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Flourished Circa 1353–1336 b.c.e.



Rock Carvers . Much of the art in ancient Egypt was executed by men who were considered simple artisans, and therefore their names often disappear from the historical records. A few, however, achieved high favor and are known largely from inscriptions in their tombs-such as the sculptors Ipuki and Nebamen (both flourishing circa 1425 b.c.e.), who worked on royal projects and were buried together at Thebes near Deir el Bahri. One sculptor for whom more information is known is Bek, the Chief Sculptor for Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) (circa 1353–1336 b.c.e.), who helped transform Egyptian art to what has been called a more “realistic” style.

Artistic Heritage . Bek was the son of Men, a carver for Amenhotep III (circa 1390–1353 b.c.e.), and Roy of Heliopolis. Men had created a series of statues of his king from the granite quarries of Red Mountain. In his father’s honor, Bek later carved a graffito (cliff relief) near Aswan, called the Equipose of Two Masters of Works and Chief Sculptors. In one of two panels Men is seen paying homage to Amenhotep III. Bek was probably apprenticed to learn his craft from his father, although he later gave credit for his artistic achievements to his employer. On Bek’s own quartzite funerary stela he notes that he was only an “apprentice whom His Majesty taught.” This inscription probably was Bek’s way of saying that he followed well the instructions of his king, not that the king personally taught him how to carve. Bek was married to Taheret, appears to have adopted the religion of Akhenaten, and may have carved the small statue located in his tomb that depicts the couple.

Royal Supervisor . Bek served during a period of religious and social unrest. Once he became king, Akhenaten broke from past religious practice, promoting the worship of a new deity, Ra-Horus, a god of the sun whose name would later be shortened to Aten (sun-disk). As the master carver, Bek was responsible for supervising the construction of statues for the Aten cult temples, of which there were at least four at Karnak, as well as pieces featuring the king and his family. He created several large statues for these temples, which were later destroyed. One sandstone statue (called the Colossal Statue of Amenhotep with Nemes and Double Crown) shows the king with an elongated face and hooded eyes on a six-feet-high head and is the only one that survived from a colonnade of statues. (It now resides in a museum in Cairo.) Bek supervised the cutting of granite monuments for the Mansion of Ben-ben, a temple in East Karnak that was for the private use of Nefertiti, the wife of Akhenaten, who performed religious rites usually reserved for the king. He most likely also produced works for the new capital after Akhenaten moved the royal city from Thebes to Akhetaten (Amarna).

Realist Style . Bek and other carvers of the Akhenaten reign, under the personal direction of the king, loosened the artistic style and modified the subjects included in their works. Rather than adopting the old style that idealized the figure, the king was portrayed, according to historian Jacobus Van Dijk, with a “thin, drawn-out face with a pointed chin and thick lips, an elongated neck, almost feminine breasts, a round protruding belly, wide hips, fat thighs, and thin, spindly legs.” These physical representations were also used to show other members of the royal house. Some scholars have surmised that the king suffered from a disfiguring disease, possibly a pituitary disorder. In another departure from the traditional way of sculpting human figures, Amarna artists often assembled the pieces rather than carving them out of single blocks of material. The subject matter in which the royals were represented also changed from statues and reliefs that featured only the king to ones that showed the monarch with his wife and children in intimate relationships. This “realistic” form was far different from the rigid constructions popular with earlier royal art.

Legacy . Bek appears to have died during Akhenaten’s reign, as he was replaced by Tuthmose, whose carving style was even more realistic than his predecessor’s. Much valuable information has been discovered in a workshop dug up from Amarna, which may have belonged to both Bek and Tuthmose, including plaster-cast heads and unfinished sculpture. Although traditional forms returned with the end of the Amarna period, some aspects of the contributions of these sculptors continued on.


Cyril Aldred, Akhenaten: King of Egypt (London: Thames & Hudson, 1988).

Ian Bolton, “Bek: Master of the Works,” Egypt: Land of Eternity, Internet website,

Sergio Pernigotti, “The Mansur Collection,” translated by Fred Stoss, ARCHEO (April 1994), Internet website,

Jacobus Van Dijk, “The Amarna Period and the Later New Kingdom (c. 1352–1069 bc),” in The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, edited by Ian Shaw (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 272–313.