Carved in the unmistakable bold style of the early Amarna period, this well-preserved torso and head of a young girl likely derives from one of the sculptural groups of Akhenaten and Nefertiti flanked by their daughters that were carved into the living rock of the cliffs surrounding the ancient city of Akhetaten in the years following its founding in regnal year 5. Placed alongside boundary stelae as high as 8 meters depicting the royal family praying to the sun-god Aten, these life-size statues provided striking confirmation when seen from below of the power of Akhenaten’s vision of reality, employing the exaggerated new artistic style developed to portray the royal family in the first years after the move from the traditional religious capital at Thebes. Despite the seemingly mature rendering of the large head, with its full lips, sfumato eye, and pierced ear, the treatment of the nude torso with softly rounded belly above the pubic mound allows her secure identification as a young Amarna princess. Part of the negative space connecting the body to the living rock is also preserved. There is however no clear trace of the typical sidelock of youth known from some of the statues of Amarna princesses adjacent to the boundary stelae (e.g. Stela N); it is possible that the youngest princess in a group might be distinguished by a completely shaven head, as Dorothea Arnold has suggested (The Royal Women of Amarna, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1996, p. 55). The torsion of the body and the slightly advanced left leg indicates that the princess was shown striding, a pose typical of many of the surviving boundary stela statue groups and the majority of statuettes of Amarna princesses. The fan-shaped navel typical of Amarna sculpture is also placed off centre, reflecting the shift of weight onto the left foot. Her right arm is bent against her chest and perhaps once held a small round fruit or bird, as in numerous other depictions (cf. Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art 47-13; a similar princess is in the Mallawi Museum, Egypt). The small hand carved in relief on her right shoulder demonstrates that this piece derives from a pair statue of Akhenaten’s eldest two daughters in a protective embrace. This statue most likely represented princess Meketaten embraced by her older sister, Meritaten; the identities of the two girls is affirmed in inscriptions naming them both on the monumental boundary stelae, and in relief portraits of the princesses carved adjacent to their statues. Following the birth of Akhenaten and Nefertiti’s third daughter, Ankhesenpaaten, freestanding figures of that princess were added alongside the existing pair statues. This example is unlikely to have depicted Ankhesenpaaten as it clearly forms an integral part of a pair.
Although it is not possible to assign this sculpture with absolute certainty to one of the known boundary stelae, a strong case can be made that this piece may derive from Stela A, the best-known and most accessible of the Amarna boundary stelae. Located in the cliffs above Tuna el-Gebel, Stelae A and B are the westernmost known, some 18 kilometers from and on the opposite side of the Nile from the main city of Amarna, where the remainder of the known stelae are located. The cliffs at Tuna el-Gebel are formed of limestone geologically belonging to the Samalut Formation featuring small nummulites (disk-shaped fossils), as well as the frequent fissures and holes that may be seen on this example. An especially important feature of Stela A is the depiction of the two princesses in a sisterly embrace, with the elder sister’s hand across the shoulder of her younger sister as on this example. Where preserved, none of the boundary stelae in the eastern cliffs that are known to have featured statue groups are likely candidates for the placement of this piece; many instead feature the two eldest princesses standing apart and holding hands.
A description of Stela A by the French Jesuit traveler Claude Sicard demonstrates that none of the heads were intact already when he visited in 1714: “…there are figures of two women and two girls in full relief, fixed to the rock only by their feet and partly by a pillar at their backs. The marks of the hammer-blows that beheaded them can still be seen.” (quoted in Dominic Montserrat, Akhenaten. History, Fantasy and Ancient Egypt. London: Routledge, 2000, p. 59). A detailed drawing of Boundary Stela A at Tuna el-Gebel made in 1824 by Robert Hay shows clearly that the figures of the royal family flanking the stela were heavily damaged by that date; the statues of the youngest princess were already mostly missing. Most likely this piece was discovered close to one of the stelae where it had fallen or been thrown after its vandalism by the traditionalists who restored the cult of Amun following the death of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. Norman de Garis Davies, who published the first extensive study of the Amarna boundary stelae in 1908, discovered a number of fragments of sculpture that had most likely been damaged in antiquity, including portions of statues of princesses from Stela Q in the eastern cliffs; a partial head of Nefertiti collected there by Davies is now in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (NGV 616.2). An additional, badly weathered torso of a statue of an elder princess was found at Stela Q by Murnane and van Siclen during their 1989 survey. A head of a larger-scale statue of a princess now in the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum (E.G.A. 4524.1943) probably derives from a boundary stela statue group (possibly Stela U), as might a similarly large head formerly in the Smeets collection.
Photographed prior to its sale in 1960 by the eminent historian of Egyptian art Bernard Bothmer but never published, the statue is also clearly visible alongside other ancient works of art in Lord Snowdon’s extraordinary 1964 portrait at home of its subsequent owner, Denys Sutton (1917-1991), the long-time editor of Apollo magazine and art critic for Country Life and the Financial Times. Sutton had a strong interest in visual arts and amassed a large collection during his lifetime. The Oxford Dictionay of National Biography (vol. 53, Oxford, 2003, p. 382), describes him as an "astute collector of art." A 1960 letter written by Cyril Aldred (one of the 20th century’s chief authorities on art of the Amarna period) identified this piece as deriving from one of the boundary stelae groups, but curiously it has not yet entered the voluminous literature on the art of the Amarna age; Murnane and van Siclen were apparently not aware of the statue in the preparation of their otherwise exhaustive 1993 study of the Amarna boundary stelae. In contrast to these examples, the importance of this head and torso lies not only in the high quality of the carving, but also in the extent of preservation -no other known example of royal statuary from one of the boundary stelae preserves the face and body to this extent. This statue of a young princess is an extraordinary example of the art of the early Amarna age, reflecting the moment when master sculptors under Akhenaten’s command first carved monumental royal portraits from the living rock that would define the visual style of the new religion.