Saturday 13 December 2014

Mut Statue Fails to Find New Home or Grounding at Sotheby's

Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St Hilaire has posted a brief summary of the Sotheby's Egyptian, Classical, and Western Asiatic Antiquities auction held today in New York ('Controversial Egyptian Statue Fails to Sell at Sotheby's Auction'). Apparently six of the lots did not sell.
Purchasers found a few bargains at today's event, but many pieces commanded high prices. A small clay tablet containing cuneiform script and valued at $9000 sold for $43,750. An Egyptian black granite statue valued at $30,000 fetched $137,000. And a red-figured krater was purchased for $137,000, more than double its appraised value of $50,000.
One of the ones that did not sell was Lot 6: An Egyptian Diorite Figure of a Priest of the Temple of Mut, late 25th/early 26th Dynasty, circa 670-610 B.C." (David Gill, 'Robin Symes, the Egyptian Priest and Sotheby's'), estimated to sell at $400,000 - 600,000. St Hilaire said the bidding "collapsed at $350,000 and did not reach the reserve price". More interestingly he announces "CHL has been probing the history of the curious piece for several weeks and expects to publish its findings in a future blog post" and I look forward to seeing that very much. Quite apart from the object appearing in the Symes-Michaelides archive, but those dealers not being mentioned in the collecting history supplied by the auction house, the whole question of how it left the site and country in the first place needs to be resolved. The present "owner" of the statue is not known.

David Gill meanwhile ('Selling Antiquities in New York', Looting Matters Friday, December 12, 2014) says that with the completion of that sale it is time for him to evaluate the year
First it is clear that there has been a steady decrease each year from 2010 ($133.8 million) to the present $26.8 million. And that is nearly a $6 million drop since 2013.
There is a graphic on his blog starkly illustrating this decline and comparing Sotheby's with Christie's:
Both auction houses have had to address issues relating to the so-called "toxic antiquities" that their due diligence processes appear to have failed to spot.
As for the Mut statue failing to find a new home at Sotheby's, perhaps it is time for it to be returned to the Mut temple where presumably the base and missing fragments of the abdomen and the rst of the dedicatee's name still lie somewhere in ythe soil showing where the statue had stood before being toppled (not before [Coptic?] iconoclasts attempted to delete the facial features).

The present statue will soon be published by Olivier Perdu in the Revue d’Egyptologie. In a letter dated November 24th, 2014, the author makes a strong case for identifying the present statue as an early Ptolemaic official named Serdjehuty, “Divine father and hepet-wedjat priest.” His title and the very beginning of his name appear at the bottom of the second column of inscription on the back pillar. An identical sequence of signs is attested on a block statue in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (inv. no. 48.24.8), which is securely attested as belonging to Serdjehuty. 
Which of course would scupper the dating of the object on art-historical means supplied by the auctioneers:
This sculpture, with its elaborately curled wig, looks back to the New Kingdom, but the artist combined it with the studied musculature that was a hallmark of the Kushite aesthetic. This studied archaism points to the 25th Dynasty or the very beginning of the 26th. 
which was some 220 years earlier.. Obviously, the place and context of the base of the statue will be what dates it, not some airy-fairy "looks like" divigations and guess-work from the antiquitists. It needs to be 'grounded', in the terminology of Elizabeth Marlowe.

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