Nefertiti bust was airbrushed

NefertitiThe famed bust of Nefertiti now in the Neues Museum in Berlin has long been considered an icon of beauty. It turns out to be very similar to contemporary images of beauty: nipped, tucked, botoxed and airbushed.

Historian Bettany Hughes was part of a team of researchers who took a CT scan of the Neues Nefertiti last week and she announced yesterday that the inner limestone template upon which the stucco outer shell was built presents a less idealized version of the queen. She’s still a great beauty, but the first face seems to have been a more realistic rendering, complete with crows’ feet and nose bumps.

This confirms the CT scan results German researchers got last year. They found the limestone face has less prominent cheekbones, a bump on the bridge of the nose, smile lines around the mouth and cheeks, and less depth at the corners of the eyelids. The sculptor Thutmose, in whose workshop it was found and to whom it is attributed, may have done the limestone carving from life and then built up the stucco to be more in accordance with their cultural notions of ideal beauty.

“That statue is still very beautiful,” [Hughes] said, “but not as beautiful. It showed her nose was bent, and that she had wrinkles around her eyes. It’s a real portrait of a real woman. We’re now going to a tomb in the Valley of the Kings where we think Nefertiti’s sister is to see if the dynasty has the same features.”

Ms Hughes, who flew out to Egypt immediately after yesterday’s event, said the Nefertiti scan was likely to reveal much more about the dynasty, of whom Tutenkhamen is the most famous member.

It may even help lead archaeologists to Nefertiti’s remains. Her tomb has never been found, but there are a number of identified mummies that are believed to be part of her family. The new information about her looks might provide more data to find a match.

I don’t know if that’s really likely, however. I mean, did anyone really expect the Nefertiti bust to be an exact replica of the queen, to the point where a potential mummy would be ruled out on the grounds of it not precisely matching the sculpted version of her? It’s hardly shocking news that portraiture and propaganda have gone hand in hand for millennia.