Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Nedjemankh. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Nedjemankh. Sort by date Show all posts

February 16, 2019

Restitution: Met Museum agrees to return its 1st century B.C.E mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh, to Egypt

The Metropolitan Museum has agreed to return its 1st century B.C.E gold-sheathed mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of the high-ranking priest Nedjemankh.  The late Ptolemaic (or Hellenistic) antiquity was purchased via art dealer Christophe Kunicki, who lists himself on his website as a member of the Syndicat Français des Experts Professionnels en Oeuvres d’Art and the Chambre Européenne des Experts d’Art.  

Purchased for €3.5m in 2017, Nedjemankh’s coffin had reportedly been on consignment with the Paris dealer via an unidentified private collector.  Created out of cartonnage in the last century of the Ptolemaic Kingdom, a material used in Ancient Egyptian funerary objects from the First Intermediate Period to the Roman era, the object is made up of layers of linen stiffened with animal glue and layers of gesso. Evidence presented to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and confirmed by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture indicate that the antiquity may have been looted from Egypt in 2011 and exported utilizing fraudulent documents.

Note that the timeframe of the possible plunder, listed by the New York Times, and the Egyptian authorities coincides with the fall of Muhammad Hosni El Sayed Mubarak, Egypt's former military and political leader, who served as president of Egypt from 1981 to 2011.  After the so called Arab Spring, Egyptian authorities reported a significant uptick in heritage looting, exacerbated in part by the country's revolution and subsequent political upheaval.

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 & 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."

This spartan amount of information, on an ancient object of this significance, drew the attention of blogger Paul Barford in September 2017 shortly after the purchase was announced.


Christophe Kunicki's relationship as an advisor of ancient art purchases to the Metropolitan Museum in New York goes back at least as far as September/October 2014, when his involvement in two purchases was highlighted in Volume 25 Number 5 of the journal Minerva: The International Review of Ancient Art & Archaeology as having advised the museum on two other purchases. 

Screen Shot: Volume 25 Number 5, Page 53
Minerva: The International Review of Ancient Art & Archaeology
Those objects, memorialized in the screenshot above, were a 26th Dynasty granodiorite head of the Pharaoh Apries, purportedly from the collection of Olivier Cacoub and the 13th Dynasty Egyptian limestone chapel-stele of Kemes in the form of a quadrangular naos resting on a base carved with façades.  The later of these was purportedly from the same "Luxor dealer Tawadros," in the 1960s, whose name is attached to the golden mummiform coffin that has just been repatriated.  It is not known at present if these objects are being given closer examination.

The Met’s management has formally apologized to Dr. Khaled El-Enany, Egypt’s minister of antiquities.

In it's press release the museum added:

 "All of the Museum’s acquisitions of ancient art undergo a rigorous vetting process in recognition of the 1970 UNESCO treaty, in adherence to the Association of Art Museum Director’s Guidelines on the Acquisition of Ancient Art and Archaeological Materials, and in compliance with federal and state laws."

Given that the Met developed a substantial exhibition around this golden-sheathed coffin, one would think that the museum's "rigorous vetting process" would have also included a close analysis of export documentation to check for fabrication and forgery.

A video from the Met Presents series featuring Curator Janice Kamrin and Conservator Anna Serotta talking about the coffin of Nedjemankh can be viewed here.

Upon the artefact's return to Egypt, it has been decided that the repatriated burial coffin will be displayed in the Egyptian Museum of Liberation until the Grand Egyptian Museum opens in 2020.

Notation:  Note this Metropolitan Museum record the name of the Luxor dealer as Tawadrus, while elsewhere in its records it records other objects using the name Todrous.  The trade journal above spelled the name Tawadros.  Another dealer spells the name as Tadross.




By:  Lynda Albertson








October 8, 2019

Unpacking the investigation into Egypt's 2100 year old looted gold coffin

Shaaban Abdel-Gawad - Head of the Egyptian Department of Repatriation
Image Credit: Egyptian Department of Repatriation,
Ministry of Antiquities-Arab Republic of Egypt
Last week the controversially purchased, ancient gold mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh, was formally restituted to the Arab Republic of Egypt.  The plundered late Ptolemaic era antiquity had been purchased by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art for €3.5m in 2017, following protracted negotiations with Paris-based art dealer Christophe Kunicki, and his partner Richard Semper.  The restitution was made after it came to light that the sellers had purportedly supplied their buyers with fabricated ownership records and falsified export documents attesting to the object's legitimacy.  Documents, it should be said, which the museum's buyers accepted, despite marked incongruencies and factual errors.

Last winter, with sufficient tangible evidence that the delicate cartonnage coffin had been smuggled out of Egypt recently, HSI New York and the D.A.’s Office sought, obtained, and executed a search warrant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where they seized the antiquity pending the outcome of their completed investigation.  The New York warrant was issued on the basis that under the State's criminal law, barring the expiration of the statute of limitations, or application of the laches doctrine, the Metropolitan Museum of Art could not have obtained clear title unless the present-day possessor's title could be traced to someone with whom the original owner, in this case Egypt, had voluntarily entrusted the art.

The seizure was executed at The Met on February 15, 2019, and concluded one chapter in a lengthy and ongoing investigation, conducted jointly with law enforcement and heritage partners in the United States, Egypt, Germany, and France.  On the US side, the investigation was coordinated via the New York District Attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., and overseen by New York Assistant D.A. Matthew Bogdanos, Senior Trial Counsel and Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit.  Working on the case for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (HSI) were Special Agents Brent Easter and Robert Mancene.  The Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt for its part, provided evidence in the case and petitioned for the antiquity's return.

Left: U.S. Homeland Security Investigations special-agent-in-charge Peter Fitzhugh. Center Left: Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Shoukry. Center: Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. Center Right: Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos. Right: Antiquities Trafficking Analyst, Apsara Iyer. Image Credit NYDA's Office
While the seizure of a prestigious golden coffin, purchased by the largest art museum in the United States, may have shocked the general public, it is not the first time that the Metropolitan Museum of Art has run afoul in its purchase of high-value tainted objects for their collection that were later determined to have been stolen or looted.  Presented with credible and demonstrable evidence that the Egyptian coffin had been recently smuggled out of Egypt, in contravention of the country's cultural heritage laws, the museum quickly moved to cooperate with law enforcement, cutting short its successful exhibition of the Egyptian mummiform coffin and relinquishing their centerpiece artefact to the authorities for restitution.  Daniel Weiss, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, apologised to Egypt and indicated the museum had been the victim of fraud and an unwitting participant in the illegal trade of antiquities.

