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One of the most mysterious and powerful women in ancient Egypt, Nefertiti was queen alongside Pharaoh Akhenaten from 1353 to 1336 B.C. and may have ruled the New Kingdom outright after her husband’s death. Her reign was a time of tremendous cultural upheaval, as Akhenaten reoriented Egypt’s religious and political structure around the worship of the sun god Aten. Nefertiti is best known for her painted sandstone bust, which was rediscovered in 1913 and became a global icon of feminine beauty and power.
Nefertiti as Queen
Nefertiti may have been the daughter of Ay, a top adviser who would go on to become pharaoh after King Tut’s death in 1323 B.C. An alternate theory suggests she was a princess from the Mittani kingdom in northern Syria. She was her husband’s Great Royal Wife (favored consort) when he ascended the throne in Thebes as Amenhotep IV. In the fifth year of his reign, he displaced Egypt’s chief god Amon in favor of Aten, moved the capitol north to Amarna and changed his name to Akhenaten, with Nefertiti taking on the additional name “Neferneferuaten”—her full name meaning “Beautiful are the beauties of Aten, a Beautiful Woman has come.”
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 she is shown in positions of power and authority—leading worship of Aten, driving a chariot or smiting an enemy.
After Nefertiti had given birth to six daughters, her husband began taking other wives, including his own sister, with whom he fathered the future King Tut (Tutankhamen). Nefertiti’s third daughter Ankhesenpaaten would eventually become her half-brother Tutankhamen’s queen.
Nefertiti As a Possible Ruler
Nefertiti disappears from the historical record around the 12th year of Akhenaten’s 17-year reign. She may have died at that point, but it is possible she became her husband’s official co-regent under the name Neferneferuaten. Akhenaten was followed as pharaoh by Smenkhkare, who some historians suggest may have been another name for Nefertiti. This would not have been without precedent: In the 15th century B.C. the female pharaoh Hatshepsut ruled Egypt in the guise of a man, complete with a ceremonial false beard.
If Nefertiti kept power during and beyond Akhenaten’s last years, it is possible she began the reversal of her husband’s religious polices that would reach fruition during the reign of King Tut. At one point Neferneferuaten employed a scribe to make divine offerings to Amun, pleading for him to return and dispel the kingdom’s darkness.
The Bust of Nefertiti
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.
The Bust of Nefertiti: Ancient Masterpiece or Genius Hoax?
On December 6, 1912, a team of excavators from the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft, led by Ludwig Borchardt, unearthed a wonderful work of art. They found the bust of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti in the workshop of Thutmes, the sculptor of the pharaoh Akhenaten, on the site of Amarna, in Middle Egypt. This sculpture soon became an icon of femininity, radiating around the world. That is, until Swiss journalist Henri Stierlin investigated and threw a stone in the proverbial still pond. His book, The Bust of Nefertiti: A Sham of Egyptology?, published in 2009, proclaimed loud and clear that one of the masterpieces of Egyptian art was, in fact, a fake.
Is the Bust of Nefertiti a Fake? Bust of Queen Nefertiti, 18th dynasty, circa 1370 – 1333 BCE, Painted limestone, 49 x 24.5 x 35 cm, Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection, Neues Museum, Berlin, Germany.
Queen Nefertiti Meaning
Her name means “A Beautiful Woman Has Come”. There are many titles of Queen Nefertiti like Hereditary Princess, Great of Praises, Lady of Grace, Sweet of Love, Lady of The Two Lands, Main King’s Wife, his beloved, Great King’s Wife. She was also called Akhnaten’s beloved, Lady of all Women, and Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt.
Nefertiti – The Forgotten Queen
Nefertiti’s place as an icon in popular culture is secure as she has become somewhat of a celebrity. After Cleopatra, she is the second most famous “Queen” of Ancient Egypt in the western imagination. Ironically, there is not much actually known about Nefertiti and she is often referred to as the forgotten queen because she literally vanished from the pages of history. Her story has become more myth than fact. One thing is known for sure – she was amazingly gorgeous and she was one of history’s most powerful queens.
