'I would consider this to be the crowning pinnacle of human genius'

Isis Leading Nefertari to the After Life, about 1250bc, anonymous, about 3ft by 7ft, Queen Nefertari’s tomb, Valley of the Queens, Luxor.

Pierre Emmanuel Taittinger says:
I have never seen anything as stunningly beautiful as the painted walls of Queen Nefertari’s tomb in Egypt. To my eyes, this collective work, boasting boundless modern radiance, constitutes the alpha and omega of coloured artwork. A bestiary and veritable source of flawless beauty. If asked to choose one, I would consider this to be the crowning pinnacle of human genius: a creation so perfect that you could be forgiven for imagining that it is yet to be conceived.

Pierre Emmanuel Taittinger is President of Champagne Taittinger and grandson of the founder, Pierre Taittinger.

John McEwen comments:
Nefertiti was the ‘Great’ and favourite wife of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II, also known as ‘Great’. With Cleopatra, Nefertiti and Hatshepsut, she is the most famous of ancient egyptian queens. Her name means ‘Beautiful Companion’, her private and public importance proclaimed by the elaborate decoration of her tomb, the largest and most spectacular in the Valley of the Queens, and also by her monumental temple at abu Simbel. Nefertari seems to have had at least six children by ramesses, but his successor, Merenptah, was by another wife.

As was the practice, the rock face of Nefetari’s tomb was rendered in plaster. It is sometimes called the Sistine Chapel of ancient art, not least for the distinction of the exquisite carved relief work in the plaster, lavished on the smallest hieroglyph as much as the largest figure. Pigments were applied using gum arabic (from acacia trees), egg, fish and other animal glues for binding agents. each colour was built up with successive layers of paint, details and outlines emphasised in red or black. Analysis has shown several painters were involved, working rapidly before the plaster dried. Varnish was used to heighten an effect.

The tomb, probably plundered by robbers in antiquity, was rediscovered by the Italian archaeologist Ernesto Schiaparelli (cousin of the fashion designer) in 1904. He made a 20-year scientific excavation. Over the past 30 years, the tomb has been intermittently closed for restoration, but is now open by appointment. Salt crystallisation, not human breath, is the main cause of its deterioration.

This article was originally published in Country Life June 24, 2015.