Sometime in my early teens, my father gave me a book by Peter Tompkins called Secrets of the Great Pyramid. At the time I had a great interest in tunnels, caves and other “hidden” places and Tompkins’ maps and details of the passageways inside utterly fascinated me. I soon found myself studying Egyptology which eventually led to studies in Archaeology at Kansas State University and the University of New Mexico. Unfortunately, my dreams of becoming an archaeologist fizzled but I have retained a passion for all things related to Ancient Egypt. One of my favorite artifacts is the bust of Queen Nefertiti currently at the Neues Museum in Berlin (I first saw it when it was still at the Ägyptisches Museum in Charlottenburg Palace.
The Nefertiti Bust is a painted stucco-coated limestone bust of Nefertiti, the Great Royal Wife of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten. The work is believed to have been crafted in 1345 B.C. by the sculptor Thutmose, because it was found in his workshop in Amarna, Egypt. It is one of the most copied works of ancient Egypt. Owing to the work, Nefertiti has become one of the most famous women of the ancient world, and an icon of feminine beauty.
A German archaeological team led by Ludwig Borchardt discovered the bust in 1912 in Thutmose’s workshop. It has been kept at various locations in Germany since its discovery, including the cellar of a bank, a salt mine in Merkers-Kieselbach, the Dahlem museum, the Egyptian Museum in Charlottenburg and the Altes Museum. It is currently on display at the Neues Museum in Berlin, where it was originally displayed before World War II.
The Nefertiti bust has become a cultural symbol of Berlin as well as ancient Egypt. Nefertiti herself has become an icon. Nefertiti is widely known for her beauty and versatility. It has also been the subject of an intense argument between Egypt and Germany over Egyptian demands for its repatriation. It was dragged into controversy by the Body of Nefertiti art exhibition and also by doubts over its authenticity.
Neferneferuaten Nefertiti (meaning “the beautiful one has come forth”) was the 14th-century BC Great Royal Wife (chief consort) of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten of the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt. Akhenaten initiated a new monotheistic form of worship called Atenism dedicated to the Sun disc Aten. With her husband, she reigned at what was arguably the wealthiest period of Ancient Egyptian history. Some scholars believe that Nefertiti ruled briefly as Neferneferuaten after her husband’s death and before the accession of Tutankhamun, although this identification is a matter of ongoing debate. If Nefertiti did rule as Pharaoh, her reign was marked by the fall of Amarna and relocation of the capital back to the traditional city of Thebes.
Nefertiti had many titles including Hereditary Princess (iryt-p`t); Great of Praises (wrt-hzwt); Lady of Grace (nbt-im3t), Sweet of Love (bnrt-mrwt); Lady of The Two Lands (nbt-t3wy); Main King’s Wife, his beloved (hmt-niswt-‘3t meryt.f); Great King’s Wife, his beloved (hmt-niswt-wrt meryt.f), Lady of all Women (hnwt-hmwt-nbwt); and Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt (hnwt-Shm’w-mhw).
Little is known about Nefertiti. She was born circa 1370 BC. Nefertiti’s parentage is not known with certainty, but one often cited theory is that she was the daughter of Ay, later to be pharaoh. However, this hypothesis is likely wrong since Ay and his wife Tey are never called the father and mother of Nefertiti and Tey’s only connection with her was that she was the “nurse of the great queen” Nefertiti. Nefertiti’s Scenes in the tombs of the nobles in Amarna mention the queen’s sister who is named Mutbenret (previously read as Mutnodjemet). Another theory that gained some support identified Nefertiti with the Mitanni princess Tadukhipa. However, Tadukhipa was already married to Akhenaten’s father and there is no evidence for any reason why this woman would need to alter her name in a proposed marriage to Akhenaten or any evidence of a foreign non-Egyptian background for Nefertiti.
