An audience with Nefertiti

Questions To A Queen

Neues Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Neues Museum

Bust of Queen Nefertiti, back view by ThutmosisNeues Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Who was the beautiful
woman from the Nile?

Nefertiti was one of the most powerful and influential women in Ancient Egypt. She lived about 3,400 years ago. As the chief consort of Akhenaten (Amenophis IV), a Pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty (New Kingdom), she bore the titles ‘Great Royal Wife’ and ‘Lady of the Two Lands’. In her husband’s tomb she also appears as the ‘Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt‘. Nefertiti had six daughters with Akhenaten, one of whom later married Tutankhamun.

Bust of Queen Nefertiti (Amenophis IV. / Echnaton, New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, c. 1340 BCE) by ThutmosisNeues Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Nefertiti’s star shone brightly for several years. As co-regent she wielded royal power, as demonstrated by the blue crown specially made for her. But then, not even 30 years old, Nefertiti vanished from public life. It is unknown to this day whether Akhenaten cast his wife off or whether Nefertiti may have died of some illness. It is even possible that she survived Akhenaten and succeeded him on the throne. Her mummy has never been found.

Bust of Queen Nefertiti by ThutmosisNeues Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

What does her name mean?

The name Nefert-iti means ‘the Beautiful One Has Come’. Since the 5th year of Akhenaten’s reign, this name was written in one cartouche with the epithet Nefer-neferu-Aton: ‘Beautiful are the Beautiful Ones of Akhenaten’. Up to the present day Nefertiti lives up to her name.  

Fragments of Rings with Cartouche of Nefertiti (right) and Akhenaten (left), Artist unknown, Amenophis (Amenhotep) IV. / Echnaton, New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, c. 1340 BCE, From the collection of: Neues Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
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Nefertiti’s cartouche – an ovale line, which in its middle shows the hieroglyph with the ruler’s name – can be found on Ancient Egyptian ring fragments. It also occurs on votiv tablets and epitaphs, often together with cartouches of Akhenaten and Aten.

Votive tablet with kneeling king and cartouches of Nefertiti, Aten and Akhenaten (Amenophis (Amenhotep) IV. / Echnaton, New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, c. 1340 BCE) by Artist unknownNeues Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Bust of Queen Nefertiti (Amenophis IV. / Echnaton, New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, c. 1340 BCE) by ThutmosisNeues Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Why does Nefertiti only have one eye and what is the
bust made of?

The bust of Nefertiti is a
sculptor’s modello, intended to be used as a basis for other portraits of the queen. The
eyes demonstrate this especially vividly. The blank left eye cavity shows the
first phase in making the eye, the inlaying of the pupil. The right eye, made
of inserted quartz and then painted and fixed with black-dyed beeswax, shows
how lifelike the composition is as a whole.

The bust itself has a limestone core with the shoulders ...

... and the blue crown built up with several layers of stucco.

A wafer-thin layer of plaster made it possible to produce the fine modelling of the face and the lifelike and exact way creases at the eyes and mouth and sinews in the neck are made In places this layer is less than one millimetre thick.

German excavation in Amarna, presentation of the bust of Nefertiti (Photo 6.12.1912) by UnknownNeues Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Where was the bust found and how did it come to be in
Berlin?

The bust was found on 6 December 1912 in the workshop of the Ancient Egyptian sculptor Thutmose in the ruins of the city of Akhetaten, now called Amarna, 300 kilometres south of Cairo. Akhenaten had this city built in around 1340 B.C.E. as the new capital for his revolutionary new monotheistic sun religion. The bust of Nefertiti lay there in the sand of House P 47.02, dirty but largely undamaged, for more than 3,000 years. The lucky finder was Ludwig Borchardt, an Egyptologist working in the service of the German Kaiser who was leading the excavations of the German Oriental Society in Amarna. Borchardt was immediately aware that Nefertiti was a very special find. In the excavation record for 6 December 1913 he wrote, “No use describing it, it must be seen!”

In the Light of Amarna / 100 Years of the Nefertiti Discovery (published 04.12.2012) by SMBNeues Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Under Egyptian law, the excavator had to split the finds into two portions of equal value, and the Egyptian authorities then had first choice. The Egyptians did not choose the portion including Nefertiti, because the other group of finds included as a comparable piece a valuable altar picture, a portrait of the pharaoh’s family, which the Egyptians were extremely keen to have. With the approval of the Egyptian antiquarian authorities the portion with Nefertiti was shipped to Germany in January 1913.

Neues Museum. Amarna Courtyard / Greek Courtyard after conversion 1921 (Photo 1923) by diverse ArtistsNeues Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

In Germany Nefertiti stayed at first with her owner, the great art lover and patron James Simon (1851–1932), who financed the Amarna expedition. The privilege of viewing Nefertiti in Simon’s private rooms was reserved for just a few prominent guests, notably Kaiser Wilhelm II. In 1920 Simon presented the bust as a gift to the Egyptian section of the Royal Prussian Art Collections. It was not until 1924 that the bust was put on public display in the Neue Museum for the first time, and the public went wild – Germany fell victim to Nefertiti fever!

