Nefertiti and Amarna

The final novel in the Amelia Peabody series ,”The Painted Queen”, completed posthumously by Joan Hess, takes place during the 1912-13 season, with our heroes at Amarna, where they had excavated on several previous occasions.

That year a German expedition was digging there at the site of the capital of the heretic King Akhenaten, who had banned the worship of the traditional gods in favor of the sun disk Aten. There they found one of the most spectacular objects ever uncovered in Egypt, the bust of Akhenaten’s Queen Nefertiti.

Bust of Nefertiti

Bust of Nefertiti, Photo: Creative Commons

Under the laws at the time providing for the sharing of objects between the Egyptian Museum and the excavators, such a unique item ought to have stayed in Egypt. For reasons still unclear, the Germans managed to get it out of the country, and it is currently on display in the Neues Museum in Berlin.

The recovery of objects illegally removed from the countries of origin is a serious concern, not only in Egyptology but also in archaeology, ethnography, and other fields.

The object at the Neues Museum

Object name: Bust of Nefertiti

Material: Limestone, gypsum crystal, and wax

Measurements: 49 cm tall, 24.5 cm wide, 35 cm deep

Provenance: Found in 1912 by Ludwig Borchardt during the excavations of the German-Orient-Association in Tell-Amarna, in House P, the workshop of the master sculpto Tuthmosis. Removed from Egypt under suspicious circumstances, and sent to Berlin.

Date: 1912

Additional description: The individualized face and the special crown, tall, flat-topped decorated with a ribbon and the remains of a uraeus at the front identify the statue as Nefertiti. The bust served, as did many other masks found in the workshop of the Tuthmosis, as a model for artists producing portraits of the queen. She is shown as a grown woman with a harmonic and balanced beauty which is not disturbed by the slight folds under the eyes and chin as well as the slightly sunk cheeks.

The bust is made of limestone which is covered with modelled gypsum. The eye is inlayed with crystal and the pupil attached with black coloured wax. The second eye-inlay was never carried out.

Current location with inventory numbers: Neues Museum, Berlin, Inventory no. ÄM23100

Acquisition history: Excavated in Tell el-Amarna, 1912, taken to Berlin. Kept in several museums there, and hidden to safeguard it during World War II, before finally being transferred to the Neues Museum.


From Porter and Moss:

Sculptor’s models, including heads and statue of Nefertiti and princesses, mask and bust of Amenophis IV, &c:, id. op. cit. in Mitteil. d. Deutsch. Or. Gesell. No. 52, Abb. I9 – 25, pis. 3 [left], 4 [right]-6; head of princess [BoRCHARDT, Abb. 21], id. Der Porlriitkopf der Konigin Teje, p. I3, Abb. I I; head of Nefertiti [BoRCHARDT, Abb. I9], in Berlin Mus. 2 I3oo, id. Portriits der Konigin .Nojret-ete, pis. z-6, cf. pp. 30-8; SCHAFER, Die Neuaufstellung der Funde aus El-Amarna in Berliner .#Eusem Berichte, xiv ( I924), p. I, Abb. I; id. Kunstwerke aus El-Amarna, i, frontispiece (called I in text); id. A marna in Religion und Kunst, pl. 20 ; ScHAFER and ANDRAE, Die Kunst des a/ten Orients, 336 ; WEIGALL, Anc. Eg. Works of Art, zoo, zoi; unfinished head of Nefertiti [BoRCHARDT, Abb. 20 ], KEES, Agyptische Kunst, p. I04 [32 J; bust of King [BoRCHARDT, pl. 4 (right)], in Berlin Mus., BoRCHARDT, Portriits [&c.], p. 6, Abb. 2 ; statue of Queen [BoRCHARDT, Abb. zs], in Berlin Mus. 2I263, ScHAFER, Sonderausstellungm der Funde [&c.] in Amtliche Berichte, xxxv, p. I3 7, Abb. 78, reprinted in A.z. Iii, p. 83, Abb. I8; id. op. cit. in Berliner Museen Berichte, xiv (I924), p. 9, Abb. 7; id. Kunstwerke aus El-Amarna, i, pl. 7 (called 8 in text); id. Amarna in Religion und Kunst, pl. zr; id. op. cit. in A.z. lv, pl. 6 [z]; STEINDORFF, Die Bliitezeit des Pharaonmreichs (I926), p. 179, Abb. I67; id. Die Kunst der Agypter, p. 223; ScHAFER and ANDRAE, op. cit. 338; WEIGALL, op. cit. 202; brown sandstone head ofNefertiti [BoRCHARDT, pl. 6], in Berlin Mus. Zizzo, SCHAFER, Kumtwerke aus El-Amarna, i, cover; id. A marna in Religion und Kunst, pl. 34 ; SCHAFER and ANDRAE, op. cit. 337; WEIGALL, op. cit. 199; NEWBERRY in Ross, The Art of Egypt through the Ages, p. q8 [ 2 J; head of princess [BoRCHARDT, Abb. 23], ScHAFER, op. cit. in Amtliche Berichte, xxxv, p. 139, Abb. So, reprinted in A’.z. Iii, p. 83, Abb. 19. Grey granite head of Nefertiti, in Berlin Mus. 2I358, ScHAFER, Kunstwerke aus El-Amarna, i, pl. 6 (called 7 in text) ; id. A marna in Religion und Kunst, pl. 35; STEINDORFF, op. cit. (r9z6), p. q8, Abb. 166.