The Bust of Nefertiti
Perhaps the most readily recognized and certainly the most controversial item on Dr Hawass’s wish list is the 3,300 year old bust of Nefertiti, the primary royal wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten. Exhibited in the
The bust is an iconic work of art depicting a famous ancient Egyptian royal personage and that alone is sufficient reason for the Supreme Council of Antiquities in
The full story of Nefertiti’s bust; how it was found; how it became German property; the so-called “second face” of Nefertiti and the possibility that it might be a fake makes for fascinating reading.
The first question is: ‘Did
The bust was found on the site of the capital city established by Pharaoh Akhenaten called Akhetaten, the ‘Horizon of the sun Disc’. Today the archaeological site is known as Tel Amarna. A German archaeological expedition of 1912 claimed to have found the bust in the ruins of the studio of a famous sculptor named Thutmose. Chief archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt was captured by its beauty, and it is suggested that he hatched a plan to remove the piece from
Gustave Lefébvre, the inspector of Antiquities was responsible for dividing the finds from the Amarna region. Lefébvre was not an Egyptologist and he settled for a 50/50 division, with objects made of plaster going to the Germans. It seems that Borchardt hurried the negotiation and listed the bust of Nefertiti as that of ‘a painted plaster bust of a princess’ of little value. He offered as proof various cropped photographs of the bust to Lefébvre who apparently, without studying the dirty object in great detail, relinquished the bust to the Germans. It has been suggested that Borchardt applied the dirt and described the bust as “plaster” as a deliberate ruse to ensure the item was on the German “to go” list. In fact the bust, while it has a limestone core, has a stucco surface and it would have qualified as a “plaster” item.
Borchardt, under no illusion as the beauty of the bust and elated with his success wrote the following entry in his diary: ‘Suddenly we had the most alive Egyptian artwork in our hands. You cannot describe it with words. You can only see it.’
The bust of Nefertiti was exhibited in
The second question concerns the ‘second face’ of Nefertiti.
In March 2009, researchers in
It was previously believed that the limestone internal structure was merely a support for the stucco features. The stucco covering is only 2 to 3mm thick, which gives some credence to the claim that it is too delicate to travel.
The differences between the faces are minor, but the external face eliminates some slight imperfections. Certain features have been ‘improved’ such as the creases at the corners of the mouth and a bump on the nose of the stone version. It appears that someone, possibly the Pharaoh or Nefertiti herself, may have ordered the adjustments between stone and stucco.
Starting with the pictures from the CT scan, two Italian scholars -- Franco Crevatin, an ethnologist at
The wider nostrils and the creases at the corner of the mouth have some justification, but the plump lips, rounded chin and the skin colour cannot be scientifically justified. In fact it appears that the “Africanisation” of the face is based more on imagination that science.
The third question concerns the possibility that the bust is a “fake”
An art historian and expert on ancient
Stierlin believes the bust is a gypsum copy. "It seems increasingly improbable that the bust is an original," he said. He suggests it was made by an artist named Gerardt Marks on the orders of Ludwig Borchardt to test pigments used by the ancient Egyptians.
A number of clues have led him to suspect the piece to be a fake including the missing left eye, which he says was an insult for an ancient Egyptian who believed the statue was the person.
He also said the style of cutting the shoulders straight was not used by the Egyptians and that Nefertiti’s facial features were accentuated similarly to the Art Nouveau style, which was popular in
The bust was made of stone and covered in plaster, neither of which can be dated, but the pigments appeared to be “really ancient,” he said.
Documents published earlier this year show that Borchardt did not supply a description, which is surprising for an exceptional work which was found intact. A team of French archaeologists working at the same dig never mentioned the find.
The legality of taking the bust out of
Although Borchardt may have devalued the bust in his description to Lefébvre, but the bust is essentially, on the surface at least, a plaster object. In accordance with the terms of the division of spoils applied by Lefébvre the Germans were “within the law” to take the bust with them.
The claim that it is too delicate to transport:
The bust has endured through 3,300 years. The original discovery site was destroyed by time and pillage. The bust was found in 1912, handled, wrapped, crated, shipped to
The two faces:
The CT scan clearly shows the limestone details of the face of the same woman, a face with certain imperfections perhaps realistically reflecting her age. When Nefertiti moved to Akhetaten where the bust was found, she was already a mother of three daughters. What is not acceptable is the computer graphic reconstruction of her “real” face which, unlike forensic facial reconstruction techniques is based on imagination rather than science.
The claim that it is a fake:
In view of the recent CT revelation of the stone face beneath the plaster, it is unlikely that the charge of it being a fake can be sustained. The evidence is too flimsy. A suggestion that a plaster coating was applied to the stone bust to smuggle it out of
The bust will remain the subject of intense scrutiny and challenge, but in the opinion of this writer it will remain legally and logically in the hands of the German Museum Keepers.