Chapter 21: A Meeting with Dr. Jacques Vandier
In the spring of 1973, Edmond, Alfred and William traveled to Europe again with the intention of meeting with some European Egyptologists.
In Munich, they visited Dr. Voss, who had so far been their intermediary with Muller. He told them that it would serve no purpose to see Muller again. "The man is so stubborn you could not approach him with a tank." Despite this advice, they called Muller, but when their name was reported, they were told that he was not in Munich. In no mood to play hide and seek, the brothers took the train for Paris.
At the Louvre, the saw Vandier. Each family member who visited Paris had always stopped to see him. They had their differences, but there was mutual respect. Though Vandier had always told the Mansoors privately that he did not believe in the genuineness of their sculptures, he never could tell them why. Each time they asked and each time he evaded the question. At various times, he said, "These sculptures are certainly pleasant to look at, but my friends, what do you fear, you have the opinion of science for you." Then he repeated his two favorite phrases, which the Mansoors had heard for years and years: "But I do admire your persistence in trying to prove their authenticity"; and, "I can't understand how you have not forgotten your French yet. You left Egypt so many years ago, you are now at the other end of the earth, and you still speak it as well as I do." Both comments were certainly very flattering, but they were not precisely what the Mansoors wished to hear from him.
Then, Vandier added, "I know you want me to look at the sculptures again. You always travel with a few anyway. I have never seen you without them. Can you deny this?" The brothers laughed. "What you say is true. However, we have no intention of showing them to you any more. We have learned our lesson. You would only repeat what you have been telling us for years, and we are tired of listening to your ambiguous declarations, particularly when you don't explain why you do not think the sculptures are genuine." He jumped somewhat at this remark and did not answer it. He changed the subject. He asked if they had any other spectacular objects like the gold, silver and bronze group of King Taharqa and the Horus which he had acquired from the 1952 auction at Parke-Bernet in New York. He had seen this piece in their Gallery in Shepheard's just before the war and was preparing to acquire it for the Louvre when the world conflagration started and nothing could be done about it for the time being. When the Mansoors took the piece to New York in 1947, he was heartbroken, for fear it would be sold there right away.
But as it happened, Young had examined it under his ultraviolet tool, had found that it did not "fluoresce properly", and therefore had declared that it could not be ancient. The American museums who had funds for the acquisition of such an extraordinary and historically important masterpiece of art had known about Young's opinion and had consequently refused to bid for it. Vandier had been unaware of this, and had called his friend Cooney to bid for the piece for the account of the Louvre. But Cooney had not dared to show up at the auction. Instead, he asked Mrs. Elizabeth Riefstahl, from the Museum staff, to bid on it. Naturally, the Mansoors were very unhappy at the price it had fetched, and were even more surprised to see that it was a representative of the Brooklyn Museum who had acquired it. They learned, some days later, that it was the Louvre that had bought it. They told Vandier that they were pleased for his sake. Vandier added that he was very thankful for Young's error.
The Mansoors told Vandier that they had other important Egyptian art in California and that they might show some of it to the Louvre at a later date. They stood up to leave. They shook hands, but as soon as they reached the door, he stopped them. "Because of the long friendship I have had with your family," he said, "I will look at your sculptures one more time." The Mansoors jumped and said, "We have three pieces in Paris. We can bring them here tomorrow. But if we do, do you promise to tell us why you think they are genuine or not?" He said he would.
The next day, the Mansoors returned to the Louvre with the three pieces. They gave them to Vandier, who asked to leave them with him and return after lunch.
With four hours to kill, the Mansoors went to the Egyptian Galleries to see the famous group of Taharqa and the Horus. It was there, majestic and resplendent, a thing of great beauty and of great historic importance. Had it not been for Young's magic tool, it could have been today in Boston, in New York, in Brooklyn, in Cleveland or in any of the other major museums in the United States.
Shortly after 2:00 p.m., they returned and found Vandier holding one of the sculptures. They remained silent and observed Vandier's face. They remembered that Vandier had never really cared to look closely at the sculptures before. He had never held them like Drioton, Boreux, Gabra, etc. Now, there was a sudden change on his face. Now, he really seemed to communicate with the sculptures. After all these years, was Vandier finally about to tell the Mansoors of his decision...another opinion?