She may have been the co-regent of Egypt with Akhenaten, who ruled from 1352 BC to 1336 BC. Nefertiti bore six daughters to Akhenaten, one of whom, Ankhesenpaaten (renamed Ankhesenamun after the suppression of the Aten cult), married Tutankhamun, Nefertiti’s stepson. Nefertiti was thought to have disappeared from history in the twelfth year of Akhenaten’s reign, though whether this is due to her death or because she took a new name is not known. She may also have later become a pharaoh in her own right, ruling alone for a short time after her husband’s death. However, it is now known that she was still alive in the sixteenth year of her husband’s reign from a limestone quarry inscription found at Dayr Abū Ḥinnis. Dayr Abū Ḥinnis is located “on the eastern side of the Nile, about ten kilometres north of Amarna.”
Nefertiti first appears in scenes in Thebes. In the damaged tomb (TT188) of the royal butler Parennefer, the new king Amenhotep IV is accompanied by a royal woman, and this lady is thought to be an early depiction of Nefertiti. The king and queen are shown worshiping the Aten. In the tomb of the vizier Ramose, Nefertiti is shown standing behind Amenhotep IV in the Window of Appearance during the reward ceremony for the vizier.
During the early years in Thebes, Akhenaten (still known as Amenhotep IV) had several temples erected at Karnak. One of the structures, the Mansion of the Benben (hwt-ben-ben), was dedicated to Nefertiti. She is depicted with her daughter Meritaten and in some scenes the princess Meketaten participates as well. In scenes found on the talatat, Nefertiti appears almost twice as often as her husband. She is shown appearing behind her husband the Pharaoh in offering scenes in the role of the queen supporting her husband, but she is also depicted in scenes that would have normally been the prerogative of the king. She is shown smiting the enemy, and captive enemies decorate her throne.
In the fourth year of his reign, Amenhotep IV decided to move the capital to Akhetaten (modern Amarna). In his fifth year, Amenhotep IV officially changed his name to Akhenaten, and Nefertiti was henceforth known as Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti. The name change was a sign of the ever-increasing importance of the cult of the Aten. It changed Egypt’s religion from a polytheistic religion to a religion which may have been better described as a monolatry (the depiction of a single god as an object for worship) or henotheism (one god, who is not the only god).
The boundary stelae of years 4 and 5 mark the boundaries of the new city and suggest that the move to the new city of Akhetaten occurred around that time. The new city contained several large open-air temples dedicated to the Aten. Nefertiti and her family would have resided in the Great Royal Palace in the center of the city and possibly at the Northern Palace as well. Nefertiti and the rest of the royal family feature prominently in the scenes at the palaces and in the tombs of the nobles. Nefertiti’s steward during this time was an official named Meryre II. He would have been in charge of running her household.
Inscriptions in the tombs of Huya and Meryre II dated to Year 12, 2nd month of Peret, Day 8 show a large foreign tribute. The people of Kharu (the north) and Kush (the south) are shown bringing gifts of gold and precious items to Akhenaten and Nefertiti. In the tomb of Meryre II, Nefertiti’s steward, the royal couple is shown seated in a kiosk with their six daughters in attendance. This is one of the last times princess Meketaten is shown alive.
Two representations of Nefertiti that were excavated by Flinders Petrie appear to show Nefertiti in the middle to later part of Akhenaten’s reign ‘after the exaggerated style of the early years had relaxed somewhat’. One is a small piece on limestone and is a preliminary sketch of Nefertiti wearing her distinctive tall crown with carving began around the mouth, chin, ear and tab of the crown. Another is a small inlay head (Petrie Museum Number UC103) modeled from reddish-brown quartzite that was clearly intended to fit into a larger composition.
Meketaten may have died in year 13 or 14. Nefertiti, Akhenaten, and three princesses are shown mourning her. Nefertiti disappears from the scene soon after that.
Many scholars believe Nefertiti had a role elevated from that of Great Royal Wife, and was promoted to co-regent by her husband Pharaoh Akhenaten before his death. She is depicted in many archaeological sites as equal in stature to a King, smiting Egypt’s enemies, riding a chariot, and worshipping the Aten in the manner of a Pharaoh. When Nefertiti’s name disappears from historical records, it is replaced by that of a co-regent named Neferneferuaten, who became a female Pharaoh. It seems likely that Nefertiti, in a similar fashion to the previous female Pharaoh Hatshepsut, assumed the kingship under the name Pharaoh Neferneferuaten after her husband’s death. It is also possible that, in a similar fashion to Hatshepsut, Nefertiti disguised herself as a male and assumed the male alter-ego of Smenkhkare; in this instance she could have elevated her daughter Meritaten to the role of Great Royal Wife.
