1345 BC

This portrait has been a symbol of feminine beauty since it was first unearthed in 1912 within the ruins of Amarna, the capital city built by the most controversial Pharaoh of Ancient Egyptian history: Akhenaten. Ascending the throne as Amenhotep IV, Akhenaten changed his name as part of his decision to overturn the established pantheon of Egyptian gods to start his own a religion: An monotheistic cult devoted to the sun god Aten, which was represented as an abstract disk in carvings and wall murals. The life of his queen, Nefertiti, is something of mystery: It’s thought that she ruled as Pharaoh for a time after Akhenaten’s death—or more likely, as the co-regent of the Boy King Tutankhamun. Some Egyptologist believe she was actually Tut’s mother. In any case, her mummy has never been found though recent research suggests that she may be buried in room sealed behind a wall in Tut’s tomb. This stuccocoated limestone bust is thought to be the handiwork of Thutmose, Akhenaten’s court sculptor. Distinguished by a naturalistic style that departs from the usually stylized character of Ancient Egyptian art, the bust was excavated by a German archaeological team and taken back to Germany. It has resided in Berlin since before World War II, and is now considered a symbol of the city.