Ancient Egypt
Nefertitis Bust Image Credit: Ancient Egypt
Nefertitis Bust Image Credit: Ancient Egypt

Nefertiti's Bust

Joyce Tyldesley takes a new look at the world-famous portrait of Nefertiti, and considers what its purpose might have been.

Joyce Tyldesley

Nefertiti’s bust was carved over three thousand years ago, in the Amarna workshop of the Chief of Works, Thutmose. There is no evidence that the bust ever left the workshop. Instead, just a few years after its creation, Amarna was abandoned and the bust, an unwanted reminder of a discredited regime, lay forgotten in a storeroom. It was rediscovered by a German archaeological mission in 1912, and it is now displayed in Berlin’s Neues Museum (see right). However, we don’t need to travel to Berlin to gaze at the bust. Many Western museums display replica Nefertitis alongside their genuine Egyptian artefacts and many more sell replica Nefertitis in their gift-shops (see the display, opposite, bottom!). This ubiquity has turned Nefertiti into an ancient world celebrity.

Standing 48 cm tall, the Berlin bust shows the head and upper torso of a woman. She has a narrow face with prominent brow ridges and cheekbones, a long nose and full lips. Her eyes are almond shaped and her chin firm; her left eye is missing. A tall, flat-topped blue crown decorated with ribbons tops her head, which lacks visible hair. The bust has been created from carved limestone coated with layers of gypsum plaster and painted, so that the core itself is invisible. 

Although the bust is widely recognised as the portrait of an outstandingly beautiful woman, it would be wrong to ass

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