Sunday 11 May 2014

Statue of Seneb "Probably from Meir") Loaned to San Francisco

""We've heard recently from the archaeological blogosphere", squeaks a lobbyist, "that collecting ancient Egyptian artifacts is somehow wrong". Not from this part of it they have not.   If they'd been paying attention, they'd have "observed" that what is criticised here is no-questions-asked collecting.

Anyhow the lobbyist continues to suggest (Friday, May 9, 2014: "Collecting Egyptian Not So Bad?") in connection with the intended purchase by an art museum in San Francisco of a wooden statuette of Seneb, scribe of royal documents. This is a carved wooden statuette "of exceptional quality with impeccable provenance".
"we have until 1 June 2014 to raise funds for this purchase. We do not want to return him to his owner."
If one attempts to find out more about this "impeccable provenance", we find the sources rather coy about what that term actually means. The fullest information is on the "Ancient Art Council" website and it says:
Seneb, scribe of the royal documents Egyptian, perhaps Meir, Middle Kingdom, early Dynasty 12, ca. 1985–1878 BC Painted wood; H 11 in. (27.6 cm) Anonymous loan L13.63 
Meir Group B tombs (Middle Kingdom)
"Perhaps Meir" and "Anonymous loan" is not exactly what the rest of us would consider a "impeccable" transparency about where this object came from, how it left the ground, how and when it left Egypt and how and when it came to America. If the object really came from Meir, it is being surmised that they originate in the early explorations by Émile Chassinat , Georges and Jean Daressy Clédat (1899-1900) or the excavation campaign conducted in 1910-1914 by Ahmed Kamal. for Sayd Bey Khashabeh (Chaschaba Bey ) a rich merchant from Asyut . This uncovered a large number of finds, and a large proportion of these are now in the USA (Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Purchased from Khashaba in 1912). The annual preliminary reports are published in the Annales du service de l' Égypte the antiquités , Volumes 11-15 (1911 - 1915) . The Meir B group tombs were excavated by Aylward Manley Blackman in five campaigns (1912-1914 , 1921 , 1949-1950 ) for the Egypt Exploration Fund (The Rock Tombs of Meir. London; Boston: Egypt Exploration Fund (Egypt Exploration Society). 1914–1953). There is a mummy and sarcophagus in Cleveland Museum (here too) which may be from the same tomb. Some objects from Meir were also housed in the Mallawi museum.

The problem is that the AAC is apparently only suggesting "perhaps Meir" on the grounds that there were two Middle Kingdom tombs of an official known as "Seneb" there, from which items reached the US at the beginning of the last century. How secure is that (reconstructed?) collecting history?

Anyway, what's the big idea when a museum agrees to put on public show, providing a free advert, for a collector an object that said collector wants to get rid of?


David Knell said...

I suspect the reference number "L13.63" may indicate that the item was catalogued as a loan in 1963 - in which case it would indeed have a legitimate provenance - but I agree further details should be clearly confirmed rather than the merely bald statement "impeccable provenance".

Incidentally, I hate the art-centric concentration on "exceptional quality" and "artistry, craftsmanship, creativity, and skills" of art museums. That attitude perpetuates the blinkered nonsense that an artefact is only of interest if it happens to be pretty.

Paul Barford said...

I agree with you about the "artistry" nonsense. Especially as this statue is not really all that great, look at the clunky feet. The Seneb staue in the Met is better crafted. But yes, this is an archaeological object not made to be pretty.

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.