At the hand-over ceremony, New York District Attorney Cyrus Roberts Vance Jr., issued a statement indicating that the gilded antiquity is "just one of hundreds of antiquities stolen by the same multi-national trafficking ring."  As of now, prosecutors have not announced charges against any of the actors they have identified in the smuggling case and the investigation is still ongoing.

Yet the story of this grand jury investigation into antiquities traffickers began long before the prestigious golden coffin found its way into the Egyptian Collection at the largest art museum in the United States. 

Information now cleared for disclosure through officials at New York's DA's office demonstrates that their office's Antiquities Trafficking U\nit began conducting an exhaustive international investigation into an illicit trafficking ring as early as 2013, following up on leads tied to individuals known to be working in the Middle East and Europe.  The focus of the investigation in New York centered on the movement of stolen and looted artifacts which transited into or through its jurisdiction, i.e., specifically New York County.

Material seized or relinquished voluntarily to the authorities during the course of this operation came from a variety of known and undisclosed sources. As a result of this evidence and investigation the New York DA's office has been able to successfully illustrate critical connections to, and between several suspects who, it is alleged, willingly facilitated the smuggling of antiquities, from Middle Eastern source countries for a share of the illegal profits.  It should be noted that while antiquities are looted from archaeological sites across the world, incidences of theft in areas of armed conflict are frequently more prevalent due to the lack of security, as was the case with this antiquity in Egypt.

Evidence related to this investigation included digital records of email correspondence which served to establish connections between suspected looters trading freely with middlemen smugglers and corrupt art dealers transacting in illicit material.  As part of the cache of evidence the DA's office also obtained financial transaction records and export documents along with photographs and videos, some of which show dirty and damaged antiquities, shortly after their immediate discovery.

Some of these photographs depict antiquities scattered on the ground. Other showed objects wrapped in newspapers, or lying on the floor in dimly lit rooms or hiding places.  Six of these images, attached to emails exchanged between suspects involved in the smuggling conspiracy, would prove integral to the coffin's restitution and were already evidence in the case long before the mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh arrived at the Met.

These photos were exchanged directly or indirectly between an initial looting suspect, a suspect in Germany and the Paris dealer the gilded coffin was shopped to.  Four of the images showed the priceless object in a newly looted state, still dirt-encrusted and laid out on top of a blanket.

Why do looters take incriminating photographs of freshly looted antiquities? 

In the underbelly of the illicit art market, authenticity brings a higher premium  than legitimacy.   Antiquities dating back a thousand years, broken into pieces, or still encrusted in soil, demonstrating the tell-tale signs of having been freshly unearthed, can be golden to a looter and enticing to the would-be unscrupulous buyer.  Antiquities depicted in such a sullied state demonstrate graphically that the object being flogged won't (usually) have an incriminating photo elsewhere, tucked away in some national ministry or museum archive.

Nor will a photo of a freshly looted antiquity raise any eyebrows during the standard sale vetting procedures which require stolen property checks with art loss databases which will have no record of the previously unknown object.  This allows those who trade in illicit antiquities to fabricate a back story that an object has been tucked away for decades in a private collection, effectively whitening the object's collection history so that it can more easily be sold on the ancient art market, at least in countries with less restrictive laws regarding the timeline of the and the rights of the unknowing good faith purchaser.

Most importantly photographic imagery of looted objects serves as visual proof to the buyer that what the seller is trying to peddle is likely to be (but not always) authentic.   And in the age of data plans and cell phones, looters are now known to snap videos of objects, even while they still rest in situ.  Passing recordings between one another, videos such as the one ARCA has archived below, serve as a record of the early stages of a looter's discovery.  Images such as these can demonstrate an  antiquity's authenticity and first steps of passage, even before it is extracted from a find site.


Start dirty but end clean (at least in appearance)...

In reconstructing the events surrounding the illegal exportation of the Egyptian mummiform coffin, researchers first had to try and trace a likely find spot for the object.  The elaborately decorated surface of the mummiform coffin depicts scenes and inscriptions, painted in thick gesso relief, to guide Nedjemankh on his journey from death to eternal life as a transfigured spirit.  Nedjemankh, was a high-ranking priest of an ancient ram-god Heryshaf, or Hershef, (Egyptian Ḥry-š=f) whose ancient cult was centered in Herakleopolis Magna, now Ihnasiyyah al-Madinah.  This location sits on the west bank of the Nile near Beni Suef, approximately 115 km south of Cairo and 120 km north of the Minya region.

In accordance with Egyptian funerary tradition of the period, the gold coffin and its now lost mummified occupant would have likely been placed in a sealed tomb, either within a burial niche or an outer sarcophagus.  Burial places for the elite that served Herakleopolis Magna during the period from the Old to Middle Kingdoms tended to be large rock-cut tombs created in the distant east bank sites of Sheikh Said and Deir el-Bersha, in the Minya Governorate in Upper Egypt.

Both of these areas have been subject to antiquities plunder, sometimes even by violent means.  As late as 2016 two guards, A'srāwy Kāmel Jād and Ali Khalaf Shāker, patrolling the tombs of Deir el-Bersha were killed when unknown assailants opened fire at them while at the site to loot archaeological material.  But in the case of the mummiform coffin, the looting seems to have taken place earlier, likely during the Arab Spring of 2011, in the midst of Egypt's political upheaval and the revolutionary period which toppled former president Muhammad Hosni El Sayed Mubarak.

Analysis of digital evidence: an increasingly important tool for solving crimes and preparing court cases

Looking to solidify the object's illicit origins and the time frame for its theft, investigators worked to reconstruct the initial passage of the object's timeline with evidence obtained from the suspects' correspondence. Using the six photographs taken of the mummiform coffin and later shared between the suspected tomb pillagers, middlemen and dealers, forensic analysis of the image files allowed the DA's office to establish a timetable for when each of the photos were taken, purportedly by the freelance grave robbers or their associates.  That research concluded that each of the six photographs were snapped in either October or November 2011.  That same photo analysis geolocated where the photographs were taken, inside Egypt. 

This evidence serves to contradict the manufactured export documentation produced by the coffin's launderers.  Works of fiction in their own right, and with striking inaccuracies and contradictions that should have been identified during the museum's due diligence process, the white-washed export documents fraudulently claimed that the sarcophagus once belonged to the Cairo merchant Habib Tawadros who purportedly sold the gilded coffin to a "Mme. Chatz" in Switzerland.

