Tuesday 27 October 2015

The Fate of the Moussaief Collection

 Shlomo Moussaieff of Herzliya, Israel, and London, England, who owned the world’s largest private collection of Near Eastern antiquities, surpassing that of many major museums, died in Israel on June 29, 2015, at the age of 92 (Hershel Shanks. 'Renowned Collector Shlomo Moussaieff Dies at 92', Biblical Archaeology Review November/December 2015). What happens to his private collection of artefacts?
Although Shlomo enlisted scholars to publish some categories of artifacts in his collection, for the most part it was simply placed in vitrines roughly sorted by category, unpublished, unstudied, uncataloged, housed in room after room of his homes or piled on the floor or hung on the wall, often in disarray—mosaics, inscriptions, tombstones, sculptures, an ancient synagogue lintel, altars, rings, metal objects, magic incantation bowls; huge things and small things; from every ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern culture you can think of. He was deaf to those who urged him to make provision for his collection on his death, or so he claimed. He professed not to care what happened to his collection on his death. In mid-2013, bent and frail but clear of mind, he told me he would leave his collection to the Israel Museum, the Bible Lands Museum and a third museum that he had not yet chosen. 
The problem is, if it is uncatalogued, where is the possibility of determining where individual items came from? The article hints very strongly that some items were looted, others may be forgeries. The obvious lesson is that in order to have any value (academic or otherwise), a private antiquities  collection should be documented to the same standards as a public collection.

Vignette: Collector Moussaief (Kobi Kalmanovitz)

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