Egypt tries to halt the sale of a statue resembling Tutankhamun

Egypt tries to halt the sale of a statue resembling Tutankhamun
Statue's head to be sold at Christie's. Courtesy Christie's.

On July 4th, a partial bust of Tutankhamun is set to lead ‘The Exceptional Sale’ at Christie’s London; however, Egyptian authorities are trying to halt the auction for fear that the statue was looted from the Karnak temple in Luxor. Dating back to the 13th century BC, the statue, if sold, could go for as much as £4 million.

‘We will do our best to stop this auction immediately,’ said Dr Mostafa Waziri, Egypt’s head supreme council for antiquities. ‘We will talk to the Egyptian foreign ministry and our ambassador in London to do our best to stop it, as we have to check.’

The work sits about 28.5cm tall and now only the head portion of the statue. According to Christie’s the head was once a part of a statue of Amen, a God and the major deity during the New Kingdom. The statue was created during the 18th Dynasty under the reign of Tutankhamun and thus bears features often associated with the Boy Pharaoh who has captivated people for decades. ‘The full mouth with slightly drooping lower lips, and almond-shaped, slanted eyes, with a deep depression between the eyes and eyebrows’ are some of the features Christie’s points out as ‘those of Tutankhamen.’

According to the auction house’s press release, the statue was acquired by a Munich-based dealer named Heinz Herzer in 1985. Before Herzer bought the item, it was owned by Joseph Messina, an Austrian dealer, who bought it in the 1970s from Prinz Wilhelm von Thurn und Taxis who ‘reputedly’ owned the statue since the 1960s. Egyptian officials, however, believe the provenance of the statue to read otherwise.

Now, Egyptian officials have asked Christie’s to prove the past of the statue and how it has gotten to where it is today. Dr Zahi Hawass, once the Egyptian minister of antiquities, believes the head of Tutankhamen most likely left Egypt in the 1970s. ‘I don’t think Christie’s have the papers to show it left Egypt legally; it’s impossible,’ said Hawass. ‘Christie’s has no evidence at all to prove that, and therefore it should be returned to Egypt.’

‘If it is proven that any piece is illegally exported, all legal procedures are taken with Interpol, in coordination with the Egyptian ministry of foreign affairs in order to ensure its return,’ said Dr Shaaban Abdel-Gawad, Egypt’s head of anti-smuggling, the department that scours auctions for potentially looted items. ‘We will not tolerate or allow anyone to sell Egyptian influence at all.’

‘Ancient objects by their nature cannot be traced over millennia,’ said a spokesperson for Christie’s in response to the claim. ‘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.’