A chance discovery made in 1913 by German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt led to the century-old appreciation of ancient Egyptian art and beauty. The discovery in question here pertains to the renowned Nefertiti Bust (pictured above), a painted gypsum-coated limestone sculpture, currently kept at the Neues Museum in Berlin, that is widely believed to be one of the masterpieces of sculptor Thutmose, dating from circa 1345 BC. The bust with its bevy of intricate facial features obviously depicts the ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti. And while she is widely acclaimed for her perceived beauty, there are still parcels of mysteries from her actual lifetime that remain unsolved even in our modern times.
Now historically, Neferneferuaten Nefertiti (circa 1370 – circa 1330 BC), was an Egyptian queen who also held the ceremonial title of the Great Royal Wife. Essentially, she was the main wife (and thus chief consort) of Akhenaten, the Egyptian Pharaoh who instigated the controversial religious revolution that led to the worship of the singular entity of Aten (the sun disc). Simply put, Nefertiti reign as Egyptian queen coincided with an epoch of unprecedented cultural and religious upheaval in the ancient realm.
However, even beyond the scope of her reign, historians are still not sure about Nefertiti’s origins. The prevalent hypothesis pertains to the genealogy that she was the daughter of Ay, who was later proclaimed as the Pharaoh Kheperkheperure (and was the main power behind Tutankhamun, son of Akhenaten and possibly one his sisters). But the obstacle to this hypothesis relates to the lack of inscriptions that definitely mention that Ay was the father of Nefertiti.
In any case, what we do know about Nefertiti, comes from the royal portrayals on the numerous walls and temples built during the reign of Pharaoh Akhenaten. In fact, the depiction styles (and prevalence) of Nefertiti were almost unprecedented in Egyptian history till that point, with the portrayals quite often representing the queen in positions of power and authority. These ranged from depicting her as one of the central figures in the worship of Aten to even representing her as a warrior elite riding the chariot (as presented inside the tomb of Meryre), and smiting her enemies.
And talking about depictions, reconstruction specialist M.A. Ludwig has taken a shot at recreating the facial features of the famed Queen Nefertiti with the aid of photoshop. Based on the renowned limestone Nefertiti Bust, Ludwig makes this point clear about the facial reconstruction –
I’ve seen artists try to bring out the living likeness of Queen Nefertiti many times, and some of the most famous attempts, though good in and of themselves, always seem to adjust her facial features to match certain contemporary standards of beauty in some way, which really isn’t necessary because the original bust of Nefertiti is already so beautiful and lifelike. I took the chance of leaving the bust’s features entirely as they are, only replacing the paint and plaster with flesh and bone. The result is absolutely stunning.
As for Nefertiti’s husband Akhenaten and his religious revolution, the pharaoh (who was also known as Amenhotep IV) declared a monotheistic (or possibly henotheistic) mode of religious affiliation across all of Egypt, with the worship centered around Aten – a solar deity who was proclaimed by the ruler to be above the other Egyptian gods. Such a radical promulgation had deep reaching effects in the Egyptian society and ultimately resulted in counter-implementations of the traditional pantheon system – so much so that the legacy of Akhenaten was intentionally wiped out (or at least tried) by his successors after the defiant pharaoh’s death.
Now genealogically, Akhenaten was one of the younger sons of Pharaoh Amenhotep III and Chief Queen Tiye. And interestingly enough, Tiye herself possibly had foreign origins, possibly from her father’s side – as suggested by her unconventional religious and political views. And in spite of her seemingly exotic beliefs, a substantial number of shrines and a temple were dedicated to Tiye in Nubia where she was worshipped as one of the entities of the goddess Hathor-Tefnut.
Ludwig also reconstructed the facial features of Akhenaten (presented in the following video), and this is what the specialist had to say about the recreation –
This reconstruction was based largely on the combined images of Amenhotep III and his skull, Queen Tiye’s image and her [probably] known Nubian heritage, and numerous depictions of Akhenaten himself all cast into more “normal” proportions. It can be said here that Akhenaten definitely inherited more of his mother’s features than his father.