Neferneferuaten Nefertiti lived from 1370 BC to 1330 BC. She was the Great Royal Wife of the Pharaoh Akhenaten. Nefertiti and her husband were known for a religious revolution, in which they worshiped one god only, Aten or the sun disc. With her husband, they reigned at what was arguably the wealthiest period of Ancient Egyptian history. Some scholars believe that Nefertiti ruled briefly after her husband’s death and before the accession of Tutankhaman [King Tut], although this identification is a matter of ongoing debate.
Nefertiti had many titles including Hereditary Princess Great of Praises Lady of Grace, Sweet of Love Lady of The Two Lands Main King’s Wife, his beloved Great King’s Wife, his beloved, Lady of all Women and Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt.
She was made famous by her bust, now in Berlin’s Neues Museum which is one of the most copied works of ancient Egypt. It was attributed to the sculptor Thutmose, and it was found in his workshop. The bust is notable for exemplifying the understanding Ancient Egyptians had regarding realistic facial proportions.
Egyptological theories thought Nefertiti vanished from the historical record around Year 14 of Akhenaten’s reign, with no word of her thereafter. Explanations included a sudden death, by a plague that was sweeping through the city, or some other natural death. This theory was based on the discovery of several shabti fragments inscribed for Nefertiti located in the Louvre and Brooklyn Museums.
Another theory proclaims she fell into disgrace, was discredited when deliberate erasures of monuments belonging to a queen of Akhenaten were shown to refer to Kiya instead. During Akhenaten’s reign (and perhaps after), Nefertiti enjoyed unprecedented power. By the twelfth year of his reign, there is evidence she may have been elevated to the status of co-regent: equal in status to the pharaoh.
It is possible Nefertiti is the ruler named Neferneferuaten. Some theories believe that Nefertiti was still alive and held influence on the younger royals. If this is the case that influence and presumably Nefertiti’s own life would have ended by year 3 of Tutankhaten’s reign (1331 BC). In that year, Tutankhaten changed his name to Tutankhamun. This is evidence of his return to the official worship of Amun, and abandonment of Amarna to return the capital to Thebes.
This means that Nefertiti was alive in the second to last year of Akhenaten’s reign, and demonstrates that Akhenaten still ruled alone, with his wife by his side. Therefore, the rule of the female Amarna pharaoh known as Neferneferuaten must be placed between the death of Akhenaten and the accession ofTutankhamun. This female pharaoh used the epithet ‘Effective for her husband’ in one of her cartouches, which means she was either Nefertiti or her daughter Meritaten.
There are many theories regarding her death and burial but to date, the mummy of this famous queen, her parents or her children has not been found or formally identified. We must know our history. An that’s my thought provoking perspective…
When and how was the Nefertiti bust found?
In 1912, Borchardt was excavating at Amarna in the ruins of an ancient house. The house had been identified as belonging to a sculptor named Thutmose. (His name and job title were found on an ivory horse blinder found nearby&hellip a standard artist&rsquos studio??). A bust of Amenhotep IV had already been found in Room 19, as well as other interesting fragments. Then&hellip they saw a &ldquoflesh-colored neck&rdquo in the rubble&hellip The excavators put their tools aside and, using their hands, revealed next the lower part of the bust and then the blue headdress. The portrait of Nefertiti was nearly intact. Borchardt noted that the colors were still so bright, they appeared &ldquofreshly painted.&rdquo Missing parts of the ear were sought out and discovered the missing eye was also sought, but never found. Only later, Borchardt wrote, did he realize that this eye had never been set into place the bust had never been finished. Just like Borchardt&rsquos dig: he never published a full report on it, and couldn&rsquot continue at the site after World War I broke out in 1914.