After passing from Egypt the investigation revealed that the coffin spent some time under the control of a known middleman operating in the United Arab Emirates, where the coffin was shipped after leaving Egypt and spent some time before moving on to Germany.  The coffin was then shipped from the UAE to Germany where it underwent restoration before ultimately passing on to Paris where it was viewed in person on December 2016 for consideration by Diana Craig Patch, the Lila Acheson Wallace Curator in Charge of the Department of Egyptian Arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Image Credit: Ministry of Antiquities-Arab Republic of Egypt
Despite a thorough paper trail which details precisely whose hands the object passed through, there is little information, that can been revealed to the public at this time, which identifies the specific shipment methodology the smugglers used to enable the object's the illegal transboundary movements and to circumvent the objects identification when crossing various borders on its journey from the source country of Egypt through to its final European 'destination, the upscale ancient art market of Paris.

The UAE-based suspect alleged to have been involved in this transaction was already well known to illicit trafficking researchers, as the gilded coffin was not the first plundered antiquity with fraudulent documentation the middleman dealer has been connected with.  In 2008 the Iranian trader, based in Sharjah, exported a limestone head of the Assyrian king Sargon II, declaring that the object was originally from Turkey. In 2010, US Customs inspected a package transiting through Newark International Airport which the dealer had shipped sent via FedEx. That package contained five ancient Egyptian objects dating from 343 B.C., or the Late Period, to 2081 B.C., during the Middle Kingdom on route to Holyland Numismatics in the US.   Again, in this case, the dealer had listed the country of manufacture as Turkey.  In 2011, he also exported a statue thought to represent either the goddess Demeter or her daughter Persephone, of the type only produced in Cyrenaica, ancient Libya. As with each of the previous cases, each time the dealer fraudulently issued misdeclarations, he listed the country of origin as Turkey, for objects originating from war torn countries in the Middle East though it remains unclear as to why he chose to do.

This Sharjah suspect in turn shipped the coffin on to two suspects in Germany who facilitated details of the transaction with Paris-based art dealer Christophe Kunicki, and his partner Richard Semper while the object underwent cleaning and restoration.

Thoughts on the museum's level of due diligence

In examining the provenance of the coffin, it is discouraging to note that the export documentation alone, should have given everyone who handled the object and its subsequent purchase pause, that is if they were acting in good faith and are innocent of any level of collusion.  At no point did anyone, the Sharjah dealer, the Germany-based conservator and intermediaries, Christophe Kunicki, Richard Semper, Curator Diana Patch or anyone else in the administration at the Metropolitan Museum of Art seriously question why the variously supplied export certificates, and their French and German translations, listed the issuing authority as "the Arab Republic of Egypt" and not as the "United Arab Republic".

From February 21, 1958 until the September 28, 1961 coup d’état, Egypt and Syria were a sovereign, if short lived, union known officially as the "United Arab Republic". All license applications, shipper's export declarations or export permissions would have referred to the country during this time period as the United Arab Republic (the U.A.R.) and would likely also have specified the regional territory it referred to, ergo, the United Arab Republic - the Southern (Egypt) region or the Northern (Syria) Region, whichever would have been applicable to the article being shipped.  Furthermore Egypt retained the name "United Arab Republic" even after Syria's departure from the union, using it as its official name through 1971.

While I don't fault the museum's staff for their innate lack of knowledge of geography and Middle Eastern political alliances, I do fault them for not having even tried to inform themselves given the enormous price tag of this purchase, let alone the possibility that they might (again) be facilitating looting by accepting fabricated documents so readily.  A simple, proactive cross check of history books, at any point during their due diligence process, would have alerted any of the non-colluding parties that something might be afoul with the coffin's exportation documents.  That one single cross-check could have prompted appropriate law enforcement authorities to act more quickly, and would have saved the Met considerable embarrassment, as well as acquisition cash. 

Likewise, as a member of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), one of the museum world’s most influential professional organizations, the Met is required to abide by AAMD acquisition guidelines.  These guidelines set standards by which member museums should go about conducting due diligence when acquiring archaeological material and ancient art.

Section III A of these guidelines specifically state:

A. Member museums should thoroughly research the ownership history of a Work prior to its acquisition, including making a rigorous effort to obtain accurate written documentation with respect to its history, including import and export documents. 


Left: Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. Center: Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Hassan Shoukry. Right: U.S. Homeland Security Investigations special-agent-in-charge Peter Fitzhugh. Image Credit NYDA's Office
Lessons learned and food for future purchasing thought

A statement from the ICOM International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods states:

“It is important that museums, libraries, archives and art dealers continue to be able to develop their collections. Nevertheless, they should ensure that their collections are built up in accordance with universally recognised moral principles. They must take precautions to ensure that they acquire or borrow only ethically acceptable items and reject items that might have been looted or illegally exported.”

Failure to have engaged in serious due diligence of this artifact caused the Metropolitan Museum of Art to suffer by their own hands.  Likewise, the eye-popping prices the museum continues to pay for suspect artifacts exacerbates the difficulties already faced by customs and law enforcement agencies in deterring the illegal trade of ancient art.

Going forward, it might be worthwhile for the Met to consider enforcing a standard which requires its staff to sign off on a document testifying that they have strongly adhered to the AAMD guidelines and ICOM's suggestions before signing any million dollar checks for acquisitions.  Failing to carry out their required duties, the museum would then have sufficient recourse for termination.

This lack of sympathy was echoed by Peter C. Fitzhugh, Special Agent in Charge of HSI New York during the coffin's restitution ceremony, who said: 

“The high profit business of smuggling and trafficking antiquities has been around for centuries....but it is the responsibility of a buyer to confirm the proper provenance of a piece of art or antiquity."

In conclusion, prosecutors have not (yet) announced charges against any antiquities traffickers. After seven years of investigation the coffin is at last on public display at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) in the suburbs of Cairo until it shifts to the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), which is expected to open in 2020.  When it does, the GEM will be the largest museum dedicated to a single civilisation.  I can't think of a better place for Egyptians to learn about Nedjemankh, his life in ancient Egypt.

By:  Lynda Albertson

February 17, 2019

The Metropolitan Museum, Christophe Kunicki and a Luxor dealer names Tawadros: More questions than answers on recent Egyptian acquisitions

In researching details related to the acquisition and current restitution of the 1st century Egyptian B.C.E mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh, I came across two other objects which show Christophe Kunicki's relationship as an advisor of ancient art purchases to the Metropolitan Museum in New York.  

