Portrait of Nefertiti

This relief portrait of Queen Nefertiti comes from a short end of a talatat, a limestone block of standardized size used during the Amarna Period in the building of the Aten temples at Karnak and Akhetaten. The standardized size and their small weight made construction more efficient.

The term talatat is most likely derived from the Arabic word for ‘three’, referring to the width of the blocks (three palms or handbreadths, which is one half of a cubit, the basic unit of measurement in ancient Egypt). It was used originally by modern Egyptian workers to refer to such blocks.

Portrait of Queen Nefertiti
Portrait of Queen Nefertiti

The son of Amenhotep III, Akenhaten, brought about the short-lived “monotheistic” revolution in Egyptian religion near the end of 18th Dynasty. The young king constructed a temple complex to the Aten, the Sun Disk, at Karnak – from which this relief comes – before he moved his capital to Tell El-Amarna.

For reasons yet unknown, the figure of the Queen Nefertiti appears in these reliefs far more often that that of the king. Ironically, the Aten temples were dismantled to be used as foundations and fill for additions to the Great Temple of Amun, whom the Aten had briefly displaced.

“The portraits of other queens of romance, such as Cleopatra and Mary of Scotland, are apt to leave one wondering where the charm came in about which all men raved, but no one could question for a moment the beauty of Nefertiti.

Features of exquisite modelling and delicacy, the long graceful neck of an Italian princess of the Renaissance, and an expression of gentleness not untouched with melancholy, make up the presentation of a royal lady about whom we should like to know a great deal and actually know almost nothing.”

The Amarna Age: A Study of the Crisis of the Ancient World, James Baikie (#aff)

New Kingdom, late 18th Dynasty, Amarna Period, reign of Akhenaten, ca. 1353-1336 BC. Painted sandstone. Overall: 22 x 22.7 cm (8 11/16 x 8 15/16 in.) Now in the Cleveland Museum of Art. 1959.188