Painting of a museum's replica of the Bust of Neferiti (2010/2010) by Replica WorkshopNeues Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Is the bust of Nefertiti unique?

The bust of Nefertiti is unique! No other Ancient Egyptian stone bust like it is known. But since Nefertiti was found in 1912 her breath taking face has been reproduced countless times. Like hardly any other work of art, the bust of Nefertiti has come to symbolise an entire culture and is popular around the world today as a motif on jewellery, calendars, writing pads and postcards. 

Replica Workshop, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (published 5.4.2013) by SMBNeues Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

High-quality replicas of the bust are made in the Gipsformerei, the own replica workshop of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, the largest of its kind in the world, which has been making replicas of works of art using traditional methods, careful craftsmanship and a wealth of specialist knowledge for nearly 200 years. The Gipsformerei sells these busts to connoisseurs and collectors, artists and museums around the world.

Statue head of Nefertiti, Artist unknown, 18th Dynasty, c. 1350 BCE, From the collection of: Neues Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
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A great many more images of Nefertiti are known from Ancient Egyptian times. During the excavations in Amarna alone various different busts and statuettes of Nefertiti were found. Most of these are composite statues, made up of several different types of stone. In the Amarna period, such composites were especially popular. The parts of the statues and busts were made separately then morticed, dovetailed and fit together.

House altar: Akhenaten, Nefertiti and their three daughters under the Strahlenaton, Artist unknown, Amenhotep IV / Akhenaten,1351–1334 BCE, From the collection of: Neues Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
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The excavations in Amarna have also yielded steles and reliefs with depictions of Nefertiti, as well as an altar picture showing the queen with her husband Akhenaten and three of their children.

The many finds also include busts and statues of Nefertiti’s family, with several depictions of Akhenaten and the children of the royal couple.

Bust of King Akhenaten, Thutmosis, Amenophis (Amenhotep) IV. / Echnaton, New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, c. 1340 BCE, From the collection of: Neues Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
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The bust of the pharaoh wearing a crown is thought to be the companion piece to the bust of Nefertiti. It was the only other painted, even gilded, and completed piece found among the sculptures in House P 47.02, the place where the bust of Nefertiti was found, too.

Plaster model of King Akhenaten, Thutmosis, Amenophis (Amenhotep) IV. / Echnaton, From the collection of: Neues Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
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The plaster head of Akhenaten has the ruler’s typical features – thin cheeks, full lips, prominent chin and triangular facial shape. The cast was probably moulded from sculptures which already existed and served as a basis for other modellos.

Head of a Princess, Artist unknown, Amenophis (Amenhotep) IV. / Akhenaten, 1351–1334 BCE, From the collection of: Neues Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
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The heads of the princesses are often based on the depiction of Akhenaten. This head was intended for a composite statue, as we can see from the stud beneath the neck.

North Dome Room with the Bust of Nefertiti, Neues Museum Berlin (Amenophis (Amenhotep) IV. / Echnaton, New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, c. 1340 BCE) by ThutmosisNeues Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Where can the bust of Nefertiti be seen?

The bust of Nefertiti can be seen in the Neue Museum on Berlin’s Museum Island. It was moved there in 2009 when the building, closed since the Second World War, was reopened. The beautiful queen is the only work of art to be given a room of her own in the Neue Museum.

North Dome Room with the Bust of Nefertiti, Neues Museum Berlin (Amenophis (Amenhotep) IV. / Echnaton, New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, c. 1340 BCE) by ThutmosisNeues Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

From the North Cupola Room, Nefertiti looks out across the Nubian Room with its ancient writings to the South Cupola Room on the other side of the building...

View from the Bust of Neferiti through several Rooms of the Neues Museum, Museum Island Berlin (1843/2009) by diverseNeues Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

... where the sun god Helios from Alexandria returns her gaze.

Bust of Queen Nefertiti by ThutmosisNeues Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

How valuable is the bust of Nefertiti?

The money value of works of art is usually based on their insurance value. The insurance value for the bust of Nefertiti is given millions of US dollars. But Nefertiti’s value cannot really be measured in dollars. As a unique portrait of beauty transcending the ages, the bust is one of the priceless treasures of cultural history. The Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung in Berlin, part of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, is safeguarding this treasure for humanity and makes it available in the Neue Museum, one of the world’s most impressive museums, for its visitors to engage with it there.

Credits: Story

Text: Ägyptisches Museum und Paprussammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz

Concept / Editing: Jutta Dette
Translation: Catherine Hales and Stephan Schmidt

© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz

www.smb.museum
Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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