The bust was taken out of the country in murky circumstances. Borchardt had to share his finds with the local antiquities ministry, but how the discussion of these finds went is unclear. From Borchardt&rsquos own remarks in letters to friends, though, it seems he tried at the very least to benefit from leaving out information: he listed the bust along with other plaster sculptures he wanted to export, hoping that no one would ask what it was, and simply accept the seemingly better stone objects for Egypt. At the personal inspection of his finds, he prayed that the inspectors wouldn&rsquot open the storage box housing the bust. He even wrote that he had chosen a photo of the piece &ldquoso that one cannot recognize the full beauty of the bust, although it is sufficient to refute, if necessary, any later talk among third parties about concealment.&rdquo (link) He also warned his German patrons not to blabber about the finds until they were safely out of Egypt - because if the Egyptians got wind of the superb artifacts, they might want to keep them.
This does not show Borchardt&rsquos morality in a good light, to put it mildly. Although this was another time, with other customs, it is hard not to look back on it from today&rsquos perspective without qualms.
In 1920 James Simon gave the bust, along with other Amarna finds, to the Berlin museums.
The Cult of Sun God
After rising to power, Amenhotep IV and Nefertiti introduced a new religion to ancient Egypt. They both were high priests and against the concept of Polytheism. Nefertiti wanted to dissolve the idea of worshipping different Gods. The king and Queen believed that there was only one God, the Sun God. The Sun God was known as Aton in ancient Egyptian times. Nefertiti strictly implemented the new religion throughout Egypt. Every citizen was expected to dismiss their old faiths and beliefs and embrace Aton as their sole God.
Nefertiti became the route for ordinary people to access Aton. This ideology brought supreme power to the Queen. Amenhotep IV and Nefertiti changed their names after implementing the new religion to honour the Sun God.
Amenhotep converted his name to Akhenaten, and Nefertiti changed her name to Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti, which meant “beautiful are the beauties of Aton, a beautiful woman has come.” to show absolutism towards the Aton. The Royal family honoured the Sun Deity by living in Akhetaton City, now known as el-Amarna. The Royal palace stood in the centre of the city while open temples surrounded it.
Akhenaten soon became intolerant of other religions and started an expensive campaign of shutting Polytheism down. All old Gods were dismissed, and Polytheist temples were shut. This campaign sank the kingdom into debt and chaos. Soon after the campaign, Akhenaten died, leaving behind Egypt in a poor economic and socio-political situation.
Widow and powerful
This was the climate in 1336 BC, when Akhenaten died, probably from natural causes, at age 34. At that time, Nefertiti’s images show her wearing typical Pharaoh vestments, such as crowns and batons.
For most experts, the fact suggests that she would have assumed the throne of ancient Egypt – first alongside her husband and, after Akhenaton’s death, as his successor.
“Although the subject remains controversial, the opinion that she has ruled as the single queen is now increasingly accepted,” says Brancaglion.
Stone engravings found during excavations in the 19th century in Amarna show that, after Akhenaten‘s death, ancient Egypt was ruled by a pharaoh named Neferneferuaten – who would, in fact, be Nefertiti.
For Zahi Hawass, former secretary general of the Supreme Council of Egyptian Antiquities, there is no doubt about the power accumulated by Nefertiti after her husband’s death.
“Amarna’s images show the queen alone, leading religious processions and even leading armies, positions reserved exclusively for the pharaohs,” says Zahi.
Critics of this thesis call attention to the fact that Akhenaten’s successor revoked almost everything Pharaoh did during his reign – the cult of Aten was extinguished and the ancient gods were resumed less than five years after his death. Why would Nefertiti abandon her husband’s religion?
Anna Cristina has some chances. “Akhenaten left Egypt in crisis. After his death, various sectors of society revolted against the throne.
The return to the cult of Amun-Ra must have been a way that the new pharaoh found to count on the support of the greatest possible number of people and pacify the country “, she says.
This would justify the fact that Nefertiti changed her name and tried to break ties with the old regime. “It was an important decision, made by a woman who was exactly aware of her role in state policy.
