Nefertiti: Six Decades of Portraits in Porcelain

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‘A beautiful woman has come’ is indeed an apt translation of the famed Egyptian queen Nefertiti’s name. During the more than 100 years since the stunning limestone bust was discovered in 1912, she has been portrayed in the almost every medium; there have probably been hundreds of thousands of such busts mass produced, with widely varying degrees of success.  But when it comes to more serious efforts in porcelain, the timeframe narrows to just about six decades.

 

The original Nefertiti bust, created by the sculptor Thutmose more than 3000 years ago, is in the Berlin Museum where it has resided – except for several years during World War II when it was moved elsewhere for safekeeping – since shortly after its discovery.

The museum creates and sells authorized replicas in a slightly smaller size. This 2015 photo of the workshop noted in the caption that the Museum produces about 20 of these replicas per year.

Eight porcelain studios (Boehm, Cybis, Goebel, Giuseppe Armani, Lenox, Rosenthal, Royal Doulton, and Wedgwood) and two large import firms portrayed Nefertiti during the roughly 60 years between 1950 and 2010. However, of the eleven individual designs, only three of them are a version of the original 18th Dynasty bust; the other representations are full figures.

Nefertiti Busts

 

This Rosenthal bust was probably produced in the early to mid-1950s. It was offered in a choice of color or white; in the white version, only the the crown is glazed.  It is 11” high x 8” wide.

 

There is conflicting information about this Goebel bust regarding production dates. Like the Rosenthal bust, it was available in both color and white. Unfortunately, I could not find a photo of the color version. One source describes one of these as bearing design number FX135/3 TMK-2 and the “full bee mark” which supposedly indicates a production timeframe of between 1940 and 1959. However, another source cites the same piece as being FX135/III and with a “low bee mark” corresponding to a 1957-1963 production run. All sources agree on the size of the bust which is about 8” high and 3” wide and 6” deep. Perhaps someone better versed in Goebel marks and dates can chime in on this; there is a contact form on the About the Chatsworth Lady page.

 

The Cybis studio is the only one that made two different representations of Nefertiti: one full figure and one bust. The bust was released in 1990 as a limited edition of 1000 which was never fully completed although it’s not known how many were actually made. It is 8” tall. Although the design on the base section includes the Aten sun disk which both Nefertiti and her husband Akhenaten worshipped, neither of the name cartouches flanking the disk contain the actual/correct hieroglyphs.

Nefertiti Full Figures

This category of porcelain Nefertiti figures has a much wider range of design. They are shown in chronological order by retail release date.

 

The seated Nefertiti by Cybis was the first of the genre and dates from the studio’s “golden age” of design (1960s and 1970s.) It is also the only full figure example that depicts her seated, although there is a great sense of movement in this sculpture. The piece is 12” high overall. It was issued as an edition of 500 in 1979 and was completed between 1983 and 1988; my best guess is that it was probably 1986 or 1987 but this is pending confirmation. There can be some noticeable variation in the skin tone of this Nefertiti, from quite pale to an orangey-bronze tone.

The skin color of this sculpture is probably the one most often encountered; it is midway between the two shown above.

 

 

It took Cybis’ rival, the Boehm studio, almost a decade to come out with a Nefertiti of their own but then again, human figures were never Boehm’s main focus. Even so, it was designed and produced not in New Jersey but in the last few years of Boehm’s satellite studio in Malvern, England. They had launched a series of figures called ‘Women of History’ in the mid-1980s, and the Nefertiti figure (design #102-77) was issued in 1988. At least two other figures in the series, Marie Antoinette in 1986 and Cleopatra in 1987, are known but I have found no record of any others. It may be that these three designs were all that were released. Each figure/design was an edition of 350.

 

 

Although I don’t usually describe Lenox as a “porcelain studio” in the same sense as Boehm, Cybis and others, they were definitely a big player in the porcelain market during the heyday and so it would be unfair to not include them here. In 1990 they released a series of ten Egyptian Queens, of which Nefertiti of course was one. It is noteworthy that Lenox is the only company to have depicted their Egyptian queens with other than white (Caucasian) skin. The porcelain figures were designed in New Jersey but produced in the Philippines and Taiwan.

Their series is actually quite interesting from a historical perspective. It comprises nine queens plus the goddess Isis (bottom photo.) As far as I know, neither Queen Tiya (wife of pharaoh Thutmose III and mother of Nefertiti’s husband Akhenaten), Merit-Amun (a daughter of Nefertiti and Akhenaten), or Isetnofret (the second wife of Ramesses II) were ever portrayed by any serious porcelain studio or manufacturer. Even Nefertari (the first Great Royal Wife of Ramesses II) is rare outside of the tourist trade genre. It would have been nice to see one of the independent porcelain studios produce a series like this, but it seems as if Cleopatra and Nefertiti were the only Egyptian queens to ever pique their marketing interest.

