With Divine Roots: A Comparison of the Busts of Two Powerful Women From Two Different Ancient Civilizations

The works of art selected for the purposes of this essay are the “Bust of Nefertiti” and the “Juno Ludovisi”. Despite being sculpted nearly fifteen hundred years apart and in different parts of the world, they both are sculptures depicting powerful women of the times and cultures in which they were created. The “Bust of Nefertiti” is a painted limestone bust of Nefertiti by Thutmose from around 1385 BC (Wikipedia). It is from Ancient Egypt and depicts the wife of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten. The “Juno Ludovisi” is a colossal Roman head from the first century AD and has no artist attributed to it, but it depicts the influential woman Antonia Minor (she was the daughter of Marc Antony and Octavia Minor). Both women carried themselves well and were considered to be the ideals of beauty in their respective ancient civilizations as well as being part of ruling families, and analyzing and comparing both can tell us a lot about now only how beauty and women were viewed by each culture, but also power. These statues help illustrate how many similarities there are between these two cultures and share a common respect for women of higher classes in ancient times that is not often discussed when thinking of ancient civilizations. At the same time, however, they also show the differences in what is valued in each society.

The bust of Nefertiti has become a cultural symbol of Ancient Egypt since its discovery in 1912 by a German archaeological team. Nefertiti herself, whose name means “the beautiful one has come”, was the Royal Wife of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten from the Eighteen Dynasty of Egypt in 14th century BC. It is supposed that she was an Egyptian Royal by birth and served as co-regent of Egypt with her husband from 1352 BC to 1336 BC. Some say that she might have actually become Pharaoh herself for a brief time after her husband’s death (Tharoor). This bust is identified as very obviously being Nefertiti because of her characteristic crown, which she wears in other surviving and labeled depictions of her. It is made of limestone with painted stucco layers. They eyes are made of quartz and the crown on her head has a golden band around it. The perfect symmetry of her face is reflective of the classical Egyptian art style. She has a long elegant neck, a distinguished nose, and high cheekbones, able to command authority at a glance. During Nefertiti’s time of power, Egypt was in relative stability. Her calm face shows this peace, eyes calm and bright and not looking for war. The Egyptians valued art and created it for the sake of their gods, from which they believe all of their rulers descended. This is evident in the great care taken in the creation of this bust, including the beautiful colors that would have been difficult to create and brighter in their time. She certainly does have something godly about her, with its smooth perfection and any signs of aging having been removed to show Nefertiti as perfectly flawless and a symbol of timeless beauty and peaceful power.

The Juno Ludovisi is interesting not only because of its colossal size but because of that fact that Antonia Minor is portrayed not as being god-like, but rather as being a goddess herself. She is idealized, youthful, and made in the likeness of the goddess Juno. The name “Ludovisi” comes from the fact that this statue was added to the collection of Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi (Wikipedia). The giant size suggests that it was something of a cult statue of a goddess in a temple, despite being sculpted as the figure of Antonia Minor. She has a serenely beautiful face, idealized features, a youthful hair style, and straight lines throughout her face, everything conforming to the Roman physical conventions for deities.
Antonia Minor was the younger of two daughters by Marc Antony and Octavia Minor. She was the mother of Emperor Claudius and great-grandmother of Emperor Nero. She was celebrated for her virtue, beauty, and fairness. Although freeborn women in ancient Rome were citizens, they had a limited public role unless they were from powerful families, in which case they could exert some influence as rulers and idols. Clearly, she was part of a very important family in Roman history and was one of the most prominent Roman women.

The statues may not appear exactly similar at first glance, but when considering the contexts and intentions of both pieces, they are very similar indeed. They both depict powerful women of their times in idealized ways that suggest a godly quality inherent in their forms. Both women were looked up to by their societies and held power during peaceful times, visible in the peaceful perfection of their busts. Despite the limitations placed on women in their respective societies (such as not being able to vote in Ancient Rome), these women were highly regarded and respected.

Obviously, created fifteen hundred years apart, there are bound to be differences. Visually, one is significantly smaller than the other, one is painted, and they are visually representative of their races. The ideal Ancient Egyptian woman does not look like the ideal Ancient Roman woman, even though they are both perfectly symmetrical and both have perfect lines on their faces with smooth skin. Limestone does not carve exactly the same as stone in any case, and the busts were created with different highlighted features. Antonia Minor does wear a crown of sorts on her head, but her hair is unbound in the way of youth. Nefertiti’s hair is not visible with her crown/headdress. They both have a strong, commanding presence about them, albeit in different ways given these different distinctions between them.

Although women are not generally regarded as having many rights in the Ancient world, there were exceptions. Antonia Minor and Nefertiti are two prime examples, as they were both clearly important, powerful leaders in their times. Their likenesses were immortalized in these two busts that we can still observe and learn from today, both in a historical sense as they were representative of their societies, but also in an artistic sense as they were both illustrative of the movements in their cultures.

Antonia Minor. (2014, October 1). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23:32, January 25, 2015, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Antonia_Minor&oldid=627825906

Hurley, D. (2006, February 14). Antonia Minor. Retrieved January 25, 2015, from http://www.luc.edu/roman-emperors/antoniaminor.htm

Nefertiti Bust. (2015, January 8). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23:32, January 25, 2015, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Nefertiti_Bust&oldid=641587999

Tharoor, I. (2012, December 6). The Bust of Nefertiti: Remembering Ancient Egypt’s Famous Queen. Retrieved January 25, 2015, from http://world.time.com/2012/12/06/the-bust-of-nefertiti-remembering-ancient-egypts-famous-queen/

With Divine Roots: A Comparison of the Busts of Two Powerful Women From Two Different Ancient Civilizations