Nefertiti was the leading representation of Egyptian female power and has been continuously represented across the ages. A member of the Court of Tel el-Amarna and Pharoh Akhenaten’s wife, she played a vital part in the politics of the Eighteenth Egyptian dynasty, and much of the focus and fascination is on her legendary beauty.
Together with the God Aten and her husband Akhenaten, Nefertiti was part of a divine trinity that was adored in Amarna. Her queenship stood out for the frequent monumental representations of the royal couple in intimate settings, as well as in close proximity with their daughters. Before then, official art had never portrayed rulers in familiar and private scenes.
During the Amarnian Era, she took on the name Neferneferuaten, which means “Aten’s beautiful splendor.” Prior to becoming queen there are no provable facts; she’s been thought to be Tey’s niece or daughter of Ay, however nothing has been conclusive. She’s believed to have married the Pharaoh between the age of 18 and 20, and the marriage is said to have produced six daughters during its first eight years. However, there is not enough information to support this claim, which perpetuates the shroud of mystery that has become part of the queen’s story throughout the centuries.
Nefertiti has been at the center of several studies regarding her political and religious power, as well as her beautiful image. In the words of Teresa Bedman, an archaeologist who has researched the Egyptian leading lady beyond her looks by focusing on her political personality:
“There is no doubt that Nefertiti became co-ruler, to the point of taking on a royal pseudo-title in order to command as co-regent in Amarna, as Pharaoh next to her husband. (…) During the first 12 years of her rule alongside her husband, she was undoubtedly the head of Egyptian female power. She reached a point of even eclipsing her mother-in-law, Tiye.”
Tiye was also queen and wife to Amenhotep III during the Eighteenth Egyptian Dynasty. She was one of the most charismatic women in Egypt’s history. Her power over the Pharaoh was so great that, not only were numerous statues dedicated to her, but also the royal palace of Malkata, west of Thebes, was built solely for her.
A hundred years after the discovery of Nefertiti’s bust by archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt in 1912, experts believe that the queen’s perfect features are more of a propagandist ploy to strengthen the new religion her husband promoted. “Painted bust of the queen, 47 centimeters tall. Colors still look fresh. Excellent work. Useless to try to describe, it’s better to see up close,” was what Borchardt wrote in his Amarna excavation journal on December 6, 1912.
Borchardt had been in Egypt for seventeen years and was one of the most recognized figures among foreign archeologists, as he had overseen several excavations. He ran the German Archaeological Institute in Cairo and was a part of the Egyptologist Committee, which advised the government on affairs relating to monuments and survey. However, this discovery would become his greatest achievement.
After the discovery, several historians made clear their beliefs that the queen, just as she is imagined by most, is merely an imaginative story created by Akhenaten and his ideologues to strengthen and consolidate the new religion they were trying to impose on the land: the worship of Aten (the solar disk). The name attributed to her in different literature is not a correct translation of “Aten’s beautiful splendor.”
Rolf Krauss is the German Egyptologist who uncovered Nefertiti’s secrets. He researched the whole story behind the queen’s bust and came to some interesting conclusions. To delve more into her legendary beauty, this specialist did a photogrammetry of the statue, which provided him with a precise 2D image.
Over that outline he traced a grid using one of ancient Egypt’s measuring units, the finger, which equals 0.738 inches. The result was as surprising as it was amazing, since each and every one of the features defining Nefertiti’s hypnotic face was found on a line or intersection of two lines of the grid.
Following the analysis, it was revealed that the face many considered to be one of the most perfect portraits of what is left of ancient Egyptian art was in fact an artificial construction intended to represent ideal beauty. It wasn’t an accurate depiction of the queen, but a model destined to be continuously copied, so that all of the territory would have identical images of their queen.
Translated by María Suárez