintegrated, the blocks got scattered all over the place, and it was not until 2015 that the Egyptologist Raymond Johnson discovered that one of the blocks on display at the Metropolitan Museum in New York matched a block and a motif in the Glyptotek’s collection. One block features Kiya, Akhenaten’s second wife; the other Akhenaten himself. The exhibition reunites them for the first time since c. 1350 BCE.

The Glyptotek’s special Amarna exhibition recreates parts of the city using photos, drawings and a 3D video, providing insight into the magnificent city, its history and the dreams and way of life of the people of ancient Egypt. But it also reveals how tough life was for many of the inhabitants, who slogged away during the construction of the city.

Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun
The exhibition will spotlight the distinctive visual style of the period, while solar anthems, the development of a new musical style and ordinary everyday objects will provide a sense of religious and secular life at the time. A presentation of the protagonists in their familiar setting will paint a vivid picture of Amarna. The Amarna era ended with the spotlight on the child king Tutankhamun. As the son of Akhenaten, he grew up in Amarna. During his reign, the decision was made to return to the ancient deities and the former residence in Thebes. So, the exhibition also commemorates the 100th anniversary of the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun on 4 November 1922.

The Glyptotek has an impressive collection of artefacts from Amarna, which will bring the place and its fascinating history to life. They will be accompanied by selected loans from abroad – including museums in New York, Paris and Berlin – and from the National Museum of Denmark and the Royal Cast Collection in Copenhagen.

Read more about the exhibition here.

Thank you to Augustinus Fonden, Aage & Johanne Louis-Hansens Fond, Beckett-Fonden, C.L. Davids Fond, Knud Højgaards Fond and the New Carlsberg Foundation for their generous funding of the 2022-2023 exhibition programme.