“Brancaglion agrees that Nefertiti’s motivation must have been political.”She probably realized that the new religion was causing ancient Egypt to collapse,” he says.
Despite this, Nefertiti was unable to stop the religious and social crisis that led ancient Egypt to a period of political instability. After only three years of power, she would have died in an unclear situation.
Ancient Egypt came to be ruled by the young Tutankhamun, who took over at the age of 9 and died at the age of 19.
Yamahata, C. (2018, October 05). Queen Nefertiti Bust. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.worldhistory.org/image3d/315/queen-nefertiti-bust/
Yamahata, C.. "Queen Nefertiti Bust." World History Encyclopedia. Last modified October 05, 2018. https://www.worldhistory.org/image3d/315/queen-nefertiti-bust/.
Yamahata, C.. "Queen Nefertiti Bust." World History Encyclopedia. World History Encyclopedia, 05 Oct 2018. Web. 25 Jun 2021.
Clues in a Game of Thrones
The list of ancient Egyptian kings, as we know it today, is a work in progress—a compilation made by modern scholars and based on found fragments. Nefertiti’s tomb could hold clues that will help Egyptologists understand a royal succession that's still unclear.
Here's what they've been able to piece together from Nefertiti’s time:
Early in the 14th century B.C., at the height of the 18th dynasty, a powerful pharaoh named Amenhotep III ruled Egypt for more than four decades. When he died, his son and heir, Amenhotep IV, took the throne. But something caused the new pharaoh to break with tradition in ways that were shocking.
He smashed the temples and statues of a popular god named Amun and began to worship a god named Aten, represented by a sun disk. He moved his capital to a new location in the western desert, a place called Akhetaten, meaning "Horizon of the Aten." He changed his name from Amenhotep, or "Amun is Pleased," to Akhenaten, "He Who is of Service to Aten." And he revolutionized the country's art, launching a realistic style that depicted him with a flabby beer belly rather than the usual idealized six-pack abs of a young and virile pharaoh.
Nefertiti—"The Beautiful One Has Come"—was Akhenaten's principal wife. She's most famously known from a stunning painted limestone bust that was found in a sculptor's workshop in the ruins of Akhetaten in 1912.
There's no record of Nefertiti and Akhenaten producing a son. But they had six daughters, and we know their names: Meritaten, Meketaten, Ankhesenpaaten, Neferneferuaten Tasherit, Neferneferure, and Setepenre. Like every pharaoh, Akhenaten had more than one wife. One of the minor consorts may have been the mother of the future King Tut, whose original name was Tutankhaten—"Living Image of the Aten."
The Bust of Queen Nefertiti
The bust of Queen Nefertiti is one of the most famous pieces of ancient art, and arguably one of the most beautiful. It was crafted by the Chief Sculptor of Akhenaten, Tuthmose and was discovered in the workshop attached to his house in Akhetaten (Amarna).
It is formed from limestone coated in layers of panted stucco. Only one of the quartz inlaid eyes remains, but other than that it is in remarkably good condition. The bust does not bear a name, but the identity of its subject is not really in doubt because of the presence of the blue crown with which Nefertiti was so closely associated.
The reign of Akhenaten and Nefertiti is characterised by a shift away from the traditional models, including a rejection of the national god Amun and the construction of a new capital dedicated to the Aten at Akhetaten. This change found expression in the exaggerated and fluid forms of Amarna Art. However, the bust of Nefertiti conforms to the classical Egyptian style.
Tuthmoses would certainly not go against the wishes of his patron, so this was clearly intended. Yet, it was found with numerous other fragments of faces, busts and statuettes, prompting Egyptologists to suggest that the bust was either a modello (to be used as a template for official portraits) or a model to allow Tuthmoses to prove his skill to potential clients. Tuthmosis would have had to move his studio to Thebes when Akhetaten was abandoned, leaving behind anything he considered worthless – including the bust of Nefertiti!