One of those objects is:

A Monumental Stela of Kemes , ca. 1750–1720 BCE



The provenance currently listed on the Metropolitan's website for the Monumental Stela of Kemes states:


A check of open source records using the names Ewe Schnell, Heinz Herzer and Pierre Bergé & Associés combined only turns up one other antiquity,  a panel painting of a woman in a blue mantle, which is also an acquisition within the Metropolitan Museum's collection. 


Serop Simonian is an art dealer of Armenian origin, born in Egypt and a resident in Germany.  He's interesting in that he has stirred up quite a bit of controversy regarding his involvement with the disputed Artemidorus papyrus, which he managed to sell in 2004 for €2.75 million to the Compagnia San Paolo Art Foundation notwithstanding that some experts have ascertained that it is a fake.  As the statute of limitations on that piece ran out, Simonian was never charged. 

On April 25, 2016 the Metropolitan's website for the Monumental Stela of Kemes stated the provenance as something quite different:


This earlier collection history mentions a "Todrous Collection" of which there is nothing documented in open source records anywhere on the web for any other ancient objects.  A late antique textile fragment of a tunic with the inventory number T 34, from "the Tamerit collection" is on record at the at the Papyrussammlung der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek at the Austrian National Library though not much else.

Note this Metropolitan Museum record spells the name Todrous, while the recently restituted mummy spells the name Tawadrus, and trade journals spell the name Tawadros.  Later in this post you will also see the name spelled Tadross

Christophe Kunicki's own dealer website listed the provenance as:

Ancient european private collection, 1969.
With Tadross, Luxor, 1960’s

Stepping back even farther, outside of the museum's website, the Monumental Stela of Kemes was published in Volume 25 Number 5 of the journal Minerva: The International Review of Ancient Art & Archaeology.

This trade magazine listed the provenance as follows:

A rare Egyptian limestone chapel-stele of Kemes, superior of musicians (3), from the 13th Dynasty, circa 1770 BC (H. 73cm), in the form of a quadrangular naos resting upon a base carved with façades, was purchased from the Luxor dealer Tawadros during the 1960s. The cover-piece of the sale, it was estimated at €300,000-€400,000, but brought in a hammer price of just €200,00 from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The expert for both sales was Christophe Kunicki.

Screen Shot: Volume 25 Number 5, Page 53
Minerva: The International Review of Ancient Art & Archaeology
Notice that the involvement of the French dealer Christophe Kunicki via Pierre Bergé & Associés in furthering this acquisition transaction does not appear in any of the Metropolitan Museum's provenance records for the 13th Dynasty Egyptian limestone chapel-stele of Kemes.  It only appears in the bimonthly trade rag for antiquities dealers.  Purchased on 21 May 2014 the Met's record also leaves out the "Luxor dealer Tawadros" connection on this object.  The name of that person is also the name associated on the  now restituted 1st century B.C.E mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh.

Note: Kunicki's website lists another egyptian object with the name "Habib Tawadros" giving us a another artefact linked to this mysterious Luxor dealer.

ARCA has notified the Egyptian authorities that this piece too may require closer examination. 

By Lynda Albertson

June 28, 2019

Interview with Shaaban Abdel-Gawad - Head of the Egyptian Department of Repatriation

Shaaban Abdel-Gawad
By Edgar Tijhuis 

When a civil war starts in a country, everyone and everything pays a price, including heritage.  In response to this ARCA initiated its Minerva Scholarship in 2015 in order to allow heritage professionals from the conflict countries of Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen to train with us as a means of analysing criminal behavior which affect the security of movable cultural heritage during times of conflict.  This ARCA scholarship has allowed participants from Middle East source countries to come to Amelia for ten weeks and to learn from ARCA instructors as well as share their experiences with other heritage peers.  Minerva scholar's time in Italy also serves to build capacity between source and market country experts as they also on hand to share their own very valuable insight and experience in protecting their country's heritage, oftentimes under extremely difficult conditions.  

This year, in 2019, with funding obtained through a successful crowdfunding campaign, ARCA has been able to extend its Minerva scholarship initiative to an important post-conflict country, Egypt. During our 11th year of producing training programs we are pleased to have welcomed Shaaban Abdel-Gawad, as our first Minerva scholar from Cairo. To hear more about him, and his plans during his time in Italy, I sat down with him at one of the local coffee bars in Amelia, right in front of the old Medieval gate, which overlooks some of the city's Neolithic walls which circle the old town in order to ask him a few questions about his work and career.


Can you tell me something about your work in Egypt?

In Egypt, I am the head of the antiquities repatriation department. The department was founded in 2002 and I have been the department's head for the last four years. Since the start in 2002 over 10.000 pieces have been repatriated, most of them in the last four years. We work in different ways to achieve these results and to protect our heritage as best as possible. First of all, we collaborate with the authorities in market countries, for example through bilateral agreements like the 2010 agreement with Switzerland concerning the illicit import and transit of antiquities.  Also through the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the United States, the first of its kind for the US with a Middle Eastern country. Under these agreements and other bilateral and formal agreements we have also collaborated with Italy, France, Switzerland, Spain, and the UAE, and when objects are seized abroad, we check all documents and decide what can and should be done.


Images of the sarcophagus recovered from Kuwait in 2018
Furthermore, we have several officers who systematically scan all planned sales of all major auction houses, online platforms like Ebay, Facebook and other channels that can be used to sell antiquities these days.  Online we find many fakes, but between all the fakes, there are also real antiquities that are sold illegally. An example of this is the case of the relic that was recently offered for sale at a London auction. The relic — a tablet carved with the cartouche of King Amenhotep I — has been recovered by Egypt, after the websites of international auction halls were scoured.


Can you tell me more about the rules concerning antiquities from Egypt?

Tablet from Saqqara recovered from Switzerland
Well, one needs to go back in time a bit to at least 1911. * In that year the first Egyptian law on antiquities was adopted. It said, among other things, that foreign excavation missions could take half of the excavated objects out of Egypt. In 1951, a new law was adopted. ** Under this law export licences were required for every single object leaving Egypt and unique objects were never allowed to leave the country. Finally, in 1983 the current antiquities law was introduced. Under this law, antiquities cannot be exported anymore from Egypt.***

The coffin of Nedjemankh is a gilded ancient Egyptian coffin
from the late Ptolemaic Period (First Century B.C.E) .
Are there any recent examples of repatriation of antiquities to Egypt? 

