On December 6, 1913, a team led by German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt discovered a sculpture buried upside-down in the sandy rubble on the floor of the excavated workshop of the royal sculptor Thutmose in Amarna. The painted figure featured a slender neck, gracefully proportioned face and a curious blue cylindrical headpiece of a style only seen in images of Nefertiti. Borchardt’s team had an agreement to split its artifacts with the Egyptian government, so the bust was shipped as part of Germany’s portion. A single, poor photograph was published in an archaeological journal and the bust was given to the expedition’s funder, Jacques Simon, who displayed it for the next 11 years in his private residence.
In 1922 British Egyptologist Howard Carter discovered King Tut’s tomb. A flurry of international attention followed, and the image of Tut’s solid gold funerary mask was soon a global symbol of beauty, wealth and power.
A year later the Nefertiti bust was put on display in Berlin, countering the “English” Tut with a German appropriation of ancient glamour. Throughout the 20th century’s upheavals, the bust remained in German hands. It was revered by Hitler (who said, “I will never relinquish the head of the Queen”), hidden from Allied bombs in a salt mine and coveted by East Germany throughout the Cold War. Today it draws more than 500,000 visitors annually to Berlin’s Neues Museum. Akhenaten’s transformation of religion brought with it radical changes in artistic conventions. Departing from the idealized images of earlier pharaohs, Akhenaten is sometimes depicted with feminine hips and exaggerated features. Early images of Nefertiti show a stereotypical young woman, but in later ones she is a near mirror image of Akhenaten. Her final depictions reveal a regal but realistic figure.
On the walls of tombs and temples built during Akhenaten’s reign Nefertiti is depicted alongside her husband with a frequency seen for no other Egyptian queen. In many cases...
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