The Mansoors say:
We were there fully one hour and Vandier had not said one word. He went from one sculpture to the other, as if in extreme fascination, but deeply absorbed, and totally forgetting that we were sitting there in front of him. Finally, he let out a deep sigh. We waited. The first words he said were, "Well, my friends, frankly I don't know" ("Eh! bien, mes amsi, franchement je ne sais pas"). Our feeling is that this declaration was not the truth. He knew they were ancient, but was afraid or ashamed to say so. How would a great Egyptologist like him explain his attitude of the last twenty-five years? All his life he had been a scholar of Egyptology and he did not know? We were not shocked. It could conceivably happen. Even Egyptologists can be afraid of making mistakes. He had privately preached an opinion before the appearance of the scientific documents. He knew of Drioton's and of the other Egyptologists' opinions. He had also probably talked or written to Cooney, Muller and Fakhry. It was easy to say that the sculptures were forgeries because there were so many "Amarna type" fakes on the market. But above all, we remembered his sacred code: "I will believe that an object is ancient only if I unearth it myself." So many people have heard him say this for years and years. He has heard too much talk about the Collection, that they were different from other Amarna sculptures, that perhaps he had looked at them hurriedly or carelessly. And Cooney had bought Amarna fakes. So did other museums and collectors in Germany, Holland, Belgium, the United States. Where is the truth? What can one say? How can one be safe and still be regarded as a great and able Egyptologist? The vanity of man! Vandier did not know! But "experts" like Bothmer, Muller and Cooney did. Then Vandier held the sculptures, one after the other, and his words came faster. "They seem to be all right. I can't find anything wrong with them. Stylistically, they agree with the art and spirit of Amarna. Their workmanship is outstanding. They are very beautiful. Of course you also have your scientific documents. They can't all be wrong." ("Ces hommes de science ont du voir tout de meme quelque chose sur leur surface") "These men of science must have seen something on their surface. And you want me to give you my opinion? I don't know." ("Je regrette de ne pouvoirrien vous dire") "I am sorry not to be able to tell you anything, I wish you luck."
The Mansoors did not want to hear this last remark. They don't accept ambiguous verdicts. This was absurd, and they told Vandier so. They told him they needed his opinion as an Egyptologist, as a connoisseur of Egyptian art and mind. The Mansoors said that for twenty-five years, they had never spared effort or expense to have these sculptures properly studied or examined. They said, they had had them technically investigated by scientists because the museum people told them to do so, and that when they obtained the scientific documents, the museum people turned around, ignored the results of the scientific analyses, saying that they needed now the opinions of reputable and capable Egyptologists.
From Cooney, the Mansoors obtained nothing tangible, nothing that made sense.
From Bothmer, they heard only irresponsible talk.
Muller proved that he was weak indeed in his knowledge of all aspects of Amarna art. He was dictatorial and wanted all "true connoisseurs" to see through his eyes.
Fakhry and a few other Egyptologists talked ravingly with Cooney, Bothmer, and Muller.
A few other Egyptologists who had never seen one single sculpture spoke absurdities simply because they did not know. Others did not want to interfere to save face for their friends.
From not even one of these dissident Egyptologists, did anyone ever hear any substantial, logical, tangible, or true statement concerning the Mansoor Collection.
And there are the misinterpretations of Young, Cooney, Von Bothmer, and others. Young came back from a visit to the British Museum to declare that Judge Nigel Warren had misrepresented Professor Glanville's words. One of the Egyptologists lied when he said that the late William Stevenson Smith had passed the sculptures as ancient, at the Boston Customs, only out of friendship for the "old man" (M.A. Mansoor). A noble individual and a true scholar like Smith would not commit such a sin, for M.A. Mansoor or anyone else.
Lansing's favorable opinion was not considered. Instead, the other Egyptologists came up with a negative opinion supposedly given by the late William Hayes, whose opinion on Egyptian art was generally not sought. He was unquestionably a great philologist, his knowledge in this field exceeding by far the combined knowledge of the dissident group. No one wanted to mention the favorable opinion of Drioton, Gabra, Varille, Boreux; they were not members of the consortium.
