Friday 15 February 2019

Surely Some Mistake, Antiquities Trade Figure Named

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York bought a late Ptolemaic/Hellenistic gilt cartonnage coffin from the 1st century B.C. that was inscribed for Nedjemankh, a high-ranking priest of the ram-headed god Heryshef of Heracleopolis Magna. It went on exhibition in July last year. But this week the Met agreed to return the object to Egypt, after investigators determined it had been recently plundered from that country (Colin Moynihan, 'Met Museum to Return Prize Artifact Because It Was Stolen', New York Times Feb. 15, 2019).
 Museum officials said that they bought the object from an art dealer in Paris in 2017 and were fooled by a phony provenance that made it seem as if the coffin had been legitimately exported decades ago. But prosecutors with the Manhattan district attorney’s office presented the museum with evidence that suggested it had been looted from Egypt in 2011. This was the latest of several incidents that have raised questions about the thoroughness of the museum’s vetting procedures when acquiring antiquities [...] Museum officials said that the district attorney’s investigation showed that the Met had received a false ownership history, fraudulent statements and fake documentation, including a forged 1971 Egyptian export license for the coffin. The Met paid 3.5 million euros (about $3.95 million) for the coffin in July 2017, said Kenneth Weine, a spokesman for the museum. He added that it had been purchased from an art dealer in Paris [...] and that the Met planned to consider “all means” for the recovery of the money it had paid.
How awkward, there was a lot of publicity associated with this new acquisition and a whole exhibition was put on to celebrate it. The exhibition 'Nedjemankh and His Gilded Coffin' was supposed to continue to April 21, 2019 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Quite a lot of the web-related material on it seems to have disappeared from the Internet.

Unusually in such cases, the news item names the dealer that sold the item, as 'Christophe Kunicki', giving a link to a website for a fellow operating under that name at a posh Paris address (and the title “Mediterranean Antiquities”). The website says that Mr. Kunicki specializes in the valuation of “Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Near East antiquities.” as Dorothy Lobel King notes. This  makes the naming of the guy in the article as the seller, contrary to normal practice, rather problematic. It is a shame that the man named as seller was not contacted before the article went to press.  There was no response to an email message requesting comment sent to an address listed on the site.

I have discussed this object before on this blog, being one of te first to note issues with the stated collecting history before Cyrus Vance and his folk swung belatedly into action (PACHI 13th Sept 2017: 'Why the Secrecy? No Shame in Collecting Antiquities, Surely?').

UPDATE 16th Feb 2019

There are more details in Lynda Albertson's post on the ARCA blog: 'Restitution: Met Museum agrees to return its 1st century B.C.E mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh, to Egypt':
The spartan collecting history information listed for the artifact on the Metropolitan Museum's website states that the antiquity was "officially exported from Egypt in 1971, the coffin has since resided in a private collection." A second page on the museum's website, which has since been removed, listed the artifact's provenance as follows:
"The coffin was exported in 1971 from Egypt with an export license granted by the Antiquities Organization / Egyptian Museum, Cairo. It belonged to the stock of Habib Tawadrus, a dealer active since at least 1936, with a shop Habib and Company in Cairo opposite Shepheard’s Hotel, and was exported by the representative of the Tawadrus’ heirs to Switzerland. An official translation of the export license was provided by the German embassy in Cairo in February 1977 for the use of the representative and now owner in Europe. The coffin has remained in the family of that owner until its acquisition by the Metropolitan Museum in 2017."
 Albertson also details two other items where C. Kunicki acted as expert in the acquisition of other items by the Met with 1970s collecting histories, in one of which Tawadrus also figures. It would be interesting to compare the three sets of supplied documentation. One of them is a battered granodiorite head of Apries, the other a 13th dynasty chapel-stele in the form of a naos.

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