If Nefertiti did rule Egypt as Pharaoh, it has been theorized that she would have attempted damage control and may have re-instated the Ancient Egyptian religion and the Amun priests, and had Tutankhamun raised in with the traditional gods.
Archaeologist and Egyptologist Dr. Zahi Hawass theorized that Nefertiti returned to Thebes from Amarna to rule as Pharaoh, based on ushabti and other feminine evidence of a female Pharaoh found in Tutankhamun’s tomb, as well as evidence of Nefertiti smiting Egypt’s enemies which was a duty reserved to kings.
Pre-2012 Egyptological theories thought that Nefertiti vanished from the historical record around Year 12 of Akhenaten’s reign, with no word of her thereafter. Explanations included a sudden death, by a plague that was sweeping through the city, or some other natural death. This theory was based on the discovery of several ushabti fragments inscribed for Nefertiti (now located in the Louvre and Brooklyn Museums).
A previous theory, that she fell into disgrace, was discredited when deliberate erasures of monuments belonging to a queen of Akhenaten were shown to refer to Kiya instead.
During Akhenaten’s reign (and perhaps after), Nefertiti enjoyed unprecedented power. By the twelfth year of his reign, there is evidence she may have been elevated to the status of co-regent: equal in status to the pharaoh — as may be depicted on the Coregency Stela.
It is possible Nefertiti is the ruler named Neferneferuaten. Some theories believe that Nefertiti was still alive and held influence on the younger royals. If this is the case, that influence and presumably Nefertiti’s own life would have ended by year 3 of Tutankhaten’s reign (1331 BC). In that year, Tutankhaten changed his name to Tutankhamun. This is evidence of his return to the official worship of Amun, and abandonment of Amarna to return the capital to Thebes.
Discovered in 2012, a Regnal Year 16, month 3 of Akhet, day 15 inscription, dated explicitly to Akhenaten’s reign, mentions the presence of the “Great Royal Wife, His Beloved, Mistress of the Two Lands, Neferneferuaten Nefertiti”. The barely legible five line text “mentions a building project in Amarna” (Egypt’s political capital under Akhenaten). The inscription was found in a limestone quarry at Dayr Abū Ḥinnis, just north of Dayr al-Barshā, north of Amarna.
The inscription has now been published in a 2014 journal article by Athena Van der Perre who states that the five-line building inscription was found in a limestone quarry at Dayr Abū Ḥinnis. Van der Perre notes that Dayr Abū Ḥinnis is located “on the eastern side of the Nile, about ten kilometers north of Amarna” and records that the building work inscription refers equally to both the ruling king Akhenaten and his great wife Nefertiti under the authority of the king’s scribe Penthu. Penthu was presumably the owner of Amarna Tomb 5 — where one of his titles given was “first servant of the Aten in the Mansion of Aten in Akhetaten”; due to the rarity of his name and his position as chief priest within the Aten priesthood, it cannot be coincidental—as van der Perre writes — that the same Penthu would have been placed in charge of quarrying stone for the Aten temple. However, as Van der Perre stresses:
…The importance of the inscription from Dayr Abū Ḥinnis lies in the first part of the text. This inscription offers incontrovertible evidence that both Akhenaten and Nefertiti were still alive in the 16th year of his (ie. Akhenaten’s) reign and, more importantly, that they were still holding the same positions as at the start of their reign. This makes it necessary to rethink the final years of the Amarna Period.
This means that Nefertiti was alive in the second to last year of Akhenaten’s reign, (this pharaoh’s final year was his Year 17) and demonstrates that Akhenaten still ruled alone, with his wife by his side. Therefore, the rule of the female Amarna pharaoh known as Neferneferuaten must be placed between the death of Akhenaten and the accession of Tutankhamun. This female pharaoh used the epithet ‘Effective for her husband’ in one of her cartouches, which means she was either Nefertiti or her daughter Meritaten (who was married to king Smenkhkare).
