Monday, February 4, 2013

NEFERTITI: LADY OF ALL WOMEN

 
Philip Pikart: Neues Museum, Berlin
"Great of Praises; Lady of Grace; Sweet of Love; Lady of The Two Lands; Lady of all Women; Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt."

These were all her titles; but we know her now simply as Nefertiti, the great royal wife of the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten.

She was made famous by her bust: (a little like Dolly Parton.) But Nefertiti's bust is now in Berlin’s Neues Musem, where it preserves her transfixing beauty for all time. This astonishing piece of art is  attributed to the sculptor Thutmose. It has made Nefertiti the most famous Egyptian queen in history, with the possible exception of Cleopatra VII.

Her husband was Amenhotep IV and after they were married he built a temple dedicated to her at Karnak. It was called the Mansion of the Benben and, extraordinarily for the times, she was depicted in temple carvings almost twice as often as her husband and in scenes that would have normally been the prerogative of the king - such as taking a sword to the nation’s enemies.

offered by LI and A Curtis. Photo:Rama
In the fourth year of his reign, he instigated a religious revolution, moving his capital to Amarna and changing his name to Akhenaten, He decreed that Egypt would now worship just a single deity  - abandoning all of Egypt's traditional gods for a single deity, the sun god, Aten.

Some scholars argue that it was Nefertiti (literally, 'the beauty has come') who persuaded him to make this controversial move.  She certainly embraced the change wholeheartedly. In all the statues and carvings of her she wears the same fashion as God's Wife, a clinging robe tied with a red sash, a short rounded hairstyle, a diadem bearing a double uraei.

 

She held a special position in Akenaten’s esteem and affections: "..  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."

They are seen in temple reliefs with their family - they had six known daughters - in idealized poses. The king is depicted riding with her in a chariot, or kissing her or with her sitting on his knee.


photo: Keith Schengili-Roberts
Nefertiti enjoyed unprecedented power and by the twelfth year of his reign was possibly elevated to the status of co-regent, for women were not only basic to his romantic and family life, but also his thinking and to his faith. The woman about Akhenaten were depicted in every representation of ritual or state ceremony conducted by the king in honour of the sun god.

She shared her husband with at least two other royal wives. Each of the royal women had her own sanctuary, called a 'sunshade temple,' an oasis of palms and water pools, for they were considered vital in the renewing of the creation principle and communing with with the god Aten.
 

In fact, women were so highly valued in Atenhaten's Egypt, it is hard to find true comparisons in history. 

But neither Atenhaten nor Nefertiti could live for Ever and Always. When he died, her likeness was carved onto the four corners of his granite sarcophagus to protect his body, a place traditionally reserved for the female gods, Isis, Nephthys, Selket and Neith.

Around 1330 BC Nefertiti also disappeared from the royal records, and it is suspected she died from a plague that was sweeping the city at that time. Her mummy has never been found or identified.


Atenhaten's son, Tutankhaten became the next pharaoh. He changed his name to Tutankhamun, abandoned Amarna and returned the seat of government to Thebes and the state religion to the worship of Amun.

Nefertiti's time as Lady of All Women was brief; but thanks to Thutmose, we can still gaze at 'the beauty has come' forever.




Colin Falconer is the author of the internationally bestselling CLEOPATRA, DAUGHTER OF THE NILE and over twenty other novels. 

See more history from Colin Falconer at  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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