Tag Archives: Joyce Tyldesley

Book Review – ‘Nefertiti’s Face: The Creation of an Icon’ by Joyce Tyldesley

Joyce Tyldesley’s new book concerns Ancient Egypt’s most well-known poster-girl: Nefertiti, or – more accurately – a painted limestone and plaster bust of her now in the Neues Museum in Berlin. Tyldesley has already written an excellent biography of the lady herself, and uses this opportunity to discuss her most famous representation – and how it skews our entire impression of who she was. The book follows the successful format of the biography of a single object adopted by Laurence Berman, curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in his accessible study of the Late Period ‘Boston Green Head’. As a fellow curator, the idea of spending a whole book on a sole museum object is particularly appealing to me.

nefertiti-s-face-the-creation-of-an-icon.jpg

Now, I must confess personal bias here – Joyce is a friend and University of Manchester colleague, and we have discussed the content of the book extensively. Yet the finished product is one of the most important popular and accessible books now available in Egyptology. It chimes in with a welcome mood of reassessment of the history of Egyptology explored very provocatively – though sometimes in rather acerbic terms – in more academic works; the real value here is that, thanks to the popularity of her previous books and online courses at the University of Manchester, the general public are actually likely to read Joyce Tyldesley’s work.

Joyce_Nefertiti

Joyce and the Manchester Museum replica of the bust.

The book is divided into two parts: the ancient context of the bust and the importance of image production in ancient Egypt (a personal research interest of my own); and the modern reception of the object. The ancient archaeological setting is an especially fascinating one: a sculptor’s workshop at the centre of the production of a vast and still-experimental series of royal images. Nefertiti’s bust is rarely considered in the context of contemporary sculptural practice, which is surprisingly well-attested at Amarna. Tyldesley packs a lot in: notably, the vexed question of how the bust actually left Egypt, a convincing rebuttal of theories that it’s a fake, and the intriguing history of official replicas of the bust. From Adolf Hitler’s fascination with her beauty to the unlikely appropriation of its imagery for Sci-Fi movies, the bust of Nefertiti has had a powerful effect on Twentieth and Twenty-First Century popular culture.

A description, attributed to Hitler, expresses a populist tone that has a sinister and familar ring to it today:

“Oh, these Egyptologists and these professors! I don’t attach any value to their appraisals. I know this famous bust. I have viewed it and admired it many times….”

Who needs an expert to know anything? This reminds us that an object can mean many things to different people, whether or not we like those people is a different matter.

Most importantly, Tyldesley eloquently argues against an exception status for the queen herself. The one-in-a-million chance that such a (seemingly) exceptional piece should be so exceptionally well-preserved has vastly inflated our expectations of her role. As Tyldesley points out, the best comparison is with Nefertiti’s mother-in-law, Queen Tiye (who was actually more ‘famous’ before the seductive bust was found).

Ancient culture in general, and the Nefertiti bust in particular, is so over-loaded with modern meanings and significations that it is a wonder the queen’s slender, elegant neck hasn’t snapped under the strain.

 

‘Nefertiti’s Face: The Creation of an Icon’ is launched at Manchester Museum on Thursday 25th January, and will be on sale in our shop thereafter.

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Snakes unlikely to have killed Cleopatra…

Cleopatra VII  at the temple of Dendera

Cleopatra VII at the temple of Dendera

Academics at The University of Manchester have dismissed the long-held argument that the ancient Egyptian queen Cleopatra was killed by a snake bite.

Andrew Gray, Curator of Herpetology at Manchester Museum (and fellow blogger), says venomous snakes in Egypt –  Cobras or Vipers – would have been too large to get unseen into the queen’s palace.

He was speaking  to fellow Manchester Egyptologist Dr Joyce Tyldesley in a new video which is part of a new online course introducing ancient Egyptian history, using six items from the Museum’s collection.

According to Dr Tyldesley, the ancient accounts say a snake hid in a basket of figs brought in from the countryside, and was also used to kill one or two of her serving maids.

But according to Andrew Gray, Cobras are typically 5 to 6 feet long but can grow up to 8 feet – too big to hide very easily.

There would also be too little time to kill 2 or 3 people-  because snake venom kills you slowly-  with in any case only a 10 per cent chance of death.

