Chapter 14: Opinions of Three Egyptologists
In December 1958, Edmond wrote to Dr. Etienne Drioton, who was in France. The Mansoors had kept him informed of all the news relating to the Collection, and were requesting his opinion in writing. In January 1959, Edmond received his reply, which has been translated by Dr. Robert Arnal of San Jose State University.
Montgeron January 3, 1959
Dear Mr. Mansoor,
Being an employee of the French government, member of the Artistic Council of the museums of France and Professor at the College de France, I am not permitted, as you know, to give you an official evaluation of the Amarna sculptures that are in your possession. However, I know them very well, inasmuch as I have had the chance of studying them often at your father's gallery during the many years that I spent in Egypt as General Director of the Antiquities Department.
My personal opinion regarding these sculptures is made. I do not see any reason why I could not repeat it again and I even give you permission to make it known confidentially if this could be helpful to you. I regard the sculptures to be authentic (J'éstime que ces sculptures sont authentiques).
The report of Mr. Lucas, who was the most eminent specialist in matters of Egyptology, and also the one of Professor Robert R. Compton of Stanford University (in contradistinction to the report of Mr. W. J. Young of the Boston Museum) are positive about this subject. I may add that, concerning the artistic point of view, these sculptures come from a workshop related to, but not identical to the one in which the colossi of Karnak were executed. Their stylistic pattern, advanced in the same fashion as the Karnak statues, is of such a full faultless execution that they cannot be, in my opinion, the work of a forger.
I remain, dear Mr. Mansoor,
Etienne Drioton (signed)
The name of Drioton has been cited in many of the preceding chapters of this book. Cooney claimed that "he is indeed a distinguished philologist, but his opinion on objects is completely worthless." This unbelievable statement of poor judgment and poorer taste could not be accepted by great Egyptologists - Noblecourt, Colonna, Nolli, Gabra, du Bourguet and others- or by any true connoisseur of Egyptian Art. Drioton had given his opinion of the sculptures after having studied them for many years, and had stated why he believed in their authenticity. Cooney on the other hand, never gave substance to his negative opinion. He was content to trust Young's judgment. Was the individual who purchased monstrous Amarna fakes for the Brooklyn Museum to be trusted when he made this devious remark about one of "the greatest scholars of Egyptology?" In "Who was Who in Egyptology," published by the Egypt Exploration Society, London 1972, p. 88, Dr. Drioton is listed as "French Egyptologist." The work, activities and achievements of Dr. Drioton, in Egyptology, are fully described in two pages, among the lengthiest accounts ever made in any issue of this book.
In January 1959, the Mansoors wrote Dr. Sami Gabra, requesting his opinion in writing. His reply translated in English was:
Dear Mr. Mansoor,
I have received your letter in which you ask for my opinion of your Akhnatonian Collection. It is with pleasure that I answer you.
In my capacity as Director of the Institute of Egyptology and Director of Excavations of the University of Cairo at Hermopolis, located on the west bank of the Nile, facing the city of Akhenaton, I have had, on several occasions, the opportunity to examine the pieces of your Collection. This Collection consisted, at the time, of some fifty pieces in limestone, often reddish in color, representing busts of King Akhnaton, heads of Queen Nefertiti , heads of princesses and bas-reliefs showing the royal family.
The first impression that emanates from these pieces is the mastery of the artist who expressed with a striking realism the character of King Akhnaton in what I may call his double personality. In fact, some heads of the King show him as delicate and weak, and others less weak if not energetic. Such execution cannot be rendered except by artists contemporary of the King, and this is evidence in favor of the authenticity of the pieces.
Aside from this, I could notice on these objects which are part of one collection, the presence of some ancient breaks on the neck and legs; these breaks adjust more or less on the statue. This reveals the work of a studio.
The names of these studios (workshops) of Akhnaton are known to us; they are, so far, three in number.
As regards these studios installed by a king who actively sought to propagate his doctrine, and because of the rarity of pieces that have reached your hands, certain dealers who could not obtain a part of these objects have thought and preached their non-authenticity.
