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July 15, 2020

Auction Alert: Gorny & Mosch - four canopic jars of Djed-Ka-Re, Vizier of Upper Egypt

Lot 278, Set of four canopic jars of Djed-Ka-Re, Vizier of Upper Egypt
was once in the Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM), now on auction with Gorny & Mosch
ICOM Österreich in Vienna has reported that the German auction house Gorny & Mosch Gorny is offering a set of suspect Egyptian canopic jars in its upcoming Auction 272: Ancient Art, Africa, Asiatica (among others from the Dr. Wiedner collection which is scheduled to take place on 22 July 2020. 

Traditionally, the four canopic jars would have been used to hold the embalmed viscera removed from the body of the Egyptian vizier during his mummification process. Made of alabaster, each of the suspect artefacts have individualized lids, carved with the heads of the four sons of the god Horus: Qebehsenuef with a falcon head, Hapi with a baboon head, Imsety with a human head, and Duamutef with a jackal head. Each jar served as a funerary guardian to a separate internal organ of the deceased.

These antiquities were removed from Austria's Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM) in Vienna, where they were documented as part of the museum's inventory as far back as 1824.  The jars are believed to have been sold out the back door, likely during the period when Hans Demel was the museum's collections manager, and who is believed by some to have practiced "imaginative inventory management."

Yet, despite being notified by the KHM in December 2018 that the consigned artefacts were illegitimately sold without the museum's actual authorization, Gorny & Mosch's Frau Dr. M. Nollé omits the museum altogether in this company sales video.  Here Frau Nollé states only that the artefacts were once privately owned by Franz Joseph I the Emperor of Austria, failing to mention the Austrian claim or that the objects were ever part of the embezzled Kunsthistorisches Museum collection.  In fact, she goes to great lengths to talk about Egyptian burial practices and completely skips over this key passage in the pedigree of these antiquities. 

A check of Gorny & Mosch's website mentions the museum obliquely, without naming it specifically but in a hodge-podge of words that makes it sound like their sale was legitimate.

"Provenance: These four canopies come from the possession of the Austrian imperial family and were for the first time by E. von Bergmann in the Recueil des travaux relatifs à la philologie et larchéologie égyptiennes et assyriennes, Volume IX, Paris 1887, pp. 57-59 No. 33 , published. They are also mentioned A. Weil in 1908 in his work Die Veziere des Pharaonenreichs, p. 148, with the storage instructions of Canopic Jars, Vienna. After the First World War, the jugs probably entered the art trade, where they were sold in 1958 by the Frankfurt coin dealership E. Button. The canopic jars come from the so-called old inventory of the imperial collection and are already mentioned in the inventory from 1824. In the inventory from 1875 they are listed under inv. 3580-3583 registered. The canopic jars have been published several times or mentioned in scientific articles, but there are no photos of the objects. From 1913 to 1951, Dr. Hans Demel, director in the Egyptian-Oriental collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum. After his death in 1951, his successor, Dr. Egon Komorzynski carried out a general revision of the inventories from 1952 to 1967, in which it was found that numerous objects were missing. These were officially removed from the inventory in 1967, including the canned set of Djedkare (inv. No. 3580-3583)."

Frankfurter Münzhandlung E Button, was managed by Elisabeth Button, who took over the family-run coin company of Adolph E. Cahn in 1935, two years after the National Socialists seized power in Germany.  The remaining Cahn family members Herbert Adolph Cahn and Erich Cahn had by then fled to Switzerland, along with their mother Johanna Neuberger.  But the truth is, how or when the jars arrived in Ms. Button's hands does not wash them clean, and the auction firm has a duty to inform its clients of the Austria museum collection history and the fact that Austria wants these antiquities back. 

Piecing together the story of the Egyptian artefacts' removal, all roads appear to lead back to collections manager Hans Demel, who is known to have dealt closely with a distasteful man named Rudolf Raue, someone some Jewish World War II-era claimants refer to as "a parasite of the worst kind". 

Raue instead referred to himself as an independent merchant, or art dealer, or excavation specialist, and by 1944, was conducting sales via the Dorotheum. That auction house, in turn, asked the NSDAP Gauleitung Vienna (the local affiliate to the Nazi Party) for a political certificate of good conduct for Raue which was then endorsed by the head of the Gaupersonalamt.  

As the first country annexed by Nazi Germany on 12 March 1938, Austria set the stage for the implementation of Aryanizations in other territories that Germany would later occupy and it was initially under the provisional administration of the NSDAP that Rudolf Raue became the sub-authorized representative for three Jewish-owned shops which were subsequently "aryanized": Josef Berger & Sohn at Mollardgasse 10 in the sixth district, and the antique shops of Adolf Löwy located on  Rauhensteingasse 7 and Richard Klein at 4th, Karlsgasse 16.

Brought to trial after the war along with several other individuals involved in the "Aryanization" of Austria's Jewish-owned businesses,  Raue was never formally charged, and according to the Central Business Register, he continued to practice the art and antique trade until December 29, 1961. 

During that time of Raue's business dealings he is known to have had dealings with Oxan Aslanian, a collector and art dealer born in Armenia who operated out of Berlin.  In addition to selling and collecting, Aslanian was a forger of exceptional Egyptian fakes, some of which deceive experts even today.  Given Raue's ability to sell off the property of displaced and murdered jews without blinking an eye,  and his rapport with a forger, one would not be surprised if he was also willing to serv as an intermediary to embezzled museum pieces handed over by a crooked museum employee. 

If the name Gorny & Mosch rings a bell, it's because their lack of transparency and due diligence is nothing new and has been discussed with regularity on ARCA's blog.

By:  Lynda Albertson