There are many and I will mention a few. After the relic in London in January of this year, we had the case of the gold-sheathed coffin from the 1st century BC. It was recovered in the United States where it had become part of the collection of the The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. According to a statement by the museum which purchased the coffin, inscribed with the name Nedjemankh, a priest of the ram-god Heryshef, in July 2017. Per the investigative work of the Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan, the museum learned that it had received a false ownership history, fraudulent statements, and fake documentation, including a forged 1971 Egyptian export license for the coffin. The museum handed the coffin over to the authorities after evidence showed that it was looted from Egypt in 2011.

In February of this year, another case was handled by Shaaban. Egypt’s embassy in Amsterdam received a 2500-2000 B.C.E Pharaonic limestone statue of a standing man with hieroglyphic marks on the right arm.  The object had been consigned to an auction house in the Netherlands and was scheduled to be sold at the European Fine Art Fair in Amsterdam.  The Ministry of Antiquities, in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, succeeded in proving Egypt’s ownership of the archaeological piece and its illegal removal from the Saqqara area of Egypt sometime in the 1990s.

This month, in an important case which is still developing, the Egyptian authorities are working to stop the auction of a quartzite sculpture of Tutankhamun through Christie’s auction house in London.  This important piece is scheduled to go up for bidding in early July and the Egyptian authorities have raised concerns that the object may have been stolen, possibly from Karnak, an extraordinary complex developed over more than 1,000 years ago made up of sanctuaries, temples, chapels, pylons, and other buildings near Luxor. 

While it remains uncertain whether the Egyptian authorities will be able to successfully claim the object back, Shaaban and his team are diligently pursuing leads and have pointedly asked the auction house to provide the Egyptian authorities with all of the documentation they were given by the consignor in furtherance of the sale.

So far Christie's has continued to state the object is legitimate but has withheld the requested documentation.

Tablet recovered from Australia
How did you hear about ARCA and the Minerva Scholarship? 

When I was in Sudan for an UNESCO workshop Effective implementation of the 1970 Convention for the prevention of illicit traffic of cultural property and of the UNESCO 2015 Recommendation on museums and collections in the Cluster countries I met Samer Abdel Ghafour. Samer completed the ARCA program in 2015 as a Minerva scholar from Syria before moving on to consult with the UNESCO Secretariat within the Section for Movable Heritage and Museums, at the Unit for the 1970 Convention. So I applied and in the end was chosen to come to Italy.

From Cairo to Amelia, that must be a big change….

Yes, it surely is. Cairo is a city with around 20 million inhabitants and Amelia a little town. But actually, I grew up in a village in Egypt and worked a lot at archaeological sites outside the cities. Italian life is Mediterranean, and in many ways similar to our culture in Egypt. The people in Amelia are very friendly and welcoming, and they ‘talk with their hands’ like we do in Egypt. There is even an Egyptian shop in Amelia! Furthermore, I enjoy the company of the ARCA staff and my fellow participants in the program, who come from all over the world. I think it’s great that this special town was chosen to host the program.

Do you see any similarities between Italy and Egypt? 

Yes, there are some interesting parallels between our countries. While we are both source countries of antiquities, we also play a role in educating other countries. We have helped countries like Libya, Uzbekistan, China, Yemen and Iraq to deal with the problem of antiquities looting. And we have seized objects from Italy in Egypt, as well as objects from several other countries that went through Egypt as a transit country.

What do you expect to learn during the program? 

I expect to learn how other countries work in this field, learn more about the laws regulating the antiquities trade and establish an international network for the future.

Ancient model of a boat, 2000 BC, recovered from Italy
More about Minerva Scholarships….

ARCA's Minerva scholarship is set aside to equip source country professionals with the knowledge and tools needed to build or improve heritage protection capacity at their home institutions and to advance the education of future generations. Scholarships are awarded through an open, merit-based competition, subject to available funding.

Accepted candidates must be able to speak and write, in English, at a university level proficiency. Those who do not, cannot be considered as all courses are taught in English. Beneficiaries of the Minerva will be granted a full tuition waiver to ARCA’s intensive professional development postgraduate program which runs annually in Amelia, Italy.

For further information about this multidisciplinary program and/or to request a prospectus/Minerva application form please if you are from a conflict or post conflict country, please write to us in English at education @ artcrimeresearch.org.

* Finalized on 12/6/1912 Law nr. 14 established that all antiquities found in Egypt belonged to the State, and forbade the selling of them, unless they were already part of a collection or coming from legal excavations, recognised by the State.  This law prohibited the export of antiquities from Egypt to other countries, except through a special license which only the Antiquities Department was entitled to grant or withhold.  This article further stipulated that any antiquity, illicitly removed from the territory was subject to seizure and confiscation. 

**Finalized on 31/10/51 Law nr. 215 amended by laws nr. 529 of 1953 and nr. 24 of 1965 enacted provisions which made penalties harsher for the theft and smuggling of antiquities. The law prohibited taking antiquities out of Egypt unless there were multiple items similar to them, and then solely with the approval of the Department of Antiquities, who meeting by a committee formed of museum personnel in the presence of a representative of the department of customs, could issued a license approving an object's exportation.  Failure to have obtained such a license implies that the antiquity in question was stolen or smuggled from Egypt.

***Enacted 06/08/1983 Law nr. 117 of 1983, emended in 2003 abolished completely all export of antiquities outside of Egypt.


Edgar Tijhuis is Academic Director at ARCA and visiting scholar at the Institute of Criminology in Ljubljana. He is responsible for the postgraduate certificate program in the study of art crime and cultural heritage protection. Since 2009, Edgar Tijhuis has taught criminology modules within the ARCA program

June 23, 2020

The Cost of Trinkets: France detains five art market actors in relation to a network believed to be trafficking in conflict antiquities


Between Monday and Tuesday, law enforcement authorities in France have detained five individuals, bringing them in for questioning in relation to a network law enforcement believes to be involved in the trafficking in antiquities from conflict, and post-conflict, countries that have subsequently been laundered onto the French ancient art market.  These detentions come following a lengthy investigation which began in July 2018 and has been carried out by France's Central Office to Combat Trafficking in Cultural Property (OCBC) and the Central Office for the Suppression of Serious Financial Crime (OCRGDF).  Parts of the investigation were also coordinated with the Investigative Judge of the JUNALCO (National Jurisdiction Against Organised Crime) and the Paris prosecutor's office.  

Among those arrested are one director and one in-house art expert affiliated with Pierre Bergé & Associés, a French auction house that specialises in modern and contemporary art, design, photography, editions, and antiquities. The three remaining arrestees have been reported to be: a former curator, who once worked at the Musée du Louvre, a renowned left bank Parisian gallery owner,  and another art dealer.  

