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Thursday, March 29, 2012


Ever since I was a kid and saw a replica of the bust of Queen Nefertiti for sale in the Metropolitan Museum of Art catalog, I've wanted one. I wanted one then because it was obviously a mystical ancient Egyptian replica of an enchantingly beautiful woman.  I wanted one now because of all that, and because I know more about Nefertiti.

And finally I got one, today in the mail!  And it's even larger than the one I drooled over in the Metropolitan Museum of Art catalog! There are advantages to growing up.

Nefertiti, whose name means the beautiful one has arrived, born about 1370 B.C. and died about 1330 B.C., was the wife of Pharaoh Amenhotep IV, who changed his name to Akhenaten. They ruled about 12 years in Egypt's 18th Dynasty. Sounds pretty boring, except that Akhenaten and Nefertiti were rebels who enjoyed unprecedented power.

In the middle of Egypt's bureaucracy of polytheism, cluttered with staid images of all sorts of gods, Akhenaten and Nefertiti preached that there is but one God, Aten, symbolized by the life-giving sun. Their artistic image of Aten was the sun disk with many long rays coming down from it, and at the end of each ray was a hand, and many of the hands held the ankh, a symbol of the key of life, or crux ansata (Latin meaning cross with a handle).

This one God idea, monotheism, was unheard of in their day, but somehow this was revealed to them, and the polytheistic priests didn't appreciate it. Neither did the artisans who had a good business carving the countless images of the many gods. With both religion and business down on them in the capital of Thebes, Akhenaten and Nefertiti, I imagine with knowing grins, abandoned the renowned city and moved out into the desert, and built a new capital at Amarna. There images of all the gods other than Aten, the one true God, were forbidden.

And there they enjoyed their new life under one God. Whereas Egyptian art thus far had displayed people as straight and unrealistic images, the new Pharaoh and Queen had fashioned all over the new city more realistic-looking people, even with imperfections. Akhenaten and Nefertiti and their six daughters were often portrayed nude, as they often were. Images were made of the couple riding together in a chariot, kissing each other in public, and with Nefertiti sitting on Akhenaten's knee.

They were also considered by some scholars to be pacifists to a fault. As distant allies were attacked by Egypt's enemies, Akhenaten and Nefertiti were accused of not sending warriors to help them, and so Egypt lost much of its power. So this Pharaoh and Queen are thought to have been sort of the "flower children" of their day, trying to create a utopian life in Amarna. Eventually the corruption of the polytheistic priests, and the many people who didn't really want to give up their pet gods, overwhelmed Akhenaten and Nefertiti and their dream; and the couple, first he and then she, disappeared, cause of death uncertain.

This bust of Nefertiti is one of the most copied pieces of ancient Egyptian art, attributed to the sculptor Thutmose. When the capital moved back to Thebes, Amarna was left to the winds, along with several images of the beautiful Nefertiti left behind in Thutmose's shop because no one wanted them. The original bust of Nefertiti now sits in Berlin's Neues Museum.

Here's a eulogy to Nefertiti found on the boundary stelae of Akhenaten:

And the Heiress, Great in the Palace, Fair of Face, 
Adorned with the Double Plumes, Mistress of Happiness, 
Endowed with Favors, at hearing whose voice the King rejoices, 
the Chief Wife of the King, his beloved, the Lady of the Two Lands, 
Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti, May she live for Ever and Always.

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  1. She was beautiful, and not a wrinkle on her...Uncle Miltie

  2. Man, I know you would enjoy Thomas Mann's Joseph and His Brothers. It's a big book, but rewarding!

  3. Dale congratulations for history lesson. I had read a lot about these two historical people but you compared them with the hippie movement very well. I never thought about the fact that they had ideas like modern day hippies, but it is true. You do have a good point there. Very good analisis.

  4. Dear dale,
    I am looking for images of Nefertiti and Akhenaton nude on Google, but can't seem to find them. You write that they were often depicted as such; do you have links?

    This morning, I woke up in a forest, a little cold and I was having thoughts about reviving their sun-worship, including going in the nude. :)

    1. Two of them are above - the sculpture of Nefertiti, and the picture of Nefertiti and Akhenaten seated on their thrones. There are several to be found by googling Nefertiti and Akhenaten, e.g. http://www.ancient-egypt.co.uk/metropolitan/images/amenhotep%20IV%20daughters.jpg
      I am surprised that two of my favorites are not found in a google search. I found them in a magazine that's now somewhere in storage and I may have my own picture on the wall of a tomb before I could find it. One is of the couple on their thrones and their nude daughters standing behind them. Another is of Nefertiti and Akhenaten riding nude in a chariot through the city. If I run across the magazine, or find them elsewhere, I'll post the two pictures above.

    2. Jurgen, I'm adding an example from page 214, volume 1 of "A Picturesque Tale of Progress," illustrating Akhenaton and Nefertiti (sitting on the other side of him) and their six daughters nude.

  5. Good share and good for them! I love you and always am sitting on your lap kissing you and adoring the one true God with you! Lili Flowers