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Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Icon of Berlin and Egypt. 100 years of Nefertiti

This replica bust of Nefertiti welcomes our visitors. 100 years ago, on the 6th December 1912 the original was uncovered at Amarna by the German excavation team headed by Ludwig Borchardt. The original is now in Berlin and has caused some controversy as it has been claimed that it taken from Egypt illegally. It is, of course, an iconic symbol of Egypt but is also loved by the people of Berlin and thus has also become a symbol of that city.

The original was found, with others, in the workshop of the sculptor Thutmosis in a walled-off closet. There is one inlaid eye made of rock crystal in the original suggesting that the piece was never finished. As it may have been an artist's model perhaps there was never any need to finish it.

Nefertiti was a wife of the so-called 'heretic' pharaoh Akhenaten who built a new city on the banks of the Nile around 1340 BC to worship the god the Aten. Previously, the main god worshiped in Egypt had been Amun, the god of Thebes. The Egypt Centre has over 200 artefacts from the royal site of Amarna (originals not copies).

This queen was one of the few Egyptian royal women who attained any importance. Nefertiti is even shown smiting the female enemies of Egypt-such smiting scenes were usually reserved for kings. It is possible that for a time she even acted as joint ruler with her husband, though this is debated. During the Amarna Period there seems to be a change in depictions of royal women. Not only are they sometimes painted a reddish colour, usually reserved for men, but at times they are also shown as mature women, with signs of ageing. For much of Egyptian history women were depicted as slender and youthful.

Our copy of the bust of Nefertiti was brought to Swansea in the 1960s by Professor of Classics George Kerferd. It seems probable that it was made from the Berlin original by the sculptor Tina Wentcher (also known as Ernestine Haim). She produced a number of replicas in the years following World War I and there are now many examples scattered throughout the world.

The bust of Nefertiti is perhaps the most well-known depiction of ancient Egyptian women. But, while it is considered an archetype of female beauty we cannot be sure that Nefertiti actually looked like this. As with all Egyptian art, representations were idealised and stylised.

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