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Is Nefertiti now more German than Egyptian?

Words can not describe the bizarre grabbing at straws by Berlin’s Zeitung newspaper, that the bust of Nefertiti now belongs more to Germany than it does to Egypt.

EUX.TV (Netherlands) [1]

Tuesday, May 01, 2007 at 14:47
Subject: /Germany-Culture/Egypt/
FEATURE: Nefertiti now “more German” than Egyptian, Berliners claim
By Ernest Gill, dpa

Berlin (dpa) – Demands by Cairo for Berlin to hand over the famed bust of 18th Dynasty Queen Nefertiti have spawned a raging debate in Germany over whether the 3,300-year-old art treasure is not actually more of a Berliner than she is an Egyptian.

“The bust has been above ground and visible in Berlin for much longer than it ever was in Egypt,” said the Berliner Zeitung newspaper amid mounting calls by Cairo for the bust to be loaned out to its land of origin, if not actually given to Egypt permanently.

“She has become the epitome of slimly modern beauty, the ideal of self-confident modern womanhood,” the paper insisted.

There is a grain of truth to that argument, since the bust was found in the ruins of the city of Akhetaten, which flourished a scant 15 years before being abandoned 33 centuries ago. The bust was unearthed there by German archeologists in 1912.

So in fact, it has been “above ground and visible” in Berlin for nearly a century – far longer than it ever was in Egypt.

The Berlin newspaper argued that the bust has become an icon of Berlin, a veritable cultural landmark associated with the city.

Egypt said Sunday it would seek the temporary return of some of its most precious artifacts from museums abroad, including the Rosetta Stone and the bust of Nefertiti.

The country’s chief archaeologist, Zahi Hawass, said the Foreign Ministry would send letters to France, Germany, the United States and Britain requesting that the ancient artifacts be loaned to Egypt.

Hawass has previously demanded the permanent return of many of the artifacts, claiming some of them were taken illegally.

This time, the country is requesting museums loan the artifacts so they can be exhibited either at the 2011 opening of the Egyptian Museum, near the site of the Great Pyramids at Giza, or the Atum museum, which is set to open in the Nile Delta city of Meniya in 2010, the Supreme Council of Antiquities said in a statement.

The exquisite limestone bust of Queen Nefertiti forms the focal point of the Berlin collection, which ranks among the top two or three collections in the world outside Egypt itself.

The British Museum, the Louvre in Paris and the Metropolitan in New York are the only chief rivals to Berlin’s collection, which spans all eras from the pre-Dynastic period all the way through to Roman times.

The painted limestone and plaster bust, depicting the elegantly chiselled life-sized features of a stunningly beautiful woman wearing a unique cone-shaped headdress, has been the pride of the collection since German archeologists discovered the bust in the ruins of an ancient artist’s studio on the banks of the Nile on December 7, 1912.

An alluring mystery has surrounded the bust since its discovery, incredibly intact and sporting vibrant colours, after lying forgotten in the sands since the tumultuous days at the close of the reign of Pharaoh Akhenaton, one of the most enigmatic rulers of all time.

In 1913, the Ottoman Empire agreed to allow its finders, part-time German-Jewish archeologist and full-time entrepreneur James Simon and his Prussian colleague Ludwig Borchardt, to keep the bust.

Despite persistent rumours that Borchardt and Simon smuggled out the bust under a coating of mud, the plain truth of the matter is that Ottoman authorities failed to recognize the bust as a masterpiece. The stark style of the Amarna Period was not viewed to be as valuable as more traditional styles of other periods.

Simon, however, immediately recognized the bust’s appeal to European tastes for Art Nouveau and other post-Victorian styles. He breathed a sigh of relief when the Ottoman authorities blindly gave their stamp of approval to his request for removal from Egypt.

Borchardt and Simon carted it off to Europe where Simon displayed Nefertiti prominently in his home in Berlin before later lending it to the Berlin museum and finally donating it in 1920 to the Berlin collection.

The discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 spawned an Egypto-mania craze as well as the Art Deco style. King Tut’s treasures flaunted the “decadent” style of the late 18th Dynasty, and Nefertiti suddenly was a fashion trend-setter.

Crowds flocked to the Berlin museum in to see Nefertiti and shame- faced Egyptian authorities realized they had made a ghastly mistake a decade earlier.

“They suddenly realized that this bust, which had been dismissed as ‘un-Egyptian’ in 1913, was in fact one of the most exquisite examples of Egyptian art,” the Berlin newspaper quoted one expert as saying.

In 1933 Cairo demanded Nefertiti’s return – the first of many such demands over the decades to come. One of the many titles Hermann Goering held was premier of Prussia (which included Berlin) and, acting in that capacity, Goering suggested to King Fouad I of Egypt that Nefertiti would soon be back in Cairo.

But Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler had other plans. Through the ambassador to Egypt, Eberhard von Stohrer, Hitler informed the Egyptian government that he was an ardent fan of Nefertiti:

“I know this famous bust,” the fuehrer wrote. “I have viewed it and marvelled at it many times. Nefertiti continually delights me. The bust is a unique masterpiece, an ornament, a true treasure!”

Hitler said Nefertiti had a place in his dreams of rebuilding Berlin and renaming it Germania.

“Do you know what Im going to do one day? I’m going to build a new Egyptian museum in Berlin,” Hitler went on.

“I dream of it. Inside I will build a chamber, crowned by a large dome. In the middle, this wonder, Nefertiti, will be enthroned. I will never relinquish the head of the Queen.”

While he did not mention it at the time, Hitler envisioned more for the museum. There was to be an even larger hall of honour, with a bust of Hitler.

Hitler and his mad dreams are long dead. But Nefertiti continues to smile serenely. As she has for 3,300 years. As if to say, this too shall pass. And I shall endure.