There are many theories regarding Nefertiti’s death and burial but, to date, the mummy of this famous queen, her parents, and her children have not been found or formally identified. In 1898, archeologist Victor Loret found two female mummies inside the tomb of Amenhotep II in KV35 in the Valley of the Kings. These two mummies, named ‘The Elder Lady’ and ‘The Younger Lady’, were likely candidates of her remains.
The KMT suggested in 2001 that the Elder Lady may be Nefertiti’s body. It was argued that the evidence suggests that the mummy is around her mid-thirties or early forties, Nefertiti’s guessed age of death. More evidence to support this identification was that the mummy’s teeth look like that of a 29- to 38-year-old, Nefertiti’s most likely age of death. Also, unfinished busts of Nefertiti appear to resemble the mummy’s face, though other suggestions included Ankhesenamun.
Due to recent age tests on the mummy’s teeth, it eventually became apparent that the ‘Elder Lady’ is in fact Queen Tiye, mother of Akhenaten and that the DNA of the mummy is a close, if not direct, match to the lock of hair found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. The lock of hair was found in a coffinette bearing an inscription naming Queen Tiye. Results have discovered that she was the daughter of Yuya and Thuya, who were the parents of Queen Tiye, thus ruling her out as Nefertiti.
In 2015, English archaeologist Nicholas Reeves announced that he had discovered evidence in high resolution scans of Tutankhamun’s tomb “indications of two previously unknown doorways, one set within a larger partition wall and both seemingly untouched since antiquity…’To the north (there) appears to be signaled a continuation of tomb KV62, and within these uncharted depths an earlier royal interment – that of Nefertiti herself.”
On June 9, 2003, archaeologist Joann Fletcher, a specialist in ancient hair from the University of York in England, announced that Nefertiti’s mummy may have been the Younger Lady. Fletcher suggested that Nefertiti was the Pharaoh Smenkhkare. Some Egyptologists hold to this view though the majority believe Smenkhkare to have been a separate person. Fletcher led an expedition funded by the Discovery Channel to examine what they believed to have been Nefertiti’s mummy. However, it is well known that an independent researcher, Marianne Luban, was the first person to suggest that the KV35 Young Lady could be Nefertiti in an online article, “Do We Have the Mummy of Nefertiti?” published in 1999.
The team claimed that the mummy they examined was damaged in a way suggesting the body had been deliberately desecrated in antiquity. Mummification techniques, such as the use of embalming fluid and the presence of an intact brain, suggested an eighteenth-dynasty royal mummy. Other elements which the team used to support their theory were the age of the body, the presence of embedded nefer beads, and a wig of a rare style worn by Nefertiti. They further claimed that the mummy’s arm was originally bent in the position reserved for pharaohs, but was later snapped off and replaced with another arm in a normal position.
Most Egyptologists, among them Kent Weeks and Peter Lacovara, generally dismiss Fletcher’s claims as unsubstantiated. They say that ancient mummies are almost impossible to identify as a particular person without DNA. As bodies of Nefertiti’s parents or children have never been identified, her conclusive identification is impossible. Any circumstantial evidence, such as hairstyle and arm position, is not reliable enough to pinpoint a single, specific historical person. The cause of damage to the mummy can only be speculated upon, and the alleged revenge is an unsubstantiated theory. Bent arms, contrary to Fletcher’s claims, were not reserved to pharaohs; this was also used for other members of the royal family. The wig found near the mummy is of unknown origin, and cannot be conclusively linked to that specific body. Finally, the 18th dynasty was one of the largest and most prosperous dynasties of ancient Egypt. A female royal mummy could be any of a hundred royal wives or daughters from the 18th dynasty’s more than 200 years on the throne.
In addition to that, there was controversy about both the age and sex of the mummy. On June 12, 2003, Egyptian archaeologist Dr. Zahi Hawass, head of Egypt’s Supreme Council for Antiquities, also dismissed the claim, citing insufficient evidence. On August 30, 2003, Reuters further quoted Hawass: “I’m sure that this mummy is not a female”, and “Dr Fletcher has broken the rules and therefore, at least until we have reviewed the situation with her university, she must be banned from working in Egypt.” On different occasions, Hawass has claimed that the mummy is female and male.