While none of the people taken into custody this week have been named, this is not the first time that Pierre Bergé' has come to the attention of illicit trafficking researchers.  Christophe Kunicki, who brokered the sale of the looted Mummiform Coffin inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh to the Metropolitan Museum of Art has been listed in Pierre Bergé's catalogs as their archaeology expert as far back as 28 March 2008.  Likewise, French archaeologists have identified that Pierre Bergé & Associés is one of three companies who have sold suspect deities and funeral portraits originating from Cyrene, the ancient Greek and later Roman city near present-day Shahhat in Libya.  These pieces came to maket via the three firms through Hôtel Drouot auction house in Paris between 2007 and 2015.  

The five detainees potentially face charges ranging from receipt of stolen goods, money laundering, forgery and fraud related to antiquities illegally removed from countries including Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen.  This case underscores once again that the art market and armed conflict are grimly connected through the art market's profit from the laundering and sale of conflict antiquities.  

And while these individuals may or may not go to jail, ancient art buyers are not getting the message that their purchase of such antiquities serves to incentivize those in the supply chain and enables war in countries of conflict.  By buying conflict antiquities without concern for the object's licit origin, they, as well as the looters, middlemen, and elegant auction houses, each play a role in perpetuating crime in un marché avec des fruits bien pourris (a market with rotten fruit).

By: Lynda Albertson

August 21, 2019

Restitution: The grassroots work of the IPP pays off again.

Image Credit: Rahul Nangare, 
Indian Revenue Service Diplomat, First Secretary
High Commission of India, London
On August 15, the High Commissioner of India in London accepted the return of two objects looted from India.  The first was a 1st Century BCE - 1st Century CE carved limestone railing, which experts believe may have possibly been stolen from the Buddhist complex at Vaddamānu in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.  The second item, was a 17th century Indian bronze figure depicting the Krishna as Balakrishna, standing on a lotus base.  The Hindu deity is naked except for his jeweled ornaments, dancing with his right leg raised, holding a ball of butter in his right hand.  This statue is believed to have been taken from the area of Tamil Nadu, the Indian state located in the extreme south of the subcontinent.

Both objects were voluntarily relinquished by an unnamed collector said to have purchased the objects via an also unnamed individual, long implicated in illicit trafficking. This unnamed dealer is presumed to be Subhash Kapoor.

For the uninitiated, Vaddamānu in Andhra Pradesh’s Guntur district might not ring any bells.  But for S. Vijay Kumar, a Singapore-based Indian trafficking expert and co-founder of the India Pride Project, the area is of considerable historic importance and one subject to looting.  ARCA has also noted that excavations in the area have yielded railing pillars, carved in limestone ('Palnad marble), similar to the one that has just been restituted.  One example of such is pictured here. These objects, along with cross-bars, copings, and other architectural elements were used in ancient Vihara and Stupa, some which date as far back as the Mauryan Empire (322 BCE - 185 BCE).  At Buddhist sites such as these, carved stone railings, sometimes square in plan, but more often circular, were used to define the confines of religious sites and could also have been used as decoration to delineate an external processional path.

Both of these recently restituted pieces came to the attention of U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) when the London-based collector who possessed them contacted the agency wanting to voluntarily surrender the objects to their rightful home.  The pieces are believed to have been purchased the objects via Subhash Kapoor, a disgraced ancient art dealer arrested in Europe and later extradited.  Kapoor is currently in Indian custody in the high security block of Tiruchirapalli Central Prison in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu.  There he awaits trial on criminal cases for illegally exporting idols and artefacts from plundered temples.

On 08 July 2019, the Manhattan District Attorney's office followed suit with the Indian government and filed their own formal criminal charges against Kapoor and seven other co-conspirators.  In the court's documentation,  the well organized smuggling ring is believed to have smuggled $145 USD million worth of objects out of India and in to market countries in an operation believed to have lasted for as long as thirty years. Arrest warrants have been issued for all eight defendants on a total of 213 Counts, ranging from grand larceny to criminal possession of stolen property.  


The co-conspirators listed in the July New York Criminal Complaint for Subhash Kapoor et al are: 

Sanjeeve Asokan - Asokan was arrested and charged as a co defendant to Kapoor in India in March 2009.  According to details outlined in the Indian criminal complaint Subhash Chandra Kapoor vs Inspector of Police, para 3., Asokan's involvement in the illicit trafficking ring extended to driving with individual looters to particular villages in Tamil Nadu in order to identify temples which were vulnerable to theft.  Having identified accessible antiquities ripe for the taking, it is alleged that Asokan then supplied the stolen artworks to Kapoor in the United States.  Shipping the loot in staggered shipments from India to lesson the impact of possibly losing an entire shipment should there be a customs seizure.  While awaiting trial in India Asokan is being detained since 25 March 2009 under the Tamil Nadu Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Bootleggers, Drug Offenders, Goondas, Immoral Traffic Offenders and Slum-Grabbers (Act 14 of 1982).  As a co-conspirator in the New York case he has been charged with 21 Counts including Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree (9 Counts), Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree (10 Counts), Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Third Degree (1 Count), and one Count of Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree.

Dean Dayal (also spelled Deen Dayal) - IAs earli as 2016 HSI special agents worked with Tamil Nadu law enforcement authorities to arrest Dayal, and other trafficking co-conspirators in Chennai, India.  As a result of that investigation Dayal was implicated as being one of the principles on the ground behind the actual thefts at targeted temples.  In New York Dayal now faces a total of 5 Counts including Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree (4 Counts) and one count of Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree.

Ranjeet Kanwar (now well known as "Shantoo") - Kanwar was named in an earlier criminal complaint in Manhattan Criminal Court, signed by Special Agent Brenton Easter of the Department of Homeland Security against New York art dealer Nancy Wiener. According to statements by a former employee of Kapoor, Kanwar was one of Subhash Kapoor's alleged suppliers of stolen antiquities.  His name appears on a computer disk file folder that contained at least three pictures of  looted Seated Buddha #1 found at the Sofia Bros. Storage, in New York County, a storage facility rented by Subhash Kapoor. Kanwar faces a total of 4 Counts in New York including Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree (1 Count), Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree (2 Counts), and one Count of Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree.

Vallabh Prakash - In November 2016 authorities in Indian reopened a then 11-year-old case with the help of HSI special agents, which served to identify the smugglers of the now repatriated religious stone idol of Vriddhachlam Ardhanari. Vallabh Prakash and his son, two antique dealers in Mumbai, operated Indo-Nepal Art Centre, a gallery which offered the stolen Ardhanari to Subhash Kapoor and who together smuggled the statue into the United States. Kapoor later sold this idol with false paperwork to the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2004.  Father and Son were arrested in India in November 2017. Vallabh Prakash now faces a total of 11 Counts in New York including Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree (10 Counts) and one Count of Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree.

