“Really wonderful work. No use describing it, you have to see it!”
The discovery of Nefertiti in Tell el-Amarna
Between 1911 and 1914, excavations on behalf of the German Orient Society (Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft - DOG) took place in the Egyptian city of Tell el-Amarna. They were directed by the German archaeologist and building researcher Ludwig Borchardt, since 1907 Director of the Imperial Institute for Egyptian Archaeology in Cairo. In the course of several campaigns, numerous objects dating to the Amarna period were discovered and documented in diaries and lists of finds (also in the form of sketches, aquarelles and photographies). The structure of the city of Amarna, particularly of the homes, was registered by Borchardt in great detail.
The most spectacular excavation find took place on 6th December 1912, when Borchardt discovered the coloured Nefertiti bust. He made the following remark in his diary – written in the typical short style of writing: “Life-sized painted bust of the queen, 47 cm (18.5 inches) high. With the blue wig cut straight on top, and garlanded by a ribbon half-way up. Colours look like freshly painted. Really wonderful work. No use describing it, you have to see it.“
Following the then usual practice, the division of the excavation finds took place on 20th January 1913, as documented in the official division of finds protocol. In the presence of Gustav Lefebvre, Inspector of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, the division was made “à moitié exacte”, i.e. into two equal parts. The bust of the “colourful queen” as well as a large number of royal portrait heads was awarded to Berlin.
These objects passed into the possession of James Simon, who had financed the excavations. 1913 he made them available for an initial exhibition of the Amarna finds in the then Berliner Ägyptischen Museum. All the finds from the 1912/1913 excavation campaign were put on display – with the exception, however, of the Nefertiti bust. This was only presented to the public in a new exhibition of the collection in 1923/24.
Complementary to the archaeologically historic-culturally based presentation, this exhibition will also be focusing on the history of the excavations, the division of finds and the issue of the requests for their return – let alone the staging of the Nefertiti bust as an art icon and its marketing in the 20th and 21st centuries.