About the Art
Depictions of mythological deities were painted in the tomb of Queen Nefertari. The winged goddess Ma’at is the symbol of truth, order, law, morality and justice. Queen Nefertari lived around 1300-1255 BC and was the first wife of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II. Her tomb was rediscovered in 1904 by the Italian archaeologist Ernesto Schiaparelli. It is located in the Valley of the Queens, near the ancient city of Thebes, Egypt. It is one of the best preserved and most ornate of all known tombs. In 2003 the tomb was closed to the general public.
There to receive the queen’s offerings are three goddesses: Isis; her sister, Nephthys; and Ma’at, squatting with outstretched wings. The sisters are seated on imbricated throne bases, but only Isis wears a beaded dress. Nephthys is clothed far more simply in a green ankle-length shift.
Ma’at is shown in a red dress, her green wings extended to shield the queen’s cartouche. Next to it, a shen ring reminds us that the cartouche derives from a modified shen sign. Behind Ma’at and set apart from the scene by a narrow painted band is a partial titulary of the queen: “king’s great
wife, Nefertari, beloved of Mut.”
The cartouche behind Ma’at integrates well into the body of the text and does not seem an afterthought.
Nefertari’s origins are unknown, but discoveries in her tomb, which include a cartouche of the Pharaoh Ay (found on a what was either a pommel of a cane or a knob from a chest), suggest she may have been related to rulers of the 18th Dynasty, included Tutankhamun, Nefertiti, Akhenaten and Ay. She married Ramesses at age of thirteen, who was himself only fifteen, before he became pharaoh. She was the most important of his eight wives for at least the following twenty years. She died sometime during the 25th regnal rear of the reign of Ramesses and the reason for her death remains uncertain.
Although she had at least four sons and two daughters, none of these succeeded to the throne. The heir to the throne of Ramesses II was Prince Merneptah, his 13th son by another wife, Isetnofret.
Not all of the names of the 100 plus children of Ramesses are known, and in many cases their mothers cannot be identified with certainty. The following children can be attributed to Nefertari:
• Prince Amun-her-khepeshef, crown prince, commander of the troops.
• Prince Pareherwenemef.
• Prince Meriatum, high priest of Heliopolis.
• Prince Meryre.
• Princess Meritamen, chantress of Amun and priestess of Hathor.
• Princess Henuttawy.
There could be others.
• “King’s great wife”: this, and the following three titles, identifies Nefertari as pre-eminent among the eight known wives of Ramesses II.
• “King’s great wife, his beloved”,
• “Wife of the strong bull”,
• “God’s wife”,
• “Mother of the king”, this confirms that one of Nefertari’s sons had been chosen to succeed Ramesses.
• “Hereditary noblewoman”, this indicates that Nefertari came from noble stock.
• “Great of praise”,
• “Mistress of charm, sweetness and love”,
• “Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt”: this, and the next two variants, indicates that Nefertari exercised some role in state affairs.
• “Mistress of the two lands”,
• “Mistress of all lands”,
• “Pleasant in the twin plumes”: this refers to her preferred twin-plumed headdress, the same as the one worn by the god Amun.
• “For whom the sun shines”: a unique inscription from the façade of her Temple at Abu Simbel.
• “Great of favours”: possibly indicating some judicial role which she held.
Discovered by Ernesto Schiaparelli in 1904, the tomb of Nefertari (QV66) is situated at the bottom of the north side of the main wadi in the Valley of the Queens.
The limestone in the Theban area is not of very high quality and it is fractured by earthquakes; it also has bands of flint. All of this means that several layers of plaster were required to be applied to the walls before painting.
Because of the many serious problems, which affected its beautifully painted walls, the tomb was closed to the public in the 1950’s. Repairs had been carried out to try to stabilise the serious cracks in the plaster, of with large areas had completely broken away. But it wasn’t until 1986 that the first serious modern work was carried out in order to stabilise the paintings, which was undertaken by the Getty Conservation Institute of America. Later, in February 1988, a full restoration started, preceded by a various studies carried out by an international team of scientists.
It was found that the main culprit for the damage was not ancient tomb robbers, but nature itself. Even here it was not earthquakes but salt which caused the problem. The local limestone contains salt, as did the mud from the Nile, used to make the plaster. The seepage of water through the rock had created crystals, which had caused the plaster to crack and the paint to flake. These crystals, which can grow extremely large, often to centimetres in size, have forced large areas of plaster from the walls, many of which it was impossible to restore. Even since the time of Schiaperelli’s photography of the tomb, the effect of the destruction has been progressive, as best seen in a comparison of the condition after the recent conservation and a black and white photo taken by Schiaparelli.
