She was the beloved wife of "heretic king" Akhenaton, who defied ancient custom by practicing monotheism and by elevating Nefertiti far above the role of subservient consort previously played by Egyptian queens. Her image has ravished Western viewers ever since a magnificent limestone bust unearthed at the royal retreat of Amarna went on display in Berlin in 1924. But frustratingly few facts are known about this woman who lived more than three millennia ago. As she did in Hatchepsut: The Female Pharaoh
, British archeologist Joyce Tyldesley makes a virtue of necessity by writing a book that is as much a cultural history as a biography. As Akhenaton swept away the plethora of old gods, dismaying many of his subjects, he needed a strong female figure to soften the abstract austerity of Aten, the sun deity; his beautiful queen was celebrated in official art and inscriptions that focused on the domestic life of the royal family. Tyldesley meticulously analyzes this iconography to evaluate Nefertiti's position in Egypt and her importance to her husband, who clearly cherished her beyond the demands of propriety or political necessity. The author cannot give readers a strong sense of Nefertiti's personality--the evidence simply isn't there--but she paints a wonderfully evocative picture of life at the civilized heart of the ancient world. --Wendy Smith
From Publishers Weekly
If biographers choose their subjects based on interest, then Nefertiti, beloved queen of the heretic pharaoh, Akhenaten, is certainly a worthy one. But she's also scholar Tyldesley's (Hatchepsut, etc.) most elusive subject yet, since, as Tyldesley admits, there are only "meagre shreds of evidence" that can support a variety of interpretations about the sun queen. Drawing on a "random assortment" of archeological remains, a few historical documents and much religious and mortuary art and architecture, she presents an engaging portrait of what Egyptian life was like during Akhenaten's reign, as well as the time just before and after. But because nothing is known about Nefertiti's parentage (no one claimed to be related to her) or her exact role as queen, and no verifiable conclusion can be reached about her fate, the information here is closer to pure context or even a biography of Akhenaten himself. Even the artists of the 18th Dynasty weren't concerned with exact representation, making Tyldesley's job even harder. Ever since the Germans first put her now famous bust on display in Berlin in 1924, Nefertiti has become a symbol of the Egyptian world and of beauty itself. Unfortunately, due to the lack of other reliable records, this account of her life is mostly speculation, not established truth.
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