Aditya Prakash - As mentioned above in November 2016 authorities in Indian reopened a then 11-year-old case with the help of HSI special agents, which served to identify the smugglers of the now repatriated religious stone idol of Vriddhachlam Ardhanari. The son of Vallabh Prakash, Aditya Prakash, was co-proprietor of the Indo-Nepal Art Centre along with his father.  Arrested together with his father in 2017 several cases are still pending against the duo in Nellai, Palavur and Viruddhachalam. It is believed that many of the stolen idols from the temples in Tamil Nadu were smuggled through the involvement of this family, including 13 idols from the Sri Narambunatha Swamy Temple, Pazhavoor in Tirunelveli district on the Tirunelveli-Kanniyakumari border.  Aditya Prakash faces an additional 11 Counts in New York including Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree (10 Counts) and one Count of Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree.



Subhash Kapoor himself is listed in a total of 86 Counts in the recent New York charging document.  His charges include Grand Larceny in the First Degree (1 Count), Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree (16 Counts), Grand Larceny in the Second Degree (13 Counts), Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree (50 Counts), Grand Larceny in the Third Degree (1 Count) Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Third Degree (3 Counts), Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree (1 Count) and one Count of Scheme and Defraud in the First Degree.

Before Kapoor's arrest on 30 October 2011 at Frankfurt International Airport for the charges he faces in India and his subsequent extradition from Germany to India on 14 July 2012, the influential dealer was widely feted in New York art circles.  In connection with his business, he maintained contacts around the globe, in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Bangkok, Bangladesh, Dubai, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, and Pakistan, with several of his associates implicated in shipping and selling stolen objects supplied with fake provenance to hide their illicit origin. At the height of his operation, Kapoor personally visited Tamil Nadu frequently which underscores the intimacy of the collector-dealer-smuggler-looter network as it relates to these cases.

Reflective of and similar to the recent restitution, Kapoor's name has already been tied to looted antiquities from Andhra Pradesh, the zone where the limestone railing returned via the UK originates from.  In 2016, a 3rd century CE stone panel, illegally exported from India, originating from the Satavahana-era Buddhist Complex of Chandavaram. was also returned to India by the National Gallery of Australia.  In that instance, the museum stated that it had been duped into purchasing the carving from Kapoor’s Art of the Past gallery for $595,000 USD in 2005 after the dealer provided themuseum with falsified provenance documentation indicating that the object had left the country of origin before the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.  That object was later clearly identified as having been stolen from the Chandavaram site museum in 2001.


Terracotta Rattle in the form of a Yaksha 
Metropolitan Museum Accession Number: 1990.309
Likely as a result of the increased pressure by grassroots organizations such as India Pride Project and law enforcement and prosecutors pressing formal charges against actors in the US, UK and India, two museums in the United States are finally taking action in evaluating the ethics of retaining prized antiquities within their collections, which are likely tied to Kapoor's illegal activities. According to an article in the New York Times, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, has at least 15 antiquities known to be directly or indirectly associated with Subhash Kapoor which have been acquired after 1990.

The first, the terracotta rattle pictured at left in the form of yakshas (male nature spirit), dates to the 1st Century BCE Shunga period, comes from the archaeological site of Chandraketugarh in the Indian state of West Bengal. It is documented in the Met's collection with no other provenance aside from a passing mention that it was purchased from Kapoor's now shuttered Madison Avenue gallery, Art of the Past.

At the time of Kapoor's arrest in Europe, the Met's management and curatorial staff showed little interest whatsoever in reviewing the legitimacy of the Kapoor linked pieces within their collection.  This despite the spartan provenance which accompanied many of his objects and the fact that it has been proven in other instances that the network falsified provenance documentation.

Now, perhaps in hindsight, and in the wake of recent embarrassing seizures, including an Egyptian mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh, an Italian Bell-Krater by Python and a Lebanese marble head of a bull it seems that the Met has finally decided it might be prudent to rethink its stance on some of its art acquisitions from India.

Image Credit:  S. Vijay Kumar
Via Twitter 8 February 2019
Likewise on 20 August 2019 it was finally announced that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art had come round to deaccessioning its own contested Buddha.  First identified by India Pride Project in February 2018 and related to the same theft as the restituted Nalanda Buddha identified at Maastricht's TEFAF in 2018, LACMA had, until recently, resisted acknowledging that the bronze in their collection was stolen 58 years ago.  This despite the fact that the bronze was matched via an image India Pride Project had obtained of 14 objects stolen from the Nalanda Archaeological Museum of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in Nalanda, Bihar, India in 1961.  Despite this overwhelming evidence, it took almost a year and a half of pressuring the museum,  pursuing India’s claim, for LACMA to decide to deaccession the stolen bonze.

All too often, even when faced with proof of illicit origin, museums weigh the rarity or price of their acquisition above the ethical responsibility of voluntarily restituting objects found to have passed through the illicit market.  When they do, they overlook the cumulative cultural cost of lost art to poorer and more vulnerable source countries such as, in this case, India.  It is critical to remember that each and every object stolen or looted, whether or not the statute of limitations has expired, presents a loss to the source nation's cultural patrimony, and when there are many objects plundered, as can be seen within this one trafficking network, each of these losses has a cumulative negative effect.

Those working in the black market bank of the fact that many sculptures stolen from small villages are less likely to be reported to the police, and if they are reported, that not much is achieved because little documentation is made outlining the details surrounding the theft or the object itself making it difficult to determine the actors involved.  Thankfully illicit antiquities researchers, and now more often key prosecutors, like those in New York, are willing to consider the evidence collected by diligent researchers and scholars, as well as reviewing the historic records of civil servants, even retired ones, in order to access overlooked details like old photographs and museum records which can sometimes help determine in determining if the provenance provided to contested pieces is fact or fiction.

By:  Lynda Albertson




July 3, 2019

Questions for Christie's with regards to its upcoming sale of the Quartzite head of the young pharaoh portrayed as the ancient god Amun

Unpacking some miscellaneous thoughts on the upcoming Christie's sale.

@ChristiesInc does the name Heinz Herzer sound any alarms?  

What valid paperwork does the auction house in their possession which would substantiates that the quartzite head of the young pharaoh portrayed as the ancient god Amun, left Egypt legally?