Most of these works, if not all of them, were for a long time the property of a European who lived in Mellaoui in the last century and in the beginning of this one.
These works were carefully kept by this notable in a well-locked room. Later, however, this Collection disappeared from its hiding place and no one ever knew what had become of it. I have often heard this story from the mouths of eminent persons of Mellaoui while I was excavating at Touna-el-Gabal. I strongly believe that the appearance of this Collection on the market, and its offering (for sale) by one collector, has started a psychosis of jealousy and suspicion on the part of merchants of antiquities. In any case, the chemical analysis of the stone, made by eminent chemists, such as Lucas, and by the specialists of Egypt, has proved the authenticity of the stone and the workmanship.
For these reasons, I believe in the authenticity of these objects and I join in the opinion of my eminent colleague and Master, the Chanoine Drioton, who often examined with me the pieces of your Collection.
Please accept, dear Mr. Mansoor, my best salutations.
Dr. Sami Gabra (signed)
Former Professor of Ancient History of
the University of Cairo
Former Director of Excavations of the
University of Cairo at Touna El Gebel
Former Director of the Institute of
Egyptology of the University of Cairo
Presently Director of Higher Studies of
the Coptic Institute
Certain points stated in Gabra's letter must be clarified here. When he mentions "certain dealers who could not obtain a part of these objects have thought and preached their non-authenticity," he refers to the Cairo dealers Maurice Nahman and Phocion Tano, who were propagating rumors that these sculptures could not be genuine when some of the pieces were purchased by King Farouk. These remarks were mentioned in an earlier chapter.
In regards to the previous ownership of the Collection, Gabra often heard in Mellaoui that certain Amarna sculptures had been in the possession of a European landowner, and were kept hidden in his house for many years, and that they had finally disappeared after the death of the owner. The Mansoors have known this version of the story even while M. A. Mansoor was still purchasing the sculptures from Tawadros Ghoubrial. Neither the Mansoors or anyone else can possibly know the whole truth about the origin of this Collection. M. A. Mansoor definitely purchased all the pieces from Ghoubrial, who said that he bought them from a fellah who had found them himself. M. A. Mansoor believed Ghoubrial. He had no reason to lie. When M. A. Mansoor visited Ghoubrial in a Cairo hospital on his deathbed, he swore to M. A. Mansoor, Edmond and Edgard that the story he had told them was the truth and that he did not know any other.
Assuming that Gabra's hearsay version of the origin of the Collection is true, it need not conflict with what Ghoubrial told the Mansoors. The Collection could have belonged to a European landowner. At his death, one of his heirs, wishing to remain anonymous- particularly for fear of the Department of Antiquities, though laws on antiquities were not yet expressly formulated- might have given these sculptures to one of his trusted fellahin, one, two or more at a time, to sell for him. This fellah could have been the man who sold them to Ghoubrial, understandably without mentioning whom they belonged to. The fellah could have lied when he said that he found the pieces himself, in order to protect his employer. Is this story plausible? It seemed so to Drioton, Varille, M. A. Mansoor and perhaps to others. The years 1880 to 1920, in the countryside of Egypt, seem today like the Dark Ages. How many thousands of art masterpieces of unknown origin exist in museums today? Many!
When he mentions Lucas and other specialists (Iskandar and Mustafa, in particular) regarding the analysis of the stone and workmanship, Dr. Gabra does not mention the scientists who later examined the sculptures as he did not receive their reports until months later.
At any rate as he firmly states it, Gabra had no doubt whatsoever as to the authenticity of the Collection.
In the autumn of 1959, the Mansoors sent two sculptures from the Collection to Dr. Wilhelm Voss, who personally delivered them to Dr. H. W. Muller for an examination from the point of view of Egyptology. Needless to say, Muller had heard of the Collection and from all accounts had already discussed it with Cooney, Von Bothmer, and Fakhry in Egypt. The Mansoors also knew that, like Cooney and the others, Muller did not hesitate to make it known to all, that he did not believe in the authenticity of the Collection. However, the Mansoors wanted a written report and they were "lucky" to get it in February 1960. They say they were "lucky" because in his one page report, Muller widely exhibited his total ignorance of the art and facts relating to the time of Amarna.
