We'll start with the lesser news of the day, yet another attempt to tell us what the real Nefertiti really really looked like.
Two Italian scholars -- Franco Crevatin , an ethnologist at Trieste University, and Stefano Anselmo, an expert in the history of cosmetics -- have created a computer-generated image (left) which they believe is closer to Queen Nefertiti's actual face than the one shown in the famous painted bust (below left) displayed in Berlin's newly-opened Neues Museum.*
You may remember the hot news last March when the statue of the most beautiful woman in the world, Nefertiti, went through a CT scan [if you don't remember, have a look now at Vanity, Thy Name is Uppity Woman, which tells you all you need to know]. Briefly, the scan revealed a hidden face under the painted plaster: inside the bust was a limestone core that was, in fact, a highly detailed inner sculpture of the queen. And this limestone face differed in small but significant ways from the external plaster face:
The inner face had less prominent cheekbones, a slight bump on the ridge of the nose, marked wrinkles around the corner of the mouth and cheeks, and less depth at the corners of the eyelids.
Starting from the entirely reasonable assumption that the outer image had been idealized (for portrait painters have always smoothed away their client's blemishes, bumps, and wrinkles), the Italians took the inner core as the 'true' picture of the queen.
"To reconstruct the face," Stefano Anselmo says, "I studied the art of the 18th Dynasty, the epoch of Akhenaten: masterpieces which depict persons possibly physically related to the queen. The artists preferred curved lines for the faces. Taking account of the imperfections revealed by the CAT scan I created slight hints of sagging around the lips, similar to lines, and the first signs of circles under the eyes."
And, as cosmetician, he added, "I worked mainly on the complexion, replacing the greys of the CT scan with a biscuit-amber tone, which was presumably the skin colour of Nefertiti."
I can buy the subtle differences -- shallower eye sockets, less pronounced cheekbones, lines around the mouth and a tiny bump on the bridge of the nose. I'm less convinced by the thickening of her lips or rounding of the chin. (I see no justification for these changes: check back to scrutinize her scanned images on the earlier post).
But the skin colour truly shocks.
Compare the colour painted on the plaster bust as she now appears (left). The artist certainly didn't idealistically lighten her skin (or she would have been chalk-white, as women often are on wall paintings). Rather, her skin has very much the tone you see on Egyptian women today.
You don't believe me?
Have a good look at the luscious Khadiga el-Gamal (right), wife of the
''Reproducing the face of a queen who is surrounded by such mystery required months of painstaking, detailed work,'' Franco Crevatin said.
Yes, indeed. Perhaps they should have spent more of this time travelling in Egypt. And less time contemplating Black Athena.
Lovely earrings, though.
Who Two-Timed Whom?
The new reconstruction will add just one more controversy to the many Nefertiti disputes that continue more than 3,500 years after her death.
Hot right now is the issue of repatriation: does she stay in Berlin or hotfoot it back to Egypt? This tug-of-war plagued her triumphant exhibition as the über Meisterwerk in Berlin's Museum Island's Neues Museum. The Egyptian Antiquities Department allege that she was exported illegally by the German excavation team in 1912. "Entirely legal!" huff and puff the Germans.
More on "Two-Timing Nefertiti?" in the next post.
Meanwhile, here she is in all her outer glory:
* Their findings were published this month in Focus Storia, an online history journal.
Upper left: Reconstruction of the 'true face' of Nefertiti, © Stefano Anselmo, Casa della Vita
Centre left: Image of the bust of Nefertiti courtesy the Neues Museum
Lower right: Photograph of Khadiga el-Gamal from ArabianBusiness.com
Video of the bust in the Neues Museum: Eine Kurzfilm von Kathrin Rosi Würtz (via YouTube.com)