Classroom Use of the Art Print: Nefertari Playing Senet, Detail of a Wall Painting from the Tomb of Queen Nefertari, New Kingdom (Fresco). Egyptian; 19th Dynasty, C. 1297-1185 B.C. Valley of the Queens, Thebes, Egypt

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THINGS TO KNOW Queen Nefertari was the chief wife of the pharaoh, Ramses II. In 1914, Egyptologists discovered her tomb in the Valley of the Queens, an area of desert located on the west bank of the Nile near Luxor, Thebes to the ancient Egyptians. In addition to Nefertari's tomb (tomb #66), there are up to 80 tombs of other queens, royal offspring and noblemen.

Smaller and less elaborate than the tombs found in the Valley of the Kings, Nefertari's tomb is noted for the extensive series of wall paintings, which depict her beauty and religious devotion. Directly to the right of this month's Clip & Save selection, Nefertari Playing Senet, is a depiction of the queen as a ba bird. To the Egyptians, the ba was the spiritual equivalent of the mortal being, and could travel freely between the worlds of the living and the afterlife.

All of the scenes found on the walls of Nefertari's tomb were meant to guide the queen's spirit through the afterlife. These paintings were often found on the walls of corridors leading to small anterooms. Painted in vivid colors and complemented by extensive hieroglyphic symbols, all of the images were believed to aid in the queen's quest for immortality. The paintings are remarkable for the enormous detail paid to things such as the queen's clothing and jewelry, and to the realistic depiction of her facial features.

Nefertari is playing a game called senet, which was an ancient precursor to backgammon. Senet boards were common funerary objects placed in ancient Egyptian tombs. To see an example of a senet board found in the tomb of King Tutankhamen, go to:

In 1986, the Egyptian Antiquities Organization and the Getty Conservation Institute began a six-year restoration project of the wall paintings in the tomb of Queen Nefertari. Adding nothing to the original frescoes, the conservators methodically cleaned every square inch of the 5,200 square feet of paintings before reattaching bits of fallen plaster. Areas where the remnants of plaster had disintegrated were left blank. The tomb was opened to visitors in 1995, and today only 150 tourists are allowed in the tombs daily, to protect the fragile paintings from dust and humidity: a byproduct of human breath.


* Primary. To introduce the subject of Ancient Egypt and to activate prior knowledge and build background knowledge, read aloud Tutankhamen's Gift, by Robert Sabuda (Atheneum, 1994). This story, with its boldly drawn and vividly colored illustrations, will inspire students to learn more about ancient Egypt, and will allow them to make connections to the Art Print, Nefertari Playing Senet.

Share the Art Print and ask students to describe what is happening in the image. Explain that the woman in the picture was a famous queen of Ancient Egypt, a powerful civilization that flourished over 3,000 years ago, and she is playing a game popular in her day.

Next, explain to students the painting makes up only one of a series of wall paintings adorning her tomb. …