Was the famous bust of Nefertiti “abducted” from Egypt by a tricky excavation team? Professor Gernot Wilhelm, former president of the German Oriental Society, argues “no”; the bust left for Berlin with Egypt’s blessing.
“The epitome of tranquillity and harmony.” These are the words of Ludwig Borchardt, the German archaeologist who pulled the famous bust of Queen Nefertiti from the rubble of her husband’s dream city in December 1912. The official photograph of the find (above) was taken immediately afterwards.
Today, Nefertiti is adored by millions each year as the centrepiece of the Neues Museum in Berlin. She has also been at the heart of an ownership debate that has been raging for nearly a century.
Egypt wants her back, claiming that Borchardt had effectively hidden Nefertiti from view. Yet, according to Professor Wilhelm, an eyewitness account of the official division of finds from the 1912 excavations reveal that Nefertiti was on show, but largely ignored by the local antiquities inspector.
It seems that the inspector responsible for the division of finds was Gustave Lefebvre, who was not an Egyptologist but a classical philologist. His first love was ancient texts, not royal heads.
Even in its uncleaned state the bust still clearly represents a sensational find, and it is hard to imagine how it could have failed to catch Lefebvre’s attention. It may simply be that Nefertiti’s departure from Egypt was less about a deception on Borchardt’s part, and more about a bungling on Lefebvre’s.
What do you think?
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