New Online Feature on the Nefertiti Bust

09.02.2021
Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung

Arranged into six chapters, a new online feature at www.smb.museum/nefertiti recounts the history of the Nefertiti Bust on display in the Neues Museum: from the time of its production through to its unearthing in 1912 and its reception in the 20th and 21st centuries. Additionally, the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung is offering the catalogue to the 2012–13 exhibition In the Light of Amarna: 100 Years of the Nefertiti Discovery and a 3D scan of the bust made for the Gipsformerei in 2008 as free downloads.

The Queen – Who Was Nefertiti?

One chapter of the online presentation deals with the queen herself: Nefertiti was the great royal wife of Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (later Akhenaten) and lived in the 14th century BC. Written sources containing concrete historical facts about her life are few and far between. Therefore, while speculation and hypotheses about the Egyptian queen abound, actual knowledge about her is scant. There continues to be a particular dearth of information about the date of her death and the circumstances surrounding it.

The Find – Where Was the Bust Found, and by Whom?

The second chapter looks at the find and its subsequent partage. The now world-famous bust was discovered on 6 December 1912 at an excavation in the Middle Egyptian location of Tell el Amarna. The excavation campaign was led by the Egyptologist and architectural historian Ludwig Borchardt and financed entirely by the entrepreneur and patron James Simon. Toward the end of the excavation work, as was typical of all international excavation campaigns, the obligatory partage agreements were worked out in accordance with the statutes of the Council of Antiquities. All the finds that were ascribed to Berlin became the property of James Simon, who bequeathed all the items found in Amarna (including the Nefertiti Bust) to the Berlin Museums in 1920. 

The Bust – What Makes This Artwork So Special?

Ludwig Borchardt’s most oft-cited phrase is taken from his excavation diary: “Description is useless, must be seen”. The third chapter is all about the details and unique qualities of the bust: such as the meticulous work of the ancient Egyptian artists visible in the painting, the materials used, or the missing left eye inlay.

The Presentation – How Did the Bust End Up in the Neues Museum?

Details about the presentation of the bust are provided in the fourth chapter. Nefertiti was presented in Berlin for the first time in 1924, in the Greek Courtyard of the Neues Museum. After being placed in storage during the war and a prolonged post-war stay in Wiesbaden, in 1956, the piece made its way back to what was then a divided Berlin, where it was exhibited first of all in Dahlem, then in Charlottenburg, before moving to the Altes Museum on the Museumsinsel. With the reopening of the Neues Museum in 2009, the Nefertiti Bust returned to the building in which it had first been presented to the public some 85 years earlier.

The Reception – How Did Nefertiti Become a Beauty Icon?

To this day, the fascination that the bust evokes remains unbroken. Her timeless beauty and unique aura do not just captivate millions of museum visitors, the image of Nefertiti has long since transcended the bounds of a direct experience with the original to become an independent global icon. Chapter five explores the reception of the bust in the 20th and 21st centuries – be it as an idol of female beauty, a star of the post-war era, or a motif in art and advertising.  

Replicas – How Do 3D Scans and Traditional Craftsmanship Come Together?

The busts are particularly popular as replicas, something that is made clear by the concluding chapter of the online presentation. The Staatliche Museen zu Berlin’s Gipsformerei has been making high-quality reproductions for almost 100 years, which are sold right around the world. Nowadays, the fabrication of these detailed reproductions draws on a combination of digital technology and meticulous manual labour. To assist this work, a scan of the bust was made in 2008. This 3D model is now also available for download as part of the online presentation.