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Nefertiti – Egyptian queen and art object of superlatives from the workshop of Thutmose

The colourfully painted bust of Nefertiti is one of the most famous archaeological objects in the world and attracts over a million people every year to the Neues Museum wishing to pay a visit to the “most beautiful of all women in Berlin”. But who really was this queen, whose name means “The beauty is come” and transfixes all who see her.

Nefertiti was the principle wife of Pharaoh Amenhotep IV, better known as Akhenaten, and – against the then normal tradition – was not descended from the royal family. One can only speculate on her background and the final years of her life. What has, however, been preserved for us are her numerous and impressive images and sculptures: many of the reliefs portray Nefertiti together with her husband Akhenaten in a harmonious relationship playing with her children or dining and drinking. Alongside these family images, the vital importance of Nefertiti is evident in many iconic scenes. Praying to the God Aten or offering him sacrifices, she is – with Akhenaten – the key mediating figure of the new religion of Aten, while at the same time taking her place in the divine triad of “Aten - Akhenaten – Nefertiti”.

Nefertiti is mostly depicted wearing either a short wig, the double-feather crown, a blue cap or (typical for her) a blue helmet-shaped crown, the latter featuring on the bust in the Neues Museum on Museumsinsel Berlin.

Ludwig Borchardt discovered the colourful bust of the queen in 1912 in the course of his excavations at Tell el-Amarna in the remains of a sculptor’s workshop. Close by, a fragment of an ivory horse blinker bearing the name of the sculptor Thutmose was unearthed in a waste pit in a yard belonging to the property. This leads to the assumption that the bust is a work ascribable to Thutmose.

The Nefertiti bust is evidence of the exquisite craftsmanship of the Amarna era. The artists and artisans working in the southern part of Armarna implemented King Akhenaten’s religious beliefs in a new representation using new techniques, their perfection testifying to their outstanding craftsmanship. Portrait studies and plaster casts served as models for individualising the rendering of the faces portrayed on the sculptures, some of which were also assembled as composite statues made of different materials. It is generally considered that the famous Nefertiti bust also originally functioned as such a model.