Wednesday, 5 June 2019

UK Antiquities trade watch: Ungrounded, Unpapered Brown Quartzite Statue of Unknown post-Amarnan ruler Expected to Fetch £4 Million



The brown quartzite head will lead Christie’s
 The Exceptional Sale in London on July 4. Public
 viewing will run from June 29 till the auction day.


Laetitia Deloye
 (Christie's)
A couple of private collectors somehow got their hands on a portableised fragment of a monumental quartzite sculpture of a late 18th dynasty pharaoh that is being ('looks like') hyped as from a statue of the most famous (Fang Block, 'A Brown Quartzite Statue of Tutankhamen Expected to Fetch £4 Million', Barrons June 3, 2019). the fragment is uninscribed and more importantly, seems to be lacking in paperwork:
A 3,000-year-old brown quartzite statue of Tutankhamen, the most famous Egyptian Pharaoh, is expected to realize over £4 million (US$5 million) when it’s auctioned at Christie’s London this July. The 28.5-centimeter-tall (11-inch-tall) head, part of a statue of the God Amen (ancient Egyptian god of the sun and air), is “a remarkable representation of the legendary young king Tutankhamen as the god Amen,” according to Laetitia Delaloye, a specialist in antiquities at Christie’s London. The head is “recognizable by the superbly modeled face showing sensitively carved, naturalistic eyes, eyebrows, and sensual lips, a style inherited from the important Amarna Period,” she says. Similar representations of the God Amen, also with facial features of Tutankhamen, were carved for the temple of Karnak in Upper Egypt.
Fragmented statue (Christie's)
Now, actually, if you compare this head with those recovered from the rubble at Karnak, the resemblance actually is not all that conclusive. This one has dissimilar facial features to my eye. There were other rulers in this confused post-Amarnan period, so the Tut label is to my mind dealer's hype, unless it can be grounded this is an unknown post-Amarnan ruler. Full stop. But according to the sellers, despite the rest of it still lying somewhere near where found (and disregarded by the artefact hunters):
The sculpture head is accompanied by an excellent publication and exhibition history, and strong provenance, Delaloye says. It’s offered from Rosandro Collection, one of the world’s most renowned private collections of Egyptian art, part of which was sold in 2016 by Christie’s for over £3 million.  An anonymous Geman collector acquired the piece in 1985 from Heinz Herzer, a Munich-based dealer. Prior to this, Joseph Messina, an Austrian dealer, acquired it in 1973-74 from Prinz Wilhelm von Thurn und Taxis, who reportedly had it in his collection by the 1960s, according to Christie’s. 
A Joseph Messina is still associated with the Kokorian Gallery in Vienna, it is not clear whether his business records from the 1970s exist. As Jason Felch has pointed out, Heinz Herzer is best known for selling the disputed Getty Bronze. This object is said to have passed through the hands of three dealers (1973/4 to 1985) without being sold. This is known to have happened to many antiquities that turn out probably to have been illicitly acquired, and is intended to 'launder' them. What is the reason here? The exhibition history given in the catalogue appears to be all post-Herzer, did Messina and Arnaulrf Rohsmann not have the need to show it anywhere to attract customers? So, assuming that the item exhibited was this one and records exist of that exhibition, given the non-mention of any business documentation prior to that, in fact the first verifiable presence of the object on the market is from that 1992 Berlin exhibition (with at least one other 'Resandro' piece - lot 112). The German collectors appears ashamed that they bought this trophy piece so want to remain anonymous. 


The Christie's catalogue collecting and exhibition history
There are other problems with the earlier part of this object's collecting history. Felch notes that the collecting history is only 'understood to have been' in a modern aristocratic collection. Likewise, it would be instructive to look at the collecting histories of other (if any) items known to have been in any 1960s antiquities collection of Prinz Wilhelm von Thurn und Taxis. Indeed as much as collecting histories of objects, in provenance research we need collection histories. What antiquities do the family still hold? Prinz Wilhelm von Thurn und Taxis himself died in 2004, so he cannot confirm whether or not or how the piece came to his collection.

Also, if I were looking at this thing in the showrooms, I'd certainly take a closer look at that squiffy right eye, is there a bit of (ancient or modern) recutting or repair here, or is it just a wonky royal sculpture? What does the 'condition report' say about it? Something laughably vague as the collection history?

Caveat emptor.

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