 

Wedgwood made their Nefertiti as part of a series called Legends of the Nile, and in two colorways. The first release was a 1997 retailer-exclusive edition of 9500 for Compton & Woodhouse (a frequent partner with several British studios during the 1980s and 90s.)  Nefertiti is 9.5” high. Although stylized and with a bit of a ‘Hollywood-ish’ expression, unlike the Cybis bust the hieroglyphs in her name cartouche along the side of the base are correct; someone at Wedgwood did their homework. The designer of these figures was John Wincentzen.

However, they did less well with their depiction of Nefertiti’s husband Ahkenaten, shown at the right in this photo; the young man on the left is Tutankhamun. Wedgwood chose to alter Akhenaten’s face and body to something more conventional than the way he actually looked – which we do know from sculptures and carvings done at the time, as in this example at the Berlin Museum:

A tenet of Akhenaten’s religious revolution (the elimination of the Egyptian pantheon in favor of the single sun god, Aten) was his insistence on “living in truth.” As such, he directed all court artists to portray him as he really was rather than in the traditional stylized representations. Modern science pretty much agrees that he suffered from Marfan’s Syndrome which causes abnormalities in the structure of the skull as well as other body changes. It is perhaps understandable, from a marketing standpoint, that Wedgwood and/or Mr. Wincentzen opted to not live in quite as much truth as the pharaoh did.

The following year (1998) Wedgwood released a black jasperware version of this series. This seems to have been a general retail release because the backstamp does not mention Compton & Woodhouse. This was also a smaller edition (2000 pieces per figure) than the C&W version and it was completed only two years later.

 

Royal Doulton jumped on the bandwagon in 1998 with their Egyptian Queens series designed by Pauline Parsons. Each was an edition of 950. Nefertiti is 10.5” high.

The series, from left to right: Ankhesenamum (daughter of Nefertiti and Akhenaten), Cleopatra, Hatshepsut, and Nefertiti. Hatshepsut is rightly depicted wearing the pharaonic headdress because she reigned as such. Each queen is shown with a different animal companion. The royal cartouches of Hatshepsut and Nefertiti are correct; I could not find views of the other two queens to see if theirs are shown also, but it seems likely.

 

Giuseppe Armani’s Nefertiti is not only very Art Deco in design but also much the largest: She is almost 31” high!  This was a limited edition of 750 in 2004. To be honest, I would never in a million years have guessed that this represents Nefertiti!

The final two examples are both from major mass market collectibles firms that sprang up during the 1970s and 1980s. All of these items were made in offshore factories.

 

Rather than commit to a specific number of “limited edition” porcelain figurines, the collectibles firms sometimes set them up as “firing days” instead, especially in the 1990s and 2000s. The Bradford Exchange called this series ‘Goddess of the Nile’: four designs, each described as “limited to only 95 firing days.” Of course, that could mean anything, because the “firing days” didn’t need to be consecutive! So, there is no way of knowing how many were actually made. Their Nefertiti was the second in the series which began in 2010. She is 9” tall. Of course, much of the decoration on these was applied mechanically, including the transfer decals. Perhaps some of the gold accents were hand applied; perhaps not.

From left to right: Cleopatra, Ankhesenamun, Nefertiti, Hatshepsut. A subsequent version of this series was produced in resin (often misleadingly described as “cold cast porcelain”) rather than porcelain or any other ceramic.

 

Although I could not find a date for the Danbury Mint’s four-piece Egyptian Queens series, it was probably made in the 1990s to early 2000s as well; these various companies (Danbury, Franklin, Bradford, Hamilton, etc. etc.) were constantly turning out various issues of ‘collectibles’ to compete with each other. I will say that despite the two pieces being polar opposites in terms of quality, in my opinion this and the seated Cybis Nefertiti show the most grace and sense of movement. Of course the gold-edged linen is a bit “over the top” and the group together looks very much like a Busby Berkeley dance number from a 1930s musical, but it could be worse; and Nefertiti is actually the least ornate of the quartet.

From left to right: Ankhesenamun, Cleopatra, Nefertiti and Hatshepsut (the same four characters issued by Bradford.) All are between 8.5” and 9” tall and were made in China. Their skin areas are matte but all other surfaces are glazed. Neither the backstamp nor the accompanying COAs have any date on them. An undated advertisement read “Danbury Mint collection of Egyptian queens, Cleopatra, Nefertiti, Hatshepsut & Tutankhamun’s princess. Fine porcelain figures designed by Martin Evans.” I wonder why Ankhesenamun was described as “Tut’s princess” rather than by name as the others are; although she was indeed his wife, most historians agree that they were either sister and brother or first cousins as well.

This overview of Nefertiti-portraits in porcelain will close with a bit of trivia: Despite all of the representations of this beautiful queen in various mediums, she has only been portrayed in film once: Nefertiti, Queen of the Nile in 1961 with Jeanne Crain in the title role. The movie did not get good reviews and is hardly historically accurate although I have a request in at my local library system for it, out of curiosity. The IMDB database reports a Nefertiti tv-movie/series in pre-production by Iron Phoenix Films during early 2019 but no further word. Perhaps an aspiring scriptwriter or director will read this someday and be inspired!