As to Drioton, his knowledge of Egyptian art gave the few dissident Egyptologists ( and this is the Mansoors' firm conviction) that dreadful feeling of having an inferiority complex. In witness of this, and to dispel all doubt that he was not only one of the greatest Egyptologists and philologists, but also a distinguished connoisseur of Egyptian art, I will mention here only two of his works on Egypt and Egyptian art. The first, "L'Egypte" (Les Peuples de l'Orient Mediterraneen"), a scholarly work co-written with Jacques Vandier, offers one of the finest studies of Egypt, its history and its art, to this day. The second, a monumental work, "Les Pharaons a la Conquete de l'Art," literally, "The Pharaohs to the Conquest of Art" (Desclee De Brouwer, 1965) "a complete history of Egyptian art" ("une histoire complete de l'Art Egyptien"), co-written with Father Pierre du Bourguet, of the Egyptian Department of the Louvre, is a work which has been crowned by the "Academie Francaise" (Ouvrage couronne par l'Acaademie Francaise). And the works crowned by the "Academie" are rare indeed. What comparable works have that dissident group written? What crowns their gibberish?
When Vandier had finished, the Mansoors asked him if what he had just said constituted a reversal of his so-far unheralded opinion, or if he just wished to simply say that he did not know. He gave them a sharp look and said: "My friends, go and say anything you wish to say. I have told you all I care to say. I don't know anymore."
Where did this leave the Mansoors? They had known Vandier for thirty years. Like many, he was too proud and resented the fact that, maybe, he could have been in error, or that he did not really know. Only a few close associates were told of this meeting with Vandier. If the Mansoors have volunteered this information today, it is because the story of the controversy-turned-conspiracy must be told in its entirety. None of the Mansoor brothers ever saw Vandier again.
From paris, the brothers took the train for Italy. Edmond stopped for visits and business in some of the country's northern cities, but Alfred and William continued to Rome. Their sister Elvira, a Salesian nun who often did work in Italy, had already prepared the ground for their visit to the Vatican where they were to meet Monsignor Gianfranco Nolli, the Inspector General of the Egyptian Museum of that State.
Monsignor Nolli received them very warmly in his office. He knew of their coming and had already received, months earlier, all the documents relating to the Collection. He had studied these very carefully and all the documents relating to the Collection. He had studied these very carefully and all that remained now was for him to see a few of the sculptures. They conversed for a while, discussed several mutual friends and briefed him, as best they could, on their sculptures of Amarna. They talked as they placed the three pieces that they had on his desk: 1) a fragment of a head of Nefertiti in pink limestone; 2) three fragments in white limestone constituting a statuette of Akhenaten (broken at the neck and the waist) with arms and feet missing; 3) a white limestone head of Akhenaten.
From his first glance at the sculptures, they felt that they had found in Noli another admirer of the Collection. But when they had seen his expression after he had briefly examined them, they were convinced that they would have in him a staunch advocate of their authenticity. They were right. They stayed in Rome five days and saw Monsignor Nolli three more times. They answered all his questions at each meeting and gave him all available information pertaining to the Collection. There was no doubt in his mind that the sculptures were ancient. He was able to give them a more definite confirmation of his opinion at their last meeting. He had examined the sculptures very carefully, had read all the scientific reports and had given the pieces for scrutiny to the scientists and technicians of the Vatican's Laboratory. Though he did not give the Mansoors his opinion or that of the scientist in writing (because this is - as with many museums - aginst the rules of the State Department of the Vatican), he allowed them to quote him when needed. Alfred and William were delighted. True connoisseurs of Egyptian Art among Egyptologists are so rare nowadays.
On their last meeting, Nolli asked if they wished to have the broken sculpture joined at its breaks. He assured them that his technicians did the finest work. They consented gladly since the breaks had already been studied by scientists and as all the other sculptures showed one or more breaks, which could still be examined further if needed. They left the three pieces in his custody for a lengthy examination, promising that one of the Mansoors would return to Rome the following year.
Their trip to Europe had not been in vain. They had gained Monsignor Nolli's support in their struggle for Amarna
Copyright © 1995 Christine Mansoor
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