Has anyone provided the auction house with shipping, storage, customs, or insurance records of any kind documenting when and how the quartzite head left Egypt, or when and how it arrived in Munich or elsewhere during its travels?


Looking over your Resandro Head Fact Sheet the first thing that draws my eyes was not the head's innate beauty but rather it once being in the possession of a specific Munich dealer, Heinz Herzer.  As a firm champion of Italy's right to the return of  the statue known as The Victorious Youth, also known as The Getty Bronze or Atleta di Fano I am all to familiar with the fact that the very illegal, proven illicitly exported statue was acquired by Heinz Herzer in 1971.  Herzer even created a publicly traded fund called Artemis S.A., specializing in art works just to sell the bronze to either Thomas Hoving, the former Director of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.or John Paul Getty for his California Museum.  


But before the statue’s sale to the J. Paul Getty Museum, Herzer’s Munich firm removed the corrosion and incrustations covering the bronze statue, meaning Herzer had knowledge of the statue’s existence during the earliest periods of its clandestine movements. 

Image Credit:  Jiri Fril
Evidence presented by the Italian state at the Tribunal in Pesaro, Italy and later at the Appellate and Supreme Court demonstrate that Artemis was created ad hoc, with the specific purpose of managing the exportation and subsequent purchase of this valuable, but illicitly smuggled statue.  As most will remember, Italy's Appellate Court, followed by its Supreme Court, ultimately affirmed that this statue was clandestinely removed from Italian territory and has issued an order for restitution of their bronze. 


But back to the Quartzite head.  Christie's documentation state that Prince William of Thurn and Taxis owned the sculpture in the 1960s and sold it to Josef Messina, the owner of Galeria Kokorian & Co., Vienna, between 1973 and 1974.  


Best I can see Galerie Kokorian & Co KG, located at Spiegelgasse 19, 1010 Wien, Austria seems to be a discretely modest paintings gallery.  An unusual place to have an Egyptian statue of this significance to say the least. 


Let's also talk about the prince for a minute.  His full name was Wilhelm Alexander Lamoral Erich Maria Josef Ignatius Von Loyola Franciscus Von Assisi Benedictus Cyrillus Quirinus.  He lived from  1919-2004.  

As a general rule, as Live Science journalist Owen Jarus stated, the prince often went by the name "Willy".  Digging through records you can find some things listed in this diminutive name which includes some generalized information about his life including his debutante ball work but nothing at all on his collecting Egyptian antiquities.  Closest he ever appears to have gotten to Italy was a brif stay in Morocco after the second World War.

There is even a strange mention of some former actress who swears that she was secretly married to him.  Her name is Ilona Medveczky.   Yet I find absolutely no mention of an art collection containing Egyptian artifacts. 

Even his grave seems to me to be a modest one....so again, I would question if he was wealthy enough to have had an important, yet for all intents and purposes, unknown, ancient art collection.  

His neice, Daria Maria Gabriele Prinzessin von Thurn und Taxis was born on 6 March 1962. She is the daughter of Franz von Assisi Prinz von Thurn und Taxis (the prince's brother) and Mafalda Theresia Franziska Josepha Maria Prinzessin von Thurn und Taxis.  She told the Live Science journalist she didn't recall her uncle having such a piece in their collection. 

Interestingly though, I find nothing linking no official sons or daughters to the prince within official peerage documents.   I did find a "Viktor" is, who is referred to in the Live Science article as Willie's son.  He lives in Vienna and goes by the simplified name of Viktor Thurn Und Taxis and manages a Vienna film company called  VTT Film Service.   Who is mother was and why he is not listed on the noble roster is a mystery to be untangled though. 

Further digging I see that the three branches of the von Thurn und Taxis family: the German, Czech and the Austrian have little or no love lost for one another.  The German branch seems to be the very very wealthy one and extremely put out by the Czech branch of the tree going so far as to file at least one lawsuit against its relatives across the border. 


But let's not stray too far from the activities of Heinz Herzer and other dealers of interesting repute in the recent past that make me speculate about the legitimacy of this stone head.   Herzer's appears to have been associated with French dealer Christophe Kunicki, who was involved in the questionable acquisition of the looted Egyptian B.C.E mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh.  

Herzer's name is also connected with Serop Simonian, an art dealer of Armenian origin, born in Egypt and a resident in Germany.  Simonian's involvement in the Nedgemankh case makes for some interesting court document reading, as does the notoriety he gained with the controversy over the disputed fake/authentic Artemidorus papyrus, which sold for €2.75 million to the Compagnia San Paolo Art Foundation in Italy in 2004. 


Herzer and Serop's names both come up alongside the French dealer Christophe Kunicki via Pierre Bergé & Associés in the provenance of a 13th Dynasty Egyptian limestone chapel-stele of Kemes, which Kunicki sold to the Metropolitan Museum in 2014. This object's provenance also connects with the same Egyptian middleman, and was purportedly purchased Feb 1969 by Uwe Schnell from Heinz Herzer Gallery in Munich.


Which brings us back to Hertzer’s name in Christies Auction of a quartzite head of the young pharaoh, which portrays him as the ancient god Amun.  Lot 110, is set to be auctioned in London tomorrow in Sale 17042 on 4 July 2019.


Yet despite statements made by noble family members that they have no recollection of the object, the potential purchaser (as well as Egyptian authorities apparently) are supposed to accept the auction house’s word that due diligence has been properly and sufficiently conducted without being privy to any of the documentation Christie's used to made their determination that this stone head is fit for sale. 


Where is the paperwork provided to the auction house which fully and clearly confirms that this antiquity left Egypt legally and was once truly part of a collection of Prinz Wilhelm von Thurn und Taxis?
Image Credit of Egyptian Law
Courtesy of ICOM Red List for Egypt.
If this antiquity was removed legally from its country of origin, before the effective date of Egypt’s applicable patrimony law, the seller of the object should be able to provide something tangible to substantiate that export date.


In its statements to the Press, officials from Christie's have stated "It is hugely important to establish recent ownership and legal right to sell which we have clearly done. We would not offer for sale any object where there was concern over ownership or export."

In the interest of transparency, and good faith, and with Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities making diplomatic demarches to INTERPOL, UNESCO, ICOM, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office as well as asking Christie’s directly to provide any concrete information on the object's validity for sale on the London market, shouldn't tomorrow's pending auction be postponed until such time as the Egyptian authorities have been given the opportunity to satisfactorily review any and all related documentation that Christie's had at its disposal when making its claim that this object is licit and not illicit?   

By:  Lynda Albertson