Earlier attempts at conservation was done by pasting large strips of paper or thick gauze over the cracks. These had a detrimental affect and had to be carefully removed, and the plaster and paint secured, using more modern techniques, before cleaning and final conservation work could be completed.
The aim of the project was to stabilise and clean the tomb, not to restore it to is original state. Small missing areas were, however, filled with plaster. These were not painted to match the missing colour, but were painted in “trattegio” (straight lines) to produce an almost identical match of colour; water based paint was used, for easy removal if at some future date it found to be inappropriate. This, from a distance, gives the visual effect of solid colour, but allows the area to be identified by future historians and conservators as not being the original.
The conservation was completed in April 1992, but the tomb wasn’t reopened to the public until November 1995. Admission was severely restricted, limiting the group size and number of daily visitors in order to try to preserve the fragile micro climatic. No form of photography was allowed.
In January 2003 it was once again closed to the public. Even the limited number of tourists have an effect on the surface of the paintings. Their moist bacteria-laden breath causes mould to grow on the surface; the tomb is after all a closed environment.
When discovered, Nefertari’s tomb was found to have been badly damaged, plundered and left open to the elements of nature and mankind.
Among the remains found by Schiaparelli were several scarabs, pieces from the queens pink granite sarcophagus lid and fragments from a guilded coffin lid. More details about the sarcophagus follow below. There was also many pottery fragments and remains of about thirty shabti (or ushabti) figures, plus the lid of a shabti box. In one of the burial chamber wall recesses was found the wooden djed-pillar from a magic brick. As mention previously, was what was either a pommel of a cane or a knob from a chest, which included a cartouche of the Pharaoh Ay. The only body parts were of legs.
Some items of Nefertari’s jewelry appeared on the antiquities market in Luxor, in 1904. These were purchased by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. They included a large guilded silver plaque, a small plaque of embossed gold, a guilded bronze pendant and four figurines of servants. It is reasonable to presume that these items were part of the queen’s burial equipment.
During the conservation by the Getty Institute, a gold fragment from a bracelet was found in one of the burial chamber annexes.
Last, but not least, were a pair of Nefertari’s sandals, which somehow escaped the clutches of looters.
The remains of the pink granite lid found by Schiaparelli are in the Turin museum.
The sarcophagus was oblong. As usual with royal sarcophaguses of the 18th Dynasty, it combined both images and texts. These texts are produced in longitudinal and transverse bands, imitating a mummy fastenings. See photo and line drawing
At the foot end, the figure of Isis is located between Nekhbet and Wadjet, which would therefore lead one to assume that at the head end would have been two squatting Anubis figures either side of Nephthys. On top of the lid, level with her face, can be recognised the goddess Nut, with expanded wings, kneeling on the hieroglyphic sign for gold.
The supplication of Nefertari is addressed to the great goddess: “[…] Descend, mother Nut, spread yourself onto my body so that you can place me between the eternal stars which are in you, and that I do not die […] ” and the goddess replies: “[…] I spread onto my daughter’s body, the Osiris, the king’s great wife, mistress of the Two Lands, Nefertari, beloved of Mut, justified, in the very name of Nut, Ra himself has purified you. Your mother Nut will is pleased to lead you towards the horizon, you are justified by the great god”. (Based on the translation by Anna Maria Donadoni Roveri).
One mystery remains: where is the main body of the sarcophagus? Had Nefertari’s, as with so many others, been removed and re-used for another deceased in the Third Intermediate Period?
A disturbing fact was recorded by Christian Leblanc: when he searched the tomb of queen Tuya, the mother of Ramesses II, he recovered fragments of a pink granite sarcophagus with the name of … Nefertari !
Leblanc proposes that these fragments came from the main body of the queen’s sarcophagus, which had been dragged outside of her tomb, then smashed. These pieces were then reused by the new occupants of the tomb of Tuya for internal functions.
Regarding the mummy: Schiaparelli only found part of the two knees in the funeral chamber, among shreds of material coming from the mummification.
This was a very sad end for “the most beautiful of all”.
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ENTRIES for ART BEAD ARTISTS!!
• Please post at least one single shot of your creation on the Pinterest Board. This will be used to make a collage for the Monthly Challenge Gallery. Every creation will be added to the collage, regardless of a blog post. So everyone gets included!
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