My ARCHAEO-Crush of August is one of the most beautiful ancient Egyptian sculptures… one that is somewhat controversial. Isn’t it always the case with Nefertiti?
Photo of the bust of Nefertiti that I took in 2009 during my last visit to the Museum.
THE BUST OF NEFERTITI Type: artefact (painted sculptor’s model) Civilisation: Ancient Egypt Date: New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, reign of King Akhenaten (14th century BCE) ARCHAEO-Crush: It goes without saying that this is one of the most beautiful and most well-known sculpture from ancient Egypt. This spectacular bust represents Queen Nefertiti, the wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten, whose name means the beautiful one has come. The statue is carved from limestone and augmented with plaster and beautifully painted in polychrome. It was discovered in 1912 by Ludwig Borchardt of the German mission excavating at El-Amarna–the city founded by Akhenaten. The statue of Nefertiti wasn’t discovered in a tomb (we still haven’t found the queen’s tomb despite rumours you may have heard recently) but in the studio of a sculptor named Thutmose at Amarna. Early in the 20th century, the Egyptian Antiquities Service would share the archaeological discoveries excavated by foreign missions working in Egypt–this is called ‘partage’ (from the French word meaning ‘to share’) and it seems that Borchardt may not have presented this particular discovery looking its best so that it would be given to Germany rather than kept in Cairo. The bust is now at the Ägyptisches Museum (Egyptian Museum) in Berlin, which is located in the Neues Museum on Museum Island. Some scholars have also grumbled about its authenticity, thinking that it was actually made in 1912 and that the bust is in fact modern! The beautiful Nefertiti–a real ancient women of whose origins and death we know very little–will undoubtedly remain mysterious for a little while longer… and so will her now-famous and incredibly beautiful bust. Bucket list status: I have actually seen this sculpture twice: the first time in its old home at Charlottenburg and more recently when the Neues Museum reopened. One should drop by the Egyptian Museum just to see her… she’s the Mona Lisa of Berlin! It’s worth the brouhaha. Additional information: There are loads of books that have been written about Nefertiti and her husband Akhenaten or the so-called Amarna Period…
The recent work on the NCMA’s statue of a Bacchus was featured in my post on August 11; however, there appeared yesterday on Circa, the Museum blog, a fabulous post (if I may say so myself) that delves into the actual UV examination and the Bacchus Conservation Project like never before. Check out the very awesome video on Circa: Black Light on Bacchus: Inside a UV Exam.
I have to thank Luke for the video editing, sound editing and film footage, Karen M. and Chris for the stills and UV photos, Karen K. for the post storyboard and editing, Stacey and Corey for their conservation eye, Maggie and the guys for moving Bacchus around, Noelle for poking her head in the studio once in a while to check if we needed anything and Emily for mentioning our UV session on social media (which actually attracted the attention of journalists).
Over the last few days, I have been bombarded with questions regarding the “discovery” of Nefertiti’s tomb. People are asking me if it’s true, has Nefertiti’s tomb been discovered? (There are several articles online…)
So what do I think? Well, first off, nothing was discovered. My colleague, Nick Reeves, believes that he has detected fissures in the painted walls of Tutankhamun’s tomb that may be indicative of entrances to previously unnoticed chambers. His hypothesis is based on the study of photographs and scans made of Tutankhamun’s tomb in order to create a facsimile of it.
That being said, the (obvious) next step is to verify whether these chambers actually exist. (Reeves himself has stated that his hypothesis needs to be verified in the field.) Considering that these supposed chambers are located behind the only two painted plaster walls of Tutankhamun’ tomb, this necessitates much cogitation and the approval of the Minister for Antiquities of Egypt. A geophysical survey is probably the way to go in determining if the rooms do exist. Geologists have all sorts of ground penetrating radars, magnetometers, etc… that could help.
If they do exist, only archaeological excavation will tell us if we are in fact dealing with the tomb of Nefertiti–and that’s going to be problematic to say the least. Let’s not forget that these supposed rooms are extensions of Tutankhamun’s tomb; one needs to find a way to enter said chambers without destroying the most well-known royal tomb in Egypt. However, like many colleagues, I think it is premature to put forth the identity of the owner of these chambers. Several Egyptologists have commented on the ‘discovery’ and many doubt that the previously unknown rooms could actually belong to the famous queen. (Read hereand hereand here, for example.)
So. Has Nefertiti’s tomb been discovered? My answer is no. It is much to early to confirm anything about anything at this point. Let’s just wait and see what happens.
This week, I had planned a three or four day photography session of the statue of Bacchus… the statue that is soon to be object of a special conservation project. The session included regular photography, documentary photography and videography as well as UV examination and photography. Basically, Bacchus got the treatment he did not receive last summer during our nights at the museum.
The statue was brought to the museum’s photo studio and we spent the whole day examining every surface and every break under ultraviolet and regular light. Below are some pictures I took with my BlackBerry (and one is courtesy of Corey and her iPhone–that would be the one of me on the ladder with Chris).
The marble statue of Bacchus in the photo studio.
Yours truly holding the ladder so that Chris can wave a UV wand during an exposure and illuminate the top of Bacchus (where the big UV lamps don’t reach).
Weird ghost-like photo… it seems I took my shot at the same time as the strobes went off—overloading my camera with light. Cool, huh?
What perfect lighting does: show incredible details in the sculpted marble. Isn’t it amazing?
Side view of Bacchus under UV and the detail of the arm join on the computer.
Photographing every little detail of Bacchus: here Luke holds a reflector to dispel shadows as Karen takes a photo… of either Bacchus’ bum or the cracks in the joins in his thigh.
It looks like Bacchus sat in a puddle of radioactive goo… but the yellow-green stuff you see is the fluorescence of the restoration materials.
We were so efficient and everything went so smoothly that we were done by 3pm today! Bacchus was done in one day! All of us working on this project were rather pleased because it means we have the rest of the week to catch up on stuff. In my case, I’ll work on a conference presentation… and, if I can get that done quickly, get back to my revisions of an article slated for publication. I’m so glad we finished early!
Today, as I read the Egyptologists’ Electronic Forum (EEF) News, an odd little thing caught my eye and had me howling with laughter at work. (Luckily the others who have an office near mine were all on vacation…) There was a link to an article about a rather obscure Egyptian deity called Medjed and the reaction of the Japanese public when they saw this rather peculiar god back in 2012 in an exhibition of Egyptian art from the British Museum… and how it developed over the last few years.
I have to agree with the Japanese, though, Medjed is absolutely adorable. Imagine an ancient Egyptian wearing a ghost costume for Halloween. That’s what Medjed looks like. You don’t believe me? Check out the article: The Obscure Egyptian God and His Bizarre Afterlife on the Japanese Internet. Like I said, hysterically funny! Only in Japan, I tell you. Only in Japan. Sayonara!
Recently I spent a few days with Dr. Jasper Gaunt, specialist of ancient Greece and curator at the Carlos Museum, invited to help me continue with the research on the Classical collection. We looked at Greek ceramics and bronzes, both in the galleries and in the conservation lab. I have added below a couple of my own pictures, but you should read what I wrote for Circa, the Museum blog. It mentions some exciting discoveries (well, exciting to specialists in the field!), so take a look at today’s Circa post: It’s all Greek.
Dr. Gaunt examining a Greek hydria in the galleries.
Dr. Gaunt consulting a file during the study of the Museum’s Greek material.