A major new exhibition to mark the 100th anniversary of the discovery of the world-famous bust of Nefertiti opens tomorrow (7 December) at the Neues Museum, Berlin.

With some 400 objects on display, including never-before seen artefacts from the museum’s collections, as well as loans from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Louvre, and the British Museum, In the Light of Amarna sets out to provide a deeper archaeological understanding of the revolutionary period in which the ancient Egyptian queen lived.

Together with her husband, the pharaoh Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV), Nefertiti presided over the city of Amarna, a new capital founded in the mid-14th century BC, in the middle of the desert far from traditional powerbases. This was not the only break with the past that their reign saw – the ‘Amarna period’ also witnessed the establishment of a (short-lived) new religion, discarding the animal-headed gods that the ancient Egyptians had worshipped for generations, in favour of the Aten sun disc.

Artistic styles also underwent dramatic changes, with depictions of the royal family becoming both much more stylised, and much more personal than ever before. But these cultural innovations did not survive Akhenaten’s death, and within 15 years of its foundation, Amarna had been abandoned.

Between 1912 and 1913, excavations led by German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt uncovered much of the city including the workshop of a sculptor called Thutmose, which still contained pieces of sculpture, together with pigments and tools used by the artisan. On 6 December 1912, the team found a stunning bust of Nefertiti wearing a tall blue crown.

In the Light of Amarna tells this story, exploring both the radical steps in art and theology that Nefertiti and Akhenaten oversaw, but also revealing what everyday life was like for the city’s inhabitants, with displays of jewellery, ceramics, architectural fragments and statues. The discovery of the bust is placed in the wider context of Borchardt’s excavations,  providing a wider perspective on the research that brought Nefertiti’s world to light once more.


In the Light of Amarna runs at the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection, part pf the Neues Museum on Berlin’s Museum Island, from 7 December 2012- 13 April 2013

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