Queen Nefertiti: More than a pretty face
German scientists have discovered that the world's most beautiful woman allowed herself to be sculpted with wrinkles to appear more beautiful.
Maybe wrinkles are not so bad, after all, some German scientists have discovered.
In ancient times, such laugh lines and wrinkles around the mouth improved the face of Nefertiti, the Egyptian queen acclaimed as the world's most beautiful woman.
X-ray pictures of the bust by a computer tomography machine at the nearby Charite Hospital in Berlin revealed that the sculpture is a piece of limestone with details added using four outer layers of plaster of Paris.
"We have discovered that the sculptor later added gentle wrinkles to her face, especially around the eyes," said Dietrich Wildung, director of the Museum of Egyptology housed in the upper storey of the Altes Museum.
"The wrinkles make the image more individual and expressive."
The scientists speculate that Nefertiti, who would have sat for the sculptor, herself approved the older look.
The 3,000-year-old bust of Nefertiti is the greatest treasure at Berlin's Altes Museum.
Wildung said he received the revelation a year ago that the serene face, which today lacks one eye, was not quite as smooth as it looked.
Museum officials, who say Nefertiti is too fragile to visit Egypt, even worried about sending her to the hospital.
The scan of the artwork, which is 50 centimeters tall including the hat, was arranged in cooperation with film teams from the US National Geographic Society and German public broadcaster ZDF. Their documentary was aired last month in Germany.
"The prime motivation was scientific," stressed Wildung, an Egyptologist who said he had always presumed that some plaster "make-up" had been applied as a finish to the solid limestone before it was painted.
The results prove once and for all that the artist re-adjusted the image four times.
"The purpose was not to idealize her at all, but to make the image more realistic," Wildung explained, suggesting that hints of age were probably not taboo in Nefertiti-era art, but a source of prestige.
Sign of esteem
It may surprise modern women who go to the cosmetic surgeon to recover that smooth teenage complexion, but wrinkles have always been esteemed as a subtle badge of wisdom.
The museum is to alter the lighting in the Nefertiti room after the discovery.
"The lighting will now emphasize the eye area and show these hints that she has a past and is not ageless," said Wildung.
Nefertiti was the chief wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten who ruled about 1350 BC.
"There are still quite a few mysteries about her," said Wildung. "We don't know if she was a native Egyptian or came from the Middle East. Nor do we know how old she was when she married or if she survived her husband."
Call for return
It will always be a matter of speculation exactly how old she was when the royal sculptor Thutmosis preserved her appearance for immortality.
The sculpture was re-discovered in 1912 by a German archaeologist, Ludwig Borchhardt, during an excavation in Egypt. It was awarded to the German excavation team under the legal arrangements for the dig and duly exported.
James Simon, the German merchant and patron of the arts who funded the expedition, kept the bust in his Berlin home for a time, then donated it in 1920 to the government of Prussia, which was a part of Germany.
Nefertiti went on public display in 1924 and has graced various museums since, accompanied by longing calls from Egypt for her return. The Germans say their legal ownership of the bust is beyond question.
She is set to obtain a new home in 2009 when the collection moves to the nearby Neues Museum after its renovation.
Museum chief Wildung says he often observes museum visitors from his nearby office as they stand in awe before the Egyptian beauty, who now lacks one eye.
"She is more than just a pretty face," he said. "The people go silent in wonderment at her."