Bust of Nefertiti

The bust of Queen Nefertiti housed in Berlin’s Neues Museum is one of Ancient Egypt’s most famous works of art. A prime example of ancient artistry, this icon has been called “the most beautiful woman in the world”.

Hypnotizing audiences since it went on display in 1923, the statue gives insight into the enigmatic queen and continues to generate controversy and debate in art and politics.

Bust of Queen Nefertiti
Bust of Queen Nefertiti

Nefertiti’s bust is the sole work of art in the dimly lit room. She stands 48 cm (19 inches) tall and weighs 20 kg (44 lbs). Positioned slightly above eye level, the viewer gazes up at her, contributing to the power and regal feeling of the piece.

The bust of Nefertiti Bust was discovered on December 6th, 1912. Here the bust is photographed at the discovery site.
Those photographed left to right are the excavation supervisors; Hermann Ranke, Paul Hollander, and Mohammed es-Senussi.
Photograph courtersy of Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Vorderasiatisches Museum.

The statue is delicate, elegant and very symmetrical with a visual flow guiding you from the top of the crown down to the long neck. The naturalism differs from earlier more formal and rigid Egyptian art.

Suddenly we had in our hands the most alive Egyptian artwork. You cannot describe it with words. You must see it.

Diary of Ludwig Borchardt
First photograph of the bust of Nefertiti, taken on 23rd December 1912, by the photographer Paul Hollander in the excavation house.
First photograph of the bust of Nefertiti, taken on 23rd December 1912, by the photographer Paul Hollander in the excavation house.

The bust, which stands at 48 centimetres (19 in) & weighs 20 kilograms (44 lbs), was discovered on the 6th of December 1912, during an expedition led by Ludwig Borchardt. It was found in remnants the sculptor Thutmose’s workshop in Amarna (ancient city of Akhetaten – Akhenaten‘s ill-fated capital), Egypt.

The sculptor Thutmose held the prestigious title of, “The King’s Favourite and Master of Works, the Sculptor Thutmose“.

The estimated date of the statue’s creation is 1345 BC by the sculptor Thutmose during the Amarna Period.

There are no inscriptions, but Nefertiti was identified by her trademark blue flat-top crown with the uraeus (rearing cobra), which is missing. The core is limestone covered with plaster, which allowed for the exception molding and detail around the face.

Bust of Nefertiti. Bust of Nefertiti. Neues Museum Berlin, Germany. ÄM 21300
Bust of Nefertiti. Neues Museum Berlin, Germany. ÄM 21300

The bust has been examined numerous times over the century or so since it’s discovery, and as technologies have advanced. Early analysis of the paint showcased an interesting glimpse of the development of Egyptian pigments.

And more recent studies, such as C.T. scanning, revealed the bust had a limestone core with fine detailing of the face, such as fine lines, which are not seen with the smooth stucco plastering.

Controversially for some, the bust (ÄM 21300) resides in the Neues Museum, Berlin, Germany; with Zahi Hawass, leading the call for many years, to have the queen returned home to Egypt.

Nefertiti, the beautiful woman has arrived

Bust of Nefertiti

“… Nefertiti’s image has come to overshadow the woman herself, exacerbated by how little we actually know of her with any degree of certainty.

On the other hand, her current world dominion presents an interesting contrast with the way in which she was actively written out of history soon after her own death.

Dimly and distortedly remembered by only a few later annalists, her very existence was only gradually recognized once again during the nineteenth century AD.

Nefertiti’s progress beyond being simply a name was initially a slow one, and even then, much of what became ‘known’ about her was often guesswork or misguided extrapolation or misinterpretation from the available material.

C.T scans revealed the limestone core.
C.T scans revealed the limestone core.

Significant parts of these early (mis)interpretations have become calcified as ‘factoids’ outside the realm of specialists in the history of the Eighteenth Dynasty.

Indeed, the most potentially sensational data that suggested that she had ended life not as a queen, but as a female king, was misread for some eight decades, at the same time creating a wholly illusory sexual narrative for her husband.”

Nefertiti, Queen and Pharaoh of Egypt: Her Life and Afterlife, by Aiden Dodson (#aff)