The Nefertiti bust is one of the most well-known pieces of art from Ancient Egypt and a strong contender to the title of most famous bust of all-time. The painted stucco-coated limestone bust depicts Nefertiti, the Great Royal Wife of Akhenaten, an identification made because the iconic cap crown worn by the unlabelled bust is the same one worn in labelled depictions of the queen. The bust's creator is theorized to be Thutmose, the royal sculptor, on account that it was discovered in his workshop in Amarna at the end of 1912. The bust is furthermore given a creation date of 1345 BC and was the one complete bust among several.
The discovery of the bust was made by the German archeologist Ludwig Borchardt, who took it back to Germany with him by downplaying the bust's significance in his excavation reports so that Egypt wouldn't object. The bust fell into the care of James Simon, the sponsor of the Amarna excavation, for less than a year. It was then first lent and later donated to the Neues Museum in Berlin, which put it on display eleven years later in 1924. The bust was a hit with the international community and has been integrated in the Berlin identity ever since. The unveiling also alerted Egypt of the sour deal they'd been manipulated into when they let Germany take part of the Amarna finds. This was the start of ongoing demands for the bust to be returned to Egypt, even if temporarily, all of which have been denied so far. In 2009, the claim arose that the Nefertiti bust is a fake, but material analysis and historical documentation provide no credence to this proposition.
There are two areas of damage on the Nefertiti bust that draw special attention. The first is the left eye, which is missing the painted quartz iris that's glued into the right eye socket by means of beeswax. Suggestions as to why the left iris is missing range from the bust not being completed, Nefertiti herself having had an eye condition, the iris having fallen out (and never found despite intense searching), and the iris being intentionally removed for teaching purposes. While there's no conclusive answer, at least the first two suggestions have been deemed unlikely because everything else about the bust is complete and no other depiction of Nefertiti is one-irised. The second area of damage is the missing uraeus, the upstanding cobra signifying the divinity of the pharaoh, that should've been at the base of the yellow vertical line running down the cap crown. This piece is broken off and, like the left iris, has never been found. Modern depictions in art and fiction of Nefertiti wearing her crown may or may not include the uraeus.
Aside from its antique art fame, the Nefertiti bust also influenced the modern Western horror landscape by being the inspiration behind the Beehive Hairdo of the Bride in the 1935 film Bride of Frankenstein. Whether there's also a connection between the bust, as part of Ancient Egypt's image, and the Bride's mummy-esque elements is unknown and it should be noted that links between Frankenstein's Monster and mummies precede the film.
This sculpture provides examples of:
- Adaptational Attractiveness: The bust depicts an idealized version of Nefertiti. CT scans that have been performed in 1992 and 2006 confirm that the sculpture underneath the stucco includes stronger signs of aging on the queen than present on the outside, such as wrinkles on the neck and a bump on the nose. The stucco is applied so as to diminish the blemishes.
- Color Contrast: The colors of the bust contrast along two duos. Primarily, there's the presence of Orange/Blue Contrast from the blue of the crown against its own gold and Nefertiti's brown skin. Secondarily, there's the Red/Green Contrast from the green and red band that encircles the crown in the middle and vertically splits into three bands at the back of the crown. It all makes for a striking look.
- Cool Crown: The cap crown Nefertiti wears is unique to her and due to its presence on the bust one of the best-known Ancient Egyptian crowns. For comparison, it's easily more recognizable than the khepresh worn by Akhenaten and other pharaohs.
- Everything's Sparkly with Jewelry: Aside from the cap crown, the bust wears a luxurious golden collar piece with blue, green, and red elements that match the crown's colors.
- Fashionable Asymmetry: The missing left iris gives the bust an allure it wouldn't have had with it.
- Historical Beauty Update: For the longest time the bust was put on display so that the light hid the wrinkles and other signs of aging the bust depicted Nefertiti with, thus making her appear more youthful and kick-starting the queen's status as one of the World's Most Beautiful Women. And this is on top of the bust already being an idealized version of her!
- Serpent of Immortality: The yellow vertical line on Nefertiti's crown used to end in a uraeus, the upstanding cobra signifying the divinity of the pharaoh. Unsurprisingly for such a frail component, it's broken off sometime between 1345 BC and the present.
- Signature Headgear: There have been many crowns in Ancient Egyptian history, and due to Nefertiti's bust, her crown is one of the better known among them in the present day. Nefertiti is also the only one known to have worn this crown and it's so strongly associated with her that, on one hand, the nameless crown is referred to as hers ("the Nefertiti crown (cap)") and on the other, if someone shows up wearing this crown, no guesses that they're Nefertiti.
- Simple, yet Opulent: Nefertiti's crown cap looks simple enough at first glance, but there's a magnificent level of detail that shows quality. From the green-and-red band encircling the rich blue base to the golden uraeus reaching down across the front to the elegant two strips of red cloth at the base of the back, it all speaks of grandeur. Because the bust is leading in how the crown cap is imagined in today's world, the lack of the uraeus and the easily missed strips of cloth (both of which are prominent in carvings) cause those parts to be left out of modern depictions of Nefertiti a good amount of times.
- Statuesque Stunner: Even if it's just a bust, there's tallness to it owing to the long, naked neck, the high cheekbones, and of course the crown that nearly doubles the height. The missing uraeus may even add to the sense of length because without it the bust's profile from forehead to crown is an unbroken line. "Nefer" means "(inner and outer) beauty", but Nefertiti's status as one of the World's Most Beautiful Women is a modern one and largely based on the bust.
- Stock Unsolved Mysteries: The fate of the bust's left iris is a mystery and the only clues available do no more than rank some of several theories as "less likely".