The bust of Nefertiti must remain in Berlin, according to the Germans

Jan 26, 2023 | Art Word, Authentications & attributions, Cutural Heritage, Fakes, International Cooperation

Whose are the works kept in museums? Whose is the bust of Nefertiti, or as in Germany they like to call it, their “Mona Lisa”?

“All the cultural assets from other regions of the world do not belong to us, they are here illegally,” said in a interview Saraya Gomis, the undersecretary of the Berlin State Office for Equal Treatment and Against Discrimination.

But not many seem to think alike, at least for the moment. Despite the fact that Germany has recently agreed, for example, to return to Nigeria 1100 objects (not all ) stolen during their colonial raids of the country, the bust of Nefertiti, “The beautiful woman has arrived“, will remain in Berlin, where it is visited by about half a million tourists a year.

The bust is one of the best-known ancient Egyptian finds in the world. It was excavated by the German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt at the site of Akhetaton, today’s Amarna, the new capital built by the pharaoh Akhenaton.

The archaeologists were digging in the workshop of the sculptor Thutmose, when in one of the side rooms more than twenty plaster molds, heads sculpted in stone, and others objects still unfinished came to light.

Among these also the beautiful bust of the pharaoh’s wife. At the time of its discovery, the statue was in an excellent state of conservation, so much so as to suggest that it was a fake, a theory that was later refuted thanks to the scientific analyses conducted on the piece, now dated around 1340 BC.

The work is made with a superfine technique. It is sculpted down to the smallest detail in limestone, and then covered with brightly painted stucco; the pupil of the right eye (the other eye was lost) is made with limestone and rock crystal inclusions.

The find was acquired by the financier of the excavations, James Simon, who donated it in 1920 to the Prussian state. It was exhibited to the public for the first time in 1924. Since then, Egypt has been asking for its return, so far without success.

During the Nazi years, Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goering planned to return it to Egypt, but Adolf Hitler decided instead that the bust would have a place of honor in a German museum, in Berlin, which was to be the capital of his millennial Reich.

And now “Different points of view on the right of ownership (…) of the Nefertiti bust, both in a legal and moral sense” make it impossible to return the Nefertiti bust to their countries of origin“, said Lena Kerch, senator and direct head of Saraya Gomis. The road to Egypt still seems very long, and the bust of Nefertiti, although it is clearly an Egyptian work, for now remains where the Fuhrer wanted it.

Anna Pelagotti
Anna Pelagotti