Skip to main content

From Berlin to Cairo?

How far back should cultural property claims go? Should there be a limitation?

Last week in Berlin I came face to face with the famous portrait of Nefertiti. This was found in a scuptor's workshop at Amarna by Ludwig Borchardt in 1912. The head then formed part of the German allocation of the finds.

A request for its return to Egypt was made in the 1930s. Adolf Hitler is reported to have said, "What the German people have, they keep" (quoted in Brian Fagan, The Rape of the Nile [2004], p. 249).

The official website of Zahi Hawass takes the position that the head was "smuggled out of Egypt in 1913". Things have been hotting up since the Altes Museum in Berlin refused to loan the portrait to Egypt for the projected opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum.

Hawass has been reported as wanting to "organize a worldwide boycott of loans to German museums" if his request for the loan is not made. He is quoted as saying, "We will make the lives of these museums miserable ... It will be a scientific war" (Dan Morrison, "Egypt Vows "Scientific War" If Germany Doesn't Loan Nefertiti", National Geographic, April 18, 2007).

And the temperature seems to be rising. Hawass was quoted only last week as saying that antiquities such as the portrait of Nefertiti "were taken out by imperialism ...Well, the days of imperialism are over'' (Abeer Allam, "Queen Nefertiti Boils Cairo Blood as Germans Reject Bust Loan", Bloomberg.com, September 10, 2007).

Berlin is only being asked for a three month loan - not a return (at least at the present time). Clearly "conservation" is being presented as a reason for not allowing the portrait to travel - but is this the real issue?

What other "treasures" and "masterpieces" will be requested?

The discussion is blurring two issues: recent looting and the historic removal of cultural property.

The Bloomberg.com report takes encouragement from the recent return of antiquities from North America to Italy. Yet in those cases the Italian government has been successful in its claims on material that was acquired since the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

Nefertiti left Egypt more than half a century before the UNESCO Convention (and the Rosetta Stone a century before Nefertiti). Should this fine image be on display in Cairo or Berlin? On the banks of the Nile or the Spree? Is it an icon of Egypt for Egypt, or of German achievements in the field of Egyptology?

Whose image is it anyway?

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Marble bull's head from the temple of Eshmun

Excavations at the temple of Eshmun in Lebanon recovered a marble bull's head. It is now suggested that it was this head, apparently first published in 1967, that was placed on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (Tom Mashberg, "Met Museum Turns Over Another Relic With Disputed Past to Prosecutors", New York Times August 1, 2017 ). The head is reported to have been handed over to the Manhattan district attorney after a request was received from the Lebanese authorities.

It is suggested that the head may have been looted from an archaeological storage area at Byblos in the 1980s during the Lebanese civil war. Mashberg has rehearsed the recent collecting history:
The owners of the bull’s head, Lynda and William Beierwaltes of Colorado, say they have clear title to the item and have sued Manhattan prosecutors for its return.  The Beierwaltes bought the head from a dealer in London in 1996 for more than $1 million and then sold it to another collector, Michael …

The Toledo skyphos and a Swiss private collection

The Attic red-figured skyphos attributed to the Kleophon painter in the Toledo Museum of Art (inv. 1982.88) is now coming under further scrutiny following the research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis. The skyphos shows Hephaistos returning to Olympos.

Tsirogiannis has identified what appears to be this skyphos in five photographs in the Medici Dossier. The museum acknowledged that the skyphos had resided in a 'private Swiss collection'. Tsirogiannis suggests that this is probably a reference to Medici.

Enquiries to the museum by Tsirogiannis elicited the information that the skyphos had been acquired from Nicholas Koutoulakis (although that information does not appear on the museum's online catalogue).

The curatorial team at the Toledo Museum of Art will, no doubt, be contacting the Italian authorities to discuss the future residence of the skyphos.

For further discussion of the Toledo Museum of Art on LM see here.

Reference
Tsirogiannis, C. 2017. "Nekyia: Museum ethics an…

Metropolitan Museum of Art hands over Paestan krater

In May 2014 I commented on a Paestan krater acquired by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art after it had been identified by Dr Christos Tsirogiannis in photographic images seized from Giacomo Medici. Tsirogiannis published his full concerns in the Journal of Art Crime in 2014, but it has taken a further three years for the museum to respond.

The krater showing Dionysos in a hand-drawn cart was purchased in 1989 from the Bothmer Purchase Fund (details from the Museum's website, inv. 1989.11.4). The krater surfaced through Sotheby's New York in June 1989.

It is unclear who consigned the krater to Sotheby's New York.

It has now been revealed that the krater has been handed over to the US authorities after a warrant had been issued (Tom Mashberg, "Ancient Vase Seized From Met Museum on Suspicion It Was Looted", New York Times July 31, 2018).

It appears that the museum did make an attempt to resolve the case in December 2016. Mashberg notes:
The Met, for its par…