In a more recent research effort led by Hawass, the mummy was put through CT scan analysis. Researchers concluded that she may be Tutankhamun’s biological mother, an unnamed daughter of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye, not Nefertiti. Fragments of shattered bone were found in the sinus, and blood clots were found. The theory that the damage was inflicted post-mummification was rejected, and a murder scenario was deemed more likely. The broken-off bent forearm found near the mummy, which had been proposed to have belonged to it, was conclusively shown not to actually belong to the Younger Lady. Scholars think that, after Tutankhamun returned Egypt to the traditional religion, he moved his closest relatives – father, grandmother, and biological mother — to the Valley of the Kings to be buried with him (according to the list of figurines and drawings in his tomb).
The bust of Nefertiti is believed to have been crafted about 1345 BC by the sculptor Thutmose. The bust does not have any inscriptions, but can be certainly identified as Nefertiti by the characteristic crown, which she wears in other surviving (and clearly labelled) depictions, for example the ‘house altar.
The bust was found on December 6, 1912, at Amarna (العمارنة — al-ʿamārnah) by the German Oriental Company (Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft, DOG), led by German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt. Amarna is an extensive Egyptian archaeological site that represents the remains of the capital city newly established and built by the Pharaoh Akhenaten of the late Eighteenth Dynasty, and abandoned shortly after his death in 1332 BC). The name for the city employed by the ancient Egyptians is written as Akhetaten (or Akhetaton, transliterations vary) in English transliteration. Akhetaten means “Horizon of the Aten”.
The area is located on the east bank of the Nile River in the modern Egyptian province of Minya, some 36 miles (58 km) south of the city of al-Minya, 194 miles (312 km) south of the Egyptian capital Cairo and 250 miles (402 km) north of Luxor. The city of Deir Mawas lies directly west across from the site of Amarna. Amarna, on the east side, includes several modern villages, chief of which are el-Till in the north and el-Hagg Qandil in the south.
The area was also occupied during later Roman and early Christian times; excavations to the south of the city have found several structures from this period.
The Nefertiti bust was found in what had been the sculptor Thutmose’s workshop, along with other unfinished busts of Nefertiti. Borchardt’s diary provides the main written account of the find; he remarks, “Suddenly we had in our hands the most alive Egyptian artwork. You cannot describe it with words. You must see it.”
A 1924 document found in the archives of the German Oriental Company recalls the January 20, 1913, meeting between Ludwig Borchardt and a senior Egyptian official to discuss the division of the archeological finds of 1912 between Germany and Egypt. According to the secretary of the German Oriental Company (who was the author of the document and who was present at the meeting), Borchardt “wanted to save the bust for us”. Borchardt is suspected of having concealed the bust’s real value, although he denied doing so.
While Philipp Vandenberg describes the coup as “adventurous and beyond comparison”, Time magazine lists it among the “Top 10 Plundered Artifacts”. Borchardt showed the Egyptian official a photograph of the bust “that didn’t show Nefertiti in her best light”. The bust was wrapped up in a box when Egypt’s chief antiques inspector Gustave Lefebvre came for inspection. The document reveals that Borchardt claimed the bust was made of gypsum to mislead the inspector. The German Oriental Company blames the negligence of the inspector and points out that the bust was at the top of the exchange list and says the deal was done fairly.
Germany issued a single 58-Euro cent stamp on January 2, 2013, to mark the centenary of the bust’s discovery. Designed by Stefan Klein and Olaf Neumann for the “Treasures of German Museums” series, Scott #2607 was printed by the State Printing Works in Berlin using offset lithography on white fluorescent paper with water-activated gum and comb-perforated at a gauge of 13¾. A self-adhesive booklet stamp using the same design and denomination was released on March 1, 2013 (Scott #2716). This version was printed on DP2 paper with die-cut perforations of 11½. Both varieties of the stamp measure 33 x 39 millimeters.
