Joyce A. Tyldesley attempts to unravel the many mysteries surrounding Nefertiti by looking at archaeological evidence, religious and mortuary art, and architecture from the New Kingdom's late 18th dynasty. While we don't know where Nefertiti came from, what happened to her when she suddenly disappeared, when or where she died, or what happened to her corpse, we know much about other major figures in her life.
Nefertiti: Egypt's Sun Queen
New York: Viking; 1998.
In Nefertiti, Joyce A. Tyldesley attempts to unravel the many mysteries surrounding Queen Nefertiti by looking at archaeological evidence, religious and mortuary art, and architecture from the late 18th dynasty, which is in ancient Egypt's New Kingdom period.
While we don't know where Nefertiti came from, what happened to her when she suddenly disappeared, when or where she died, or what happened to her corpse, we do know a fair amount about other major figures in her life.
Rich and powerful, the pharaohs from Nefertiti's husband's grandfather (Thutmosis IV) forward, broke traditions, engaged in conspicuous building programs, and inaugurated novel fashions. Such sartorial statements include the pleated kilt (to which Christine El Mahdy, in a similar biography of Tutankhamen, attributes the appearance of Akhenaten's notorious pot belly), full makeup, and heavy wigs.
The pharaohs' choices for Kings' Great Wives (what we think of as queen) were a little out of the ordinary. Thutmosis IV married a daughter of the king of Mitanni. Amenhotep III married Tiy, the daughter of a non-royal couple, Yuya and Thuya.
Break With Tradition
Amenhotep IV made a far more dramatic break with recent tradition when he, reverting to an Old Kingdom solar theology, adopted Aten as his one god. (This should probably not be referred to as monotheism, but henotheism, because the king did not deny the existence of other gods.) He then changed his name to Akhenaten to reflect his change in divine allegiance.
From the god Amun/Amen in the name Amenhotep to the god Aten in the name Akhenaten
Possibly to consecrate new area to the new (old) god, Akhenaten moved his capital to "The Horizon of the Aten" (Akhetaten) -- what we call Amarna. Aten was an asexual creator deity, the father of Akhenaten and all mankind. Tyldesley says Akhenaten made himself, Nefertiti, and Aten into a divine triad, and used the cult of the sun god to enhance the cult of the king. This is why Tyldesley calls Nefertiti "Sun Queen".
Nefertiti's Remarkable Appearance
Nefertiti's name means "a beautiful woman has come.
"Judging from the famous Berlin bust discovered in 1912, Nefertiti's name was well-deserved, but not all the artwork depicting the royal family shows her with the same grace. The art of the New Kingdom was freer than that of earlier periods. Tyldesley says portraits of the pharaohs became more realistic. Akhenaten's father was the first pharaoh depicted as fat and frail at the end of his reign. Nefertiti was portrayed with the bodily changes accompanying childbirth and age. However, in many of the portraits of the royal family, it is all but impossible to distinguish Nefertiti from her husband without knowing what clues to look for, mostly because he appears to have feminine traits, but there is more....
Gender Depictions of the Royal Couple
Judging from where they sit, it would sometimes be easy to mistake Akhenaten and Nefertiti for each other. Nefertiti's position on the regal throne and her husband's on a simple stool adds support to the theory that by the fifth year of Akhenaten's approximately sixteen year reign -- when they moved to Amarna -- Nefertiti ruled alongside her husband. The Nubian wig seen on Nefertiti had been reserved for men until she adopted it. Generally, Nefertiti is shown as shorter than her husband. In many of the portraits, Nefertiti and her husband are both displayed with full breasts and rounded bellies, but after the move to Amarna, Nefertiti usually wears the flat-top crown and normally wears a diaphanous gown. Her husband, on the other hand, wears the pleated kilt. Both have thickened thighs and thin calves, as do their six children. The children also have egg-shaped heads whose origin is just one of many mysteries yet to be solved. The heads could have been manipulated into that shape from infancy, or the shape could be symbolic, representing the fertility with which Nefertiti was associated. About halfway through Akhenaten's reign, Nefertiti stopped mirroring her husband in art.
What Happened to Nefertiti?
The King's Great Wife Nefertiti disappears shortly after the death of her daughter Meketaten. Was she banished? Did she die of the same plague that may have killed three of her daughters? Was she replaced by another favorite: Nefertiti's daughter Meritaten or Kiya (possible mother of Tutankhamen and Smenkhkare)? Did she change her name to Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten and act as regent to Tutankhamen? Or did she become co-regent with Akhenaten, and then step down when Akhenaten died? These are some of the possibilities Tyldesley evaluates.
In Nefertiti: Egypt's Sun Queen, Tyldesley explains many of the standard theories and important archaeological discoveries. Illustrations animate descriptions of distant reliefs and statues. Tyldesley discusses controversial theories, leaving resolution for the future when excavations or science can provide better information. However, while the story of the Amarna period is certainly fascinating, it is disappointing to read what purports to be a biography of a famous and beautiful queen without learning much about its subject -- Nefertiti herself.