He said: “Not only are Cobras too big, but  there’s just a 10 per cent chance you would die from a  snake bite: most bites are dry bites that don’t inject venom.

“That’s not to say they aren’t dangerous: the venom causes necrosis and will certainly kill you, but quite slowly.

“So it would be impossible to use a snake to kill  2 or 3 people one after the other. Snakes use venom to protect themselves and for hunting – so they conserve their venom and use it in times of need.”

Cleopatra is strongly associated with snakes, like many ancient Egyptian kings and queens of Egypt. In addition, Cleopatra also believed she was the embodiment of the Goddess Isis, who can take on the form of a snake.

Dr Tyldesley, whose book Cleopatra: Egypt’s Last Queen was a BBC Radio 4 book of the week, says one aspect of the accounts has proved to be correct. The ancient Egyptians believed snakes were good mothers.

“Very few snakes have a maternal instinct. However, the cobra is an exception: they sit on the nest and protect them until they hatch. So in this case, it seems the Egyptians were right,” agrees Gray

The free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), ‘A History of Ancient Egypt’, launches on 26 October. 

Dr Tyldesley added: “The MOOC includes behind-the-scenes access at the Museum and detailed descriptions of many objects from our Egypt and Sudan collection.”

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Lecture by Dr. Joyce Tyldesley: ‘Senwosret is Satisfied’ – Life at Kahun

Wednesday 7th November, 6-8pm, the Manchester Museum

A lecture by Dr. Joyce Tyldesley, Programme Director for the UoM’s Online Diploma in Egyptology, and Museum Research Associate

Free. Book on 0161 275 2648

“Senwosret is Satisfied”: Life at Kahun

The Middle Kingdom town of Kahun (ancient name Hetep-Senwosret , or “Senwosret is Satisfied’) is a remarkable purpose-built settlement created to house the community of priests and workers who serviced the nearby pyramid of King Senwosret II. The excavations of Flinders Petrie in 1889-90 produced an unprecedented range of objects relating to the daily activities of ordinary Egyptians living ordinary lives at this extraordinary site. Manchester Museum is fortunate in having the finest collection of objects from Kahun.

This talk will look at the reasons for the creation of the town of Kahun, before using archaeological evidence to explore the lives of the women who lived, worked and died there.

Joyce is a popular author of works on Egyptology. Her latest book, ‘Tutankhamun’s Curse: The Developing History of an Egyptian King‘, is available now.

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Investigating Tutankhamen’s curse… and 100 years of Nefertiti’s bust.

Dr. Joyce Tyldesley is Senior Lecturer on Manchester University’s Certificate Course in Egyptology, and Honorary Research Associate here at The Manchester Museum. Joyce is the well-known author of many accessible books on Egyptological topics, and her latest – Tutankhamen’s Curse: The Developing History of an Egyptian King – is published on the 9th of February. The book tells the story not just of the Boy King, but – arguably of more interest – addresses the reasons why we are fascinated by him.

Joyce Tyldesley and Nefertiti

Joyce and Nefertiti

I recently met with Joyce, who came to the Museum to examine one of our objects for her next book. Her interest lay not a genuine artefact, however, but in a replica: our reproduction of the famous bust of Queen Nefertiti. This iconic image was discovered in 1912, and thus joins our Egypt galleries in celebrating a centenary this year. It was found by a German mission working at Tell el-Amarna, the short-lived royal residence city of Nefertiti’s husband Akhenaten (c. 1352-1336 BC), and is now housed in Berlin.

Joyce is currently writing an account of the modern obsession with the bust, and its central place in our impression of ancient beauty. As it is impossible to handle the original bust, Joyce asked if she could examine the Manchester copy as it is one of a number of accurate replicas made in Germany and now in several museums.

Manchester Nefertiti replica bust

Bust displayed previously

The Manchester bust – although not genuine, and never claimed to be – has always been popular with visitors. The new Ancient Worlds galleries will reflect the popularity of Nefertiti and her time by including both a rich selection of objects discovered at Amarna and several Amarna-style artworks: some educational copies and some made with the intent to deceive.

The modern reception of Tutankhamen and Nefertiti offer a fascinating insight into the continuing  allure of Ancient Egypt. The Museum is delighted that Dr. Tyldesley has used some of our objects in her research, and I eagerly anticipate the publication of both books.

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