The bust of Nefertiti is 19 inches (48 centimeters) tall and weighs about 44 pounds (20 kilograms). It is made of a limestone core covered with painted stucco layers. The face is completely symmetrical and almost intact, but the left eye lacks the inlay present in the right. The pupil of the right eye is of inserted quartz with black paint and is fixed with beeswax. The background of the eye-socket is unadorned limestone. Nefertiti wears her characteristic blue crown known as the “Nefertiti cap crown” with a golden diadem band looped around like horizontal ribbons and joining at the back, and an Uraeus (cobra) over her brow — which is now broken. She also wears a broad collar with a floral pattern on it. The ears also have suffered some damage. Helen Gardner’s Art Through the Ages suggests that “With this elegant bust, Thutmose may have been alluding to a heavy flower on its slender sleek stalk by exaggerating the weight of the crowned head and the length of the almost serpentine neck.”
According to David Silverman, the Nefertiti bust reflects the classical Egyptian art style, deviating from the “eccentricities” of the Amarna art style, which was developed in Akhenaten’s reign. The exact function of the bust is unknown, though it is theorized that the bust may be a sculptor’s modello to be used as a basis for other official portraits, kept in the artist’s workshop.
When the bust was first discovered, no piece of quartz to represent the iris of the left eyeball was present, as in the other eye, and none was found despite an intensive search and a then significant reward of £1000 being put up for information regarding its whereabouts. Borchardt assumed that the quartz iris of the left eye had fallen out when the sculptor Thutmose’s workshop fell into ruin. The missing eye led to speculation that Nefertiti may have suffered from an ophthalmic infection, and actually lost her left eye, though the presence of an iris in other statues of her contradicted this possibility.
Dietrich Wildung proposed that the bust in Berlin was a model for official portraits and was used by the master sculptor for teaching his pupils how to carve the internal structure of the eye, and thus the left iris was not added. Gardner’s Art Through the Ages and Silverman presents a similar view that the bust was deliberately kept unfinished. Hawass suggested that Thutmose had created the left eye, but it was later destroyed.
Ludwig Borchardt commissioned a chemical analysis of the colored pigments of the head. The result of the examination was published in the book Portrait of Queen Nofretete in 1923:
- Blue: powdered frit, colored with copper oxide
- Skin color (light red): fine powdered lime spar colored with red chalk (iron oxide)
- Yellow: orpiment (arsenic sulfide)
- Green: powdered frit, colored with copper and iron oxide
- Black: coal with wax as a binding medium
- White: chalk
The bust was first CT scanned in 1992, with the scan producing cross sections of the bust every 5 millimeters (0.20 inches). In 2006, Dietrich Wildung, the director of Berlin’s Egyptian Museum, while trying a different lighting at the Altes Museum — where the bust was then displayed — observed wrinkles on Nefertiti’s neck and bags under her eyes, suggesting the sculptor had tried to depict signs of aging. A CT scan confirmed Wildung’s findings; Thutmose had added gypsum under the cheeks and eyes in an attempt to perfect his sculpture.
The CT scan in 2006, led by Alexander Huppertz, the director of the Imaging Science Institute in Berlin, revealed a wrinkled face of Nefertiti carved in the inner core of the bust. The results were published in the April 2009 Radiology Journal. The scan revealed that Thutmose placed layers of varying thickness on top of the limestone core. The inner face has creases around her mouth and cheeks and a swelling on the nose. The creases and the bump on the nose are leveled by the outermost stucco layer. According to Huppertz, this may reflect “aesthetic ideals of the era”. The 2006 scan provided greater detail than the 1992 one, revealing subtle details just 1–2 mm under the stucco.
The Nefertiti bust has been in Germany since 1913, when it was shipped to Berlin and presented to James Simon, a wholesale merchant and the sponsor of the Amarna excavation. It was displayed at Simon’s residence until 1913, when Simon loaned the bust and other artifacts from the Amarna dig to the Berlin Museum. Although the rest of the Amarna collection was displayed in 1913–1914, Nefertiti was kept secret at Borchardt’s request. In 1918, the Museum discussed the public display of the bust, but again kept it secret on the request of Borchardt.