Muller gave a negative opinion based on two points which have been unquestionably proved not to be in accord with facts. He said:
I-It is decisive for me that the forms of all objects submitted to me as coming from the ownership of the Mansoor family, whether in the original or in photographic reproductions, exaggerate certain stylistic characteristics of the Amarna artistry in such an obtrusive fashion that every connoisseur of Egyptian Art must consider them forgeries without hesitation...
II-The material of both objects submitted to me in the original (relief head and small head of princess) is a reddish lime-sandstone, which is supposed to have derived from Egypt according to the expert opinions, but which is not known to me as coming from Egypt; to my knowledge this type of stone, during the entire pharaonic history of the Valley of the Nile, has never been used either in its architecture, or in its production of reliefs, statues or small objects.
In "Je Cherche un Homme. . .", the Mansoors quoted the report by Dr. Stross and Mr. Eisenlord.
Regarding point I, it can be said that the acknowledged El Amarna objects cover a wide range of styles from vivid realism to caricature-like stylization, and that none of the pieces in the Mansoor Collection approach the exaggerated style of some carvings whose authenticity is generally recognized. Muller's statement that "every connoisseur must consider them forgeries" is not in accord with fact. Dr. Drioton, Professor Gabra, Dr. Iskandar and others have decided in favor of the authenticity of the pieces.
Under point II, Professor Muller states that reddish lime-sandstone such as used for a number of the Mansoor pieces was not used in the entire pharaonic history of Egypt. Consulted on this point, Dr. Zaki Iskandar, Chief Chemist to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo wrote, "Thank you . . . for the reprint dealing with the 'Authentication of Antique Stone Objects by Physical and Chemical Methods.' I read this article very carefully and I agree with you all through. Of course I have no objection if you mention any quotations from my report . . . . Pink limestone of different shades occurs plentifully in Egypt, particularly in the western desert on the Adfu-Dush road and on the Asiut-Kharga road and also between Ismailia and Suez, and was used occasionally (A. Lucas, Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries, Third edition, 1948, p. 472). An example of its use in the Eighteenth Dynasty is the head of Amen-em-Heb, the overseer of estates of King Thotmes III, Cairo Museum, Ground Floor, Room No. 12, Case C, Special No. 11529. Some pieces of similar colored limestone are also on public exhibition in the United States. One example is specifically mentioned in a catalogue of the Metropolitan Museum in New York."
In their publication, "A Report on a Group of Limestone Carvings Owned by M. A. Mansoor and Sons" (1965), Dr. Stross and Mr. Eisenlord wrote: "One may also consider the fact that some of the pieces were made of a material of distinctive rarity. It seems not unlikely that artists from El Amarna, whose approach was a breaking with convention, should have used a somewhat unconventional but by no means unknown material. On the other hand, a sophisticated forger, who was able to fabricate dendrites, patina, and other evidence so well as to deceive a number of eminent scientists, would not have chosen an unusual material for his purpose, but rather one of which there was a great abundance on the artists' market and in the museums. Such a man would have enough to worry about without raising such questions as brought up by Professor Muller."
Furthermore, Professor Muller completely disregarded the value of scientific investigation. In fact, he states in his "Expert Opinion," "I refuse to go into the technical opinions of the De Ment laboratories and of others, and into their methods, which, in my opinion, have led to the wrong result regarding the conclusion of authenticity."
I will not comment on this statement, I will leave it to the qualified scientists.