The bust of Nefertiti has an enigmatic quality which has engendered much speculation. It is perfectly symmetrical, a vision of preternatural beauty, prompting Camille Paglia to comment the proper response to the Nefertiti bust is fear. However, a CT scan of the bust confirmed that under the stucco lies a more realistic depiction of the queen, with less prominent cheekbones, a bump on the nose and wrinkles.
This raises a fascinating possibility. Did Tuthmoses plan from the outset to use his prodigious skill to create a bust of a beautiful, but imperfect woman and then hide it under a mask of divine and unattainable beauty? The observer cannot know that beneath the flawless complexion and perfect symmetry there lies a real woman, but that was perhaps the point. If so, why was the bust abandoned?
The mystery does not stop there. Because of its light complexion, her name (The beautiful one has come), and her supposedly un-Egyptian appearance it has been proposed by some that Nefertiti was of foreign birth. Proponents of this view generally consider that she was either Tadukhepa, the daughter of Tushratta the King of Mitanni, or a princess from a Mediterranean culture such as the Minoans. However, most Egyptologists now agree that she was Egyptian, although her parentage remains obscure and unconfirmed.
We know that her wet nurse was the wife of Ay, but he does not claim to be her father. We know almost nothing about her death. Some have suggested that she became pharaoh under the name of Neferneferuaten, others that she died in disgrace. To some, she is the Elder Lady found in Tomb KV55, while others hope her tomb is still to be found.
The bust was discovered by the German team, led by Ludwig Borchardt, who were excavating Amarna in 1912/13. At that time artefacts uncovered in Egypt were subject to partage – a system where the finds were shared between the foreign excavators (who provided the expertise and money to fund the works) and the Egyptian state. Egypt retained the right to veto the removal of specific items, but Borchardt allegedly described the piece as a gypsum bust of a princess and showed officials only a substandard photo of it. It does seem highly unlikely that had any Egyptian officials seen the bust they would have been happy to let it go. Unfortunately, Gustave Lefebvre (who had the job of assigning finds) did not leave any record of his decisions regarding the bust, or if he did they have been lost.
The bust of Nefertiti was transported to Berlin to the home of Dr James Simon (who financed the dig) and another unfinished quartzite bust stayed in Egypt. While most of the pieces from that expedition went on display in the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, the bust of Nefertiti made only a brief appearance at the opening of the exhibition. Museum records suggest that Borchardt feared the Egyptian authorities would demand the return of the bust – prompting some to conclude that he knew its removal from Egypt had not been entirely above board.
The bust of Nefertiti finally went on display in the Berlin National Museum in 1923, to the great dismay of Egyptian authorities. Negotiations to repatriate the bust commenced in 1924 under the watchful eye of Pierre Lacau, Director of the Egyptian Antiquities service, to no avail. In 1929 the Egyptian Government made an unsuccessful bid to swap the bust of Nefertiti for a selection of other beautiful pieces, but they were turned down. Six years later the Prussian Prime Minister, Hermann Goring, agreed to send Nefertiti home but he was overruled by Adolf Hitler. Hitler approved of Nefertiti’s supposedly Aryan features and planned to make the bust one of the main attractions in the Museum of Germania (his new name for Berlin in its role as the capital of the world).
When Berlin was partitioned following the Second World War, the bust of Nefertiti stayed in West Berlin and became an unofficial cultural symbol of the city. However, Egyptian authorities have not given up hope. Following repeated unsuccessful requests for its repatriation they appealed to UNESCO to arbitrate in 2005, unsuccessfully.
In recent years Dr Zahi Hawas has threatened to ban exhibitions of Egyptian antiquities in Germany, tried to organise a boycott of loans to German museums and suggested a deal whereby Egypt and Germany could share the bust to the benefit of each party. German authorities have rejected any suggestion that the bust of Nefertiti was removed from Egypt illegally and claim that the bust is too fragile to be moved.
In 2016 two artists covertly scanned the bust and printed a 3D replica which they donated to Cairo Museum in an act of protest over the high number of Egyptian artefacts housed in museums outside Egypt.