It was permanently donated to the Berlin Museum in 1920. Finally, in 1923, the bust was first unveiled to the public in Borchardt’s writing and later in 1924, displayed to the public as part of the Egyptian Museum of Berlin (Ägyptisches Museum). The bust created a sensation, swiftly becoming a world-renowned icon of feminine beauty, and one of the most universally-recognized artifacts to survive from Ancient Egypt.
The Nefertiti bust was displayed in Berlin’s Neues Museum (“New Museum”) located to the north of the Altes Museum (“Old Museum”) on Museum Island until the museum was closed in 1939. With the onset of World War II, the Berlin museums were emptied and the artifacts moved to secure shelters for safekeeping. Nefertiti was initially stored in the cellar of the Prussian Governmental Bank and then, in the autumn of 1941, moved to the tower of a flak bunker in Berlin. The Neues Museum suffered bombings in 1943 by the Royal Air Force. On March 6, 1945, the bust was moved to a German salt mine at Merkers-Kieselbach in Thuringia.
In March 1945, the bust was found by the American Army and given over to its Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives branch. It was moved to the Reichsbank in Frankfurt and then, in August, shipped to the U.S. Central Collecting Point in Wiesbaden where it was displayed to the public in 1946. In 1956, the bust was returned to West Berlin. There it was displayed at the Dahlem Museum. As early as 1946, East Germany (German Democratic Republic) insisted on the return of Nefertiti to Museum Island in East Berlin, where the bust had been displayed before the war.
In 1967, Nefertiti was moved in the Egyptian Museum in Charlottenburg Palace (Schloss Charlottenburg), the largest palace in Berlin, and remained there until 2005, when it was moved to the Altes Museum. In the post-war period, the ruin of the Neues Museum in the Soviet occupied part of the city had been left decaying. Other museums on Museum Island used the least damaged areas of the building for storage. Reconstruction work was started in 1986 by the East German government, but it was halted after the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification. In the process, historical parts of the building were lost. For instance, the last remnants of the Egyptian courtyard were eliminated. In 1997, planning for the reconstruction project was resumed and English architect David Chipperfield was officially appointed for the project. On October 16, 2009, the Neues Museum officially reopened with the Nefertiti bust as its centerpiece.
The bust of Nefertiti has become “one of the most admired, and most copied, images from ancient Egypt”, and the star exhibit used to market Berlin’s museums. It is seen as an “icon of international beauty”. “Showing a woman with a long neck, elegantly arched brows, high cheekbones, a slender nose and an enigmatic smile played about red lips, the bust has established Nefertiti as one of the most beautiful faces of antiquity.” It is described as the most famous bust of ancient art, comparable only to the mask of Tutankhamun.
Ever since the official unveiling of the bust in Berlin in 1924, the Egyptian authorities have been demanding its return to Egypt. In 1925, Egypt threatened to ban German excavations in Egypt unless Nefertiti was returned. In 1929, Egypt offered to exchange other artifacts for Nefertiti, but Germany declined. In the 1950s, Egypt again tried to initiate negotiations but there was no response from Germany. Although Germany had previously strongly opposed the repatriation, in 1933 Hermann Göring considered returning the bust to King Farouk Fouad of Egypt as a political gesture. Hitler opposed the idea, and told the Egyptian government that he would build a new Egyptian museum for Nefertiti: “In the middle, this wonder, Nefertiti, will be enthroned, … I will never relinquish the head of the Queen.”
While the bust was under American control, Egypt requested the United States to hand it over; the USA refused and advised Egypt to take up the matter with the new German authorities. In 1989, the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak viewed the bust and announced that Nefertiti was “the best ambassador for Egypt” in Berlin.