Professor Muller also wrote: "I may recognize a certain stylistic relationship of both small heads of princesses of the collection Stoclet (Fig.17 and 20-22) with the photographs of the Mansoor pieces submitted to me by Dr. Voss; they might, in fact be the work of the same forger." I obtained the article by Dr. H. Frankfort, in which he includes Fig. 17 and 20-22. According to the art experts, any similarity or stylistic relationship of both small heads of princesses of the Stoclet collection (Fig. 17 and 20-22) with the Mansoor pieces is positively and absolutely non-existent, so with all due respect to Professor Muller, what he recognized as "a certain stylistic relationship" is purely in his imagination. Even when compared from photographs, any connoisseur of art, and particularly of Amarna art, will instantly know that there can be no similarity whatsoever between the style of the Stoclet and that of the Mansoor sculptures. It is like comparing the style of Picasso to that of Rembrandt.
Could Muller be unaware of the wide range of styles that were prevalent at the time of Akhenaten? In the opinion of the many Egyptologists who authenticated the Mansoor sculptures, Muller did not know what he was looking at. He had a preconceived thought: these sculptures were forgeries. They did not look to him like the sculptures of Amarna in the Cairo Museum. They did not look like the others in Berlin. Therefore, they had to be imitations. Where is his knowledge of the time of Amarna? History tells us of only three known sculptors of this period, but couldn't there have been more, unknown to this day? In Greece, in the Fifth Century B.C., was Phidias the only sculptor? Did all the marble sculptures of this era have to be like those of Phidias? In the Fourth Century B.C., was Praxiteles the only sculptor?
Had Muller not conferred already with Cooney and the few dissident Egyptologists? As Dr. Fakhry had once told Edmond, "We have discussed your Collection with Muller, Cooney and Von Bothmer and we have decided that your sculptures are not ancient." To make a decision behind closed doors is contrary to academic ethics and moral principles. No scholar should be proud of such an action, no honest scholar would do it. Fakhry had never seen nor studied the pieces, Muller had briefly looked at two and he never knew what he had in his hands. Cooney believed in Young's opinion. Von Bothmer looked, but could not see or would not see!
A few years ago, at the advice of Muller, a head of Akhenaten (its authenticity was questioned by many Egyptologists) was purchased by the Kestner Museum of Hanover, Germany. It has been claimed that a scientific report was written about it. In 1973, Alfred, Edmond and William were in Hanover and asked Mr. Munro, the curator of the Museum, for a copy of their scientific report concerning that sculpture, he refused their request on the ground it was confidential. Why doesn't the Kestner Museum, in view of the fact that some scholars question the authenticity of that object, publish their report, and let's see if it makes sense to the scientists? Whatever the fate of the Kestner head, one cannot place the sole responsibility for its purchase on Munro. Munro was advised to buy this sculpture.
What else can one say about Muller's report, which gives no tangible facts, but which is the authoritarian opinion of an Egyptologist who thinks that all connoisseurs of Egyptian art "must" view it with his "eye."
When Drioton's favorable opinion on the Collection became known, several directors and curators of museums began to have second thoughts. There was confusion among certain Egyptologists. Who was right and who was wrong?
The Tell-el-Amarna Collection of the Mansoors became a frustrating field of battle. Egyptologists like Cooney, Bothmer, Muller and Fakhry, all believed to be leaders in their entourage, were giving fateful opinions on the sculptures by pretense of knowledge.
The public and many museum officials were not aware of this. Whom should they believe? The museum officials preferred to wait. Gabra's favorable opinion of the Collection was ignored or little talked about. Only very few persons in the American museums knew of him, Muller's report was lauded. But by whom?
Despite the effort, the arduous work, the scientific reports, the pleading for a re-examination of the sculptures, etc., the Mansoors could still get nowhere with the museums. Most of their directors, curators and Egyptologists were now working for the common cause. The scientific facts relating to the Mansoor Collection must not be publicized or even discussed. They must remain hidden from trustees and the public alike. The Mansoors themselves must not be encouraged by the museum officials, and the Mansoor name should be obliterated from all museums, as we will see in some of the following chapters. Scores of letters that the Mansoors and other persons interested in the Collection sent to these museums remained unanswered, just as, Young never answered any of the numerous letters sent to him by interested parties. By now, it seems to me that the controversy had degenerated into a conspiracy!
Copyright © 1995 Christine Mansoor
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