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The Replica

The bust of Nefertiti is also highly popular as a replica. For almost 100 years, high-quality reproductions have been produced at the Gipsformerei (Replica Workshop), a long-standing part of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin network, and sold to enthusiasts and collectors, artists and museums right around the world. Today, the manufacture of these highly accurate reproductions is based on a combination of digital technology and meticulous craftsmanship.

The first replicas of the bust were created in 1913, shortly after its discovery. Due to the fragile surface structure of the sculpture, however, the mould for these was not cast directly from the original, as is customary with more robust works of art, but was measured manually by the sculptor Tina Haim-Wentscher, who created two copies in artificial stone. These copies were painted, and the missing elements of the original reconstructed. James Simon, then owner of the bust, gifted one of these replicas to Kaiser Wilhelm II.

One of the replicas of the Nefertiti Bust fabricated by Tina Haim-Wentscher is now located at Huis Doorn, the residence-in-exile of Wilhelm II, the former German Emperor, following his abdication in 1920. Here, a view of the library.

One of the replicas of the Nefertiti Bust fabricated by Tina Haim-Wentscher is now located at Huis Doorn, the residence-in-exile of Wilhelm II, the former German Emperor, following his abdication in 1920. Here, a view of the library. © Museum Huis Doorn

The Master Model of the 1920s

In the early 1920s the Gipsformerei commissioned Tina Haim-Wentscher to create another replica as a master model, on which all the busts sold by the replica workshop were then based. The artist meticulously followed the measurements and form of the original, and in this model also accurately reproduced the damaged elements, although she once again replaced the missing eye. Seventy-five casts based on this master model are documented (PDF, 17,3 MB)in the records of the Gipsformerei for the period between July 1921 and the end of 1922 alone, before the bust was even first publicly exhibited in 1924..

After Nefertiti was placed on display in the Neues Museum, the demand for replicas intensified, and the bust was made available for order from the catalogue in a growing range of variations. For decades the model created by Tina Haim-Wentscher remained the authoritative model. In 2014 it was reissued (PDF, 173 KB) by the Gipsformerei as a “historical replica” based on the old template.

Selected painting models of Nefertiti over the years. Front left, the first version by Tina Haim-Wentscher from 1922; back right, the 2015 version

Selected painting models of Nefertiti over the years. Front left, the first version by Tina Haim-Wentscher from 1922; back right, the 2015 version © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gipsformerei  / Achim Kleuker

In addition to this initial reproduction, which remains impressive to this day, the replicas of the bust of Nefertiti intended for sale have undergone repeated changes. Each of these improved versions reflect the current state of the art in reproduction technology, although always with the proviso that the sensitivity of the paint on the original artwork precludes the use of a direct mould. The master model of 1971, for example, was produced based on photogrammetric modelling.

Imaging Using a Structured-Light 3D Scanner

With the continuously improving technology of the contactless 3D structured light scanner, in 2008 a new opportunity arose to have the bust three-dimensionally scanned and documented once again, this time by the firm TrigonArt.

First, a high resolution, photo-textured digital 3D model of the bust was created based on the scan data. The data was then formatted for the production process, and printed using a 3D printer. The full-scale plastic prototype produced in this manner was then used by the Gipsformerei as the model from which to cast a mould, and finally to produce what is currently the most accurate replica of the bust of Nefertiti possible. This version has been offered for sale since 2009, and in 2015 the colour version was additionally reworked.

The painting of a museum replica of Nefertiti

The painting of a museum replica of Nefertiti © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gipsformerei / Jürgen Hohmuth

Today, the sculpture painters of the Gipsformerei use the same pigments that were commonly used in ancient Egypt, identified by the Rathgen-Forschungslabor based on colour matching analysis, and accurately reproduce the details of the original. Each artist, however, also has their own signature style, making each replica unique.

Scan Technology at the Gipsformerei

Scanning and 3D printing technologies have been in use at the Gipsformerei for many years, particularly for objects too fragile to allow the use of direct casts. Since contact-free modelling methods are still qualitatively inferior to silicone casts, any resulting errors must be painstakingly corrected, a process that involves numerous steps and careful modifications.

Film “The Gipsformerei of the Statliche Museen zu Berlin”, 2014 © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Along with digital modelling and processing of the data, this also applies to the printing process. In order to obtain a mould that meets the Gipsformerei’s requirements, a conventional silicone impression is made from the first 3D print, and the finer details are carefully corrected. A further mould is then created from this model, and only then can a replica of the original object be created.

The Gipsformerei aims to further perfect this interplay between technology and manual skill. Incorporating the expertise of traditional craftsmanship directly into the digital process will continue to play a central role in the future, in the quest to seccessively improve the quality of the reproduction.

The Scan Online

The 3D scans of the bust of Nefertiti first attracted public attention in 2016, when the artists Jan Nikolai Nelles and Nora Al-Badri placed a scan of the bust online as part of their intervention The Other Nefertiti. On their website and in public talks the artists claimed that this data had been produced secretly in 2015 in the North Dome Room of the Neues Museum. The high quality of the scans, however, quickly raised doubts as to whether they could actually have been created under the conditions described.

Al-Badri herself later also called into question the direct connection between the covert scanning operation and the data made available.

Maybe it was a server hack, a copy scan, an inside job, the cleaner, a hoax […]. It can be all of this, it can be everything. We are not revealing details. […] We are standing by the fact that we actually scanned it, but we don’t want to dismiss the other options at the same time.

The data presented in 2016 as the “Nefertiti Hack” forms the basis of the majority of the 3D models and digital remixes of the bust available online today, for example at Sketchfab.

In addition, in November 2019 the scan created in 2008 for the Gipsformerei was published by the artist and activist Cosmo Wenman. The Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz had previously granted him access to the data – according to his own account because he had placed pressure on the organisation by invoking the German Freedom of Information Act. 

Since this scan was made as an intermediate step in the production of a plaster replica, it was not originally intended for publication as an official digital 3D reproduction, which is why it was not put online by the SMB itself. Having said that, we are now making it available for free download (ZIP with an OBJ file and accompanying information, 832 MB) under a CC-NC-BY-SA licence.

The video shows an animation of the 2008 3D model of the Nefertiti Bust made by TrigonArt. The focus of the video in the first part is on the geometrical surface of the Bust, which is made particularly visible through an artificial rendering in light grey. In the second part the original texture of the Bust is projected over the model. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, ZEDIKUM / Fanet Göttlich

Exhibition catalogue "In the Light of Amarna", 2012