Tomb of Nefertari
Interior of the vestibule within the tomb of Queen Nefertari. At center is the entrance to a larger room known as the First east side annexe. Nefertari Meritmut, who lived around 1300-1255 BC, was the Great Royal wife of king Ramesses II.
Her tomb is located in the Valley of the Queens, near the ancient city of Thebes. It is one of the best preserved and most ornate of all known tombs. The walls are painted with the deities (from left to right) Serket, Isis, Khepri, Osiris (above entrance), Hathor and Horus.
Chapter 94 of the Book of the Dead, Queen Nefertari standing in front of the god Thoth, the ibis-headed scribe, detail of a painting from the north wall, east side chamber.
“Egyptians were probably the first to be aware of the nobility inherent in the human form and to express it in art. One can sense the pleasure that the Egyptians must have taken in the balance of the shoulders and the delicate way in which they contrast with the aspiring shape of the rest of the body… Julius Lange showed with great sensitivity that we should not imagine the fact that human figures in Egyptian art ‘have stiff and erect backs, with their heads held high, and set squarely on their bodies’ to be a sign of incompetence… Rather ‘the awareness grew that this attitude expresses vitality and confidence in real life, and that it is therefore appropriate to the triumphant spirit which art should proclaim.’
The transition from the fat predynastic female figurines, with their heavy breasts, thighs, and buttocks, to the slender classical Egyptian pictures of women, which ‘remind one of the profiles of precious vases’ indicates how much effect aesthetic impulses had in the genesis of ‘Egyptian’ art; among these pictures, apart from a few exceptions determined by their contexts, only youthful, firm, and well-formed bodies are to be seen…”
— Principles of Egyptian Art, by Heinrich Schäfer, Griffith Institute, Oxford, UK, 1986
Queen Nefertari Meritmut wears a headdress in the shape of the protective vulture goddess, Nekhbet. The same artisans who created royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings must have prepared Nefertari’s final resting place, carving rock chambers, plastering walls, and painting every available surface.
Among the divine creatures invoked, there is also the goddess Serqet, often represented with a scorpion on her head, to heal the bites of poisonous creatures. Not surprisingly, the goddess’s full name was “Serqet hetyt”, meaning “she who makes the throat breathe”, and it seems to refer to the fact that the scorpion can be fatally dangerous, and the goddess can heal or destroy.
Nefertari played a crucial part in the political life of the king, and her importance was reflected through her magnificently decorated tomb. It was discovered by Ernesto Schiaparelli (the director of the Egyptian Museum in Turin) in 1904. It is called the Sistine Chapel of Ancient Egypt.
New Kingdom, 19th Dynasty, reign of Ramesses II, ca. 1279-1213 BC. Tomb of Nefertari (QV66), Valley of the Queens, West Thebes.