Nefertiti's husband Akhenaten brought a rare stylistic shift to Egyptian art in the Amarna period (ca. The successive rebellions wrought by his son Tutankhamun and his ilk included restoring the longtime worship of the god Amun; "the destruction of Akhenaten's monuments was therefore thorough and effective," Bleiberg writes.
Yet Nefertiti and her daughters also suffered; these acts of iconoclasm have obscured many details of her reign.
Bleiberg, who oversees the museum's extensive holdings of Egyptian, Classical and ancient Near Eastern art, was surprised the first few times he heard this question.
It might seem inevitable that after thousands of years, an ancient artifact would show wear and tear.But this simple observation led Bleiberg to uncover a widespread pattern of deliberate destruction, which pointed to a complex set of reasons why most works of Egyptian art came to be defaced in the first place."All of them have to do with the economy of offerings to the supernatural," Bleiberg said.In a tomb, they served to "feed" the deceased person in the next world with gifts of food from this one.Indeed, "iconoclasm on a grand scale..primarily political in motive," Bleiberg writes in the exhibition catalog for "Striking Power." Defacing statues aided ambitious rulers (and would-be rulers) with rewriting history to their advantage.
Over the centuries, this erasure often occurred along gendered lines: The legacies of two powerful Egyptian queens whose authority and mystique fuel the cultural imagination -- Hatshepsut and Nefertiti -- were largely erased from visual culture."Hatshepsut's reign presented a problem for the legitimacy of Thutmose III's successor, and Thutmose solved this problem by virtually eliminating all imagistic and inscribed memory of Hatshepsut," Bleiberg writes.
In statues intended to show human beings making offerings to gods, the left arm -- most commonly used to make offerings -- is cut off so the statue's function can't be performed (the right hand is often found axed in statues receiving offerings)."In the Pharaonic period, there was a clear understanding of what sculpture was supposed to do," Bleiberg said.
Even if a petty tomb robber was mostly interested in stealing the precious objects, he was also concerned that the deceased person might take revenge if his rendered likeness wasn't mutilated.
They would be secured behind a wall, their eyes lined up with two holes, before which a priest would make his offering. "It really didn't work that well."Speaking to the futility of such measures, Bleiberg appraised the skill evidenced by the iconoclasts. "They were not recklessly and randomly striking out works of art." In fact, the targeted precision of their chisels suggests that they were skilled laborers, trained and hired for this exact purpose.
"Often in the Pharaonic period," Bleiberg said, "it's really only the name of the person who is targeted, in the inscription.
But invasions by outside forces, power struggles between dynastic rulers and other periods of upheaval left their scars.