Dr. Zahi Hawass, the former Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, believes that Nefertiti belongs to Egypt and that the bust was taken out of Egypt illegally and should therefore be returned. Dr. Hawass has maintained the stance that Egyptian authorities were misled over the acquisition of Nefertiti in 1913. He has demanded that Germany prove that it was exported legally. According to Kurt G. Siehr, another argument in support of repatriation is that “Archeological finds have their ‘home’ in the country of origin and should be preserved in that country.” The Nefertiti repatriation issue sprang up again in 2003 over the Body of Nefertiti sculpture. In 2005, Hawass requested UNESCO to intervene to return the bust.
In 2007, Hawass threatened to ban exhibitions of Egyptian artifacts in Germany if Nefertiti was not lent to Egypt, but to no avail. Hawass also requested a worldwide boycott of loans to German museums to initiate what he calls a “scientific war”. Hawass wanted Germany to at least lend the bust to Egypt in 2012 for the opening of the new Grand Egyptian Museum near the Great Pyramids of Giza. Simultaneously, a campaign called “Nefertiti Travels” was launched by cultural association CulturCooperation, based in Hamburg, Germany. They distributed postcards depicting the bust of Nefertiti with the words “Return to Sender” and wrote an open letter to the German Culture Minister, Bernd Neumann, supporting the view that Egypt should be given the bust on loan. In 2009, when Nefertiti moved back to the Neues Museum the appropriateness of Berlin as the bust’s location was questioned.
Several German art experts have attempted to refute all the claims made by Hawass, pointing to the 1924 document discussing the pact between Borchardt and the Egyptian authorities, though Borchardt has been accused of foul play in the deal. The German authorities have also argued the bust is too fragile to transport and that the legal arguments for the repatriation were insubstantial. According to The Times, Germany may be concerned that lending the bust to Egypt would mean its permanent departure from Germany.
In December 2009, Friederike Seyfried, the director of Berlin’s Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection, presented to the Egyptians documents held by the museum regarding the discovery of the bust which include a protocol signed by the German excavator of the bust and the Egyptian Antiquities Service. In the documents, the object was listed as a painted plaster bust of a princess. In the diary of Ludwig Borchardt, he clearly referred to it as the head of Nefertiti. “This proves that Borchardt wrote this description so that his country can get the statue,” Hawass commented “These materials confirm Egypt’s contention that (he) did act unethically with intent to deceive.” However, Hawass said Egypt didn’t consider the Nefertiti bust to be a looted antiquity. It is one of a handful of truly singular Egyptian antiquities still in foreign hands. “I really want it back,” he said. Hawass’ statement quoted the director of the museum as saying the authority to approve the return of the bust to Egypt lies with the Prussian Cultural Heritage and the German culture minister.
In 1930, the German press described the Nefertiti bust as their new monarch, personifying it as a queen. As the “‘most precious … stone in the setting of the diadem’ from the art treasures of ‘Prussia Germany'”, Nefertiti would re-establish the imperial German national identity after 1918. Hitler described the bust as “a unique masterpiece, an ornament, a true treasure”, and pledged to build a museum to house it. By the 1970s, the bust had become an issue of national identity to both German states — East Germany and West Germany — created after World War II.
In 1999, Nefertiti appeared on an election poster for the green political party Bündnis 90/Die Grünen as a promise for cosmopolitan and multi-cultural environment with the slogan “Strong Women for Berlin!” According to Claudia Breger, another reason that the Nefertiti bust became associated with a German national identity was its place as a rival to the Tutankhamun find by the British, who then ruled Egypt.
The bust became an influence on popular culture with Jack Pierce’s make-up work on Elsa Lanchester’s iconic hair style in the film Bride of Frankenstein being inspired by it.
Nefertiti has become an icon of Berlin’s culture. Some 500,000 visitors see Nefertiti every year. The bust is described as “the best-known work of art from ancient Egypt, arguably from all antiquity”.
In addition to those released by Germany in 2013, the bust of Nefertiti has appeared on many different countries’ stamps including Egypt (including Scott #360 released in 1953 and Scott #387 released October 15, 1956); a souvenir sheets by Mozambique in 2002 and 2013, Niger in 2016, Guinea-Bissau and Togo in 2013; Berlin (Scott #9N550, released July 14, 1988); a Scott-unlisted stamp by Fujeira in 1966; a diamond-oriented stamp by Monaco in 2012; and others.