Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Cartoonish Relief in Egyptian Hands


In 2006, Mexican police caught a Mexican citizen in possession of what appeared to be a stolen New Kingdom Egyptian sandstone relief. They hung on to it three years while they "investigated" this guy - nothing is known about the results of their enquiries (if anyone knows otherwise please let me know). Anyhow the 17x15cm relief fragment itself came back to Egypt from Mexico yesterday in a diplomatic bag.

An archaeological committee from the Ministry of State for Antiquities led by Ahmed Mostafa, head of the returned antiquities section, checked its authenticity. He will have the piece restored and placed in a special display at the Egyptian museum.
And Nevine El-Aref's article on the subject is illustrated by a photo of a serious looking guy in a suit holding a plastic ruler up to the object checking the measurements.

That's a strangely non-canonical fragment he has in his hands. The proportions are all wrong for a genuine Egyptian piece, the lower face too massive, those puffy pouting lips, the pointy ski-jump nose, the flat eyebrow, horizontal line below the eye and that ridiculous ear. The neck is too short and the chinline too long, the collar is badly laid out. The sunken relief is at different depths, I very much suspect that merely being a 'provincial' piece from a 'bad period' is not enough to explain away these stylistic infidelities. In addition, those roundly concave breaks on the left suspicious, as is the convenient break at the top of the head (though this may have occurred in transit to Mexico). The whole piece is conveniently rectangular when the bits are fitted together with the face in the centre. If we saw this on eBay there would be little angst about it going cheaply to a Wisconsin collector, as to me it looks like a not-very-good tourist fake. The Egyptian State Information Office says that Assistant Foreign Minister for International Cultural Affairs Sherif el-Kholy declared that this is a piece "dating back to the Modern Dynasty", which sounds about right to me. Ahmed Mostafa says though it is an authentic stolen dugup artefact, and who am I to query his opinion? So what does he say it is?


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