Has the world been blinded by Nefertiti’s beauty?

Nefertiti’s beguiling bust has today made her one of the most widely recognised figures of the ancient world. But, asks Joyce Tyldesley, do this Egyptian queen’s accomplishments 3,000 years ago really merit her modern-day acclaim?


In 1333 BC the young Egyptian king Tutankhamun decided to abandon the royal city of Amarna. The sculptor Thutmose, supervisor of a large workshop specialising in the production of royal images, was a man entirely dependent on royal patronage. He had little choice but to pack up his tools and follow his king. Thutmose sailed away from Amarna, leaving behind a city filled with royal sculptures and a storeroom crammed with unwanted works of art.

Not long after his departure, the city’s sculptures were viciously attacked by those opposed to the Amarna regime, and many of the statues were reduced to fragments. The storeroom, however, remained untouched. Here, on 6 and 7 December 1912, a German archaeological team led by Ludwig Borchardt discovered more than 50 pieces, including a startlingly lifelike bust of a queen. The woman was unlabelled, but she wore the unique flat-topped blue crown that identified her as Nefertiti, consort to Tutankhamun’s predecessor, Akhenaten.

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