Chapter 22: Dr. Colonna Discovers the Amarna Collection

In January 1972, Michael Puff, a young student of Egyptology at the San Francisco State University, who had known Edmond for a year or two, asked if he could show the scientific reports of the Tell-el-Amarna Collection and a copy of "Je Cherche un Homme..." to his professor of Egyptology, Dr. Andreina Leanza Becker-Colonna. Naturally, Edmond encouraged him to do so. Two weeks later, Edmond met Dr. Colonna and her husband, Professor Ernesto Colonna, a brilliant sculptor, painter and professor of art. They discussed the Tell-el-Amarna Collection and viewed many photographs and documents. It was agreed that Dr. Colonna should see the part of the Collection, which was in the San Francisco area, the following week.

Edmond and Alfred took the Colonnas to the banks where the sculptures were kept. She scrutinized them with the eye of the Egyptologist while her husband viewed them as an artist and an experienced sculptor. Though they did not betray their feelings from the start, it was obvious to the two brothers that they had liked all the royal portraits, statuettes and reliefs they had seen. The Colonnas wanted to see the rest of the Collection. A trip to Los Angeles was arranged, and Michel, Edgard and William received them in the bank. The more sculptures Dr. Colonna saw, the more her interest and fascination grew.

There were two pieces they had not yet seen. Michel brought in the life-size head of Nefertiti in pink limestone. In none of its photographs had this piece looked that beautiful. The Colonnas were ecstatic. Now their admiration and enthusiasm had become apparent. Even after such a brief examination of the various sculptures, Dr. Colonna was already viewing them in relation to one another. She spoke as she and her husband handled the sculptures. She had noticed the unmistakable hand of one master sculptor who had perhaps employed younger and less experienced artists. The sculptures in every respect - style, spirit, craftsmanship - were from Amarna, and from what she had already seen could be nothing but genuine. Then Michel and Edgard brought the wooden box which contained the large bust of Akhenaten. As it was still on the floor with only its top removed, Professor E. Colonna could not wait to see and touch it. He knelt in front of it while the Mansoors and his wife stood by watching him. In a sense they were amused, but they did not interupt him. All were absolutely silent. Dr. A. Colonna was looking at the sculpture but was watching her husband at the same time. The scene the Mansoor brothers witnessed that day was unforgettable. Here was this sensitive artist, on his knees, admiring and absorbing the beauty created by an Old Master almost thirty-four hundred years earlier.

Professor E. Colonna lightly touched the face with his fingers, totally oblivious to what was happening round him.One modern artist was communicating with the spirit of another of a remote past. The Mansoor brothers had seen the expression on Prof. E. Colonna's face before, on Drioton's Varille's, Boreux', Gabra's, recently Monsignor Nolli's, and many others. All these scholars had a feeling for art and beauty. Professor E. Colonna unquestionably had more than just this. He was an artist who worked with his hands, his fingers, his mind. He could perhaps see more than the others. Professor E. Colonna had not said one word yet. He was entranced, but his delight could be read on his face.

When the sculpture was placed on a table, Dr. Andreina Colonna again began to look at it. The sculpture, she said, was majestic dynamic, overpowering. Prof. E. Colonna began to talk now. "Here," he said, "you can see the living soul of Akhenaten, and the faithful rendition, the feelings and the mastery of the artist who lived in his time. Certainly," he continued, "a modern sculptor can produce a great work of art, but this work will be strictly an expression of what he sees happening today. An artist living today cannot instill the very spirit, the very soul and the very emotions that you see in this portrait."

The Mansoor brothers thought of Cooney, Bothmer, Muller, and others. Professor Ernesto Colonna was not an Egyptologist. He did not view these sculptures as the dissidents did. He saw in them the very essence and the very spirit of works which could have been produced only by artists who knew Akhenaten and his family. And then, there was the diversity of the portraits. The heads of the princesses, though similar in appearance, are different from one another. Likewise, Akhenaten himself is shown in different moods and different expressions. Even Nefertiti, though always beautiful in her known portraits, is shown in one of the sculptures as an "aging beauty." This is what the dissident Egyptologists could not see. In fact,  Egyptologically and stylistically, they saw nothing at all. They cannot be judges of ancient Egyptian art, especially of the Amarna period. If they have appointed themselves as such, this is not necessarily the truth. If their acolytes have followed them blindly, it is for lack of knowledge and sensitivity. For Egyptology, the Mansoors felt anger and shame.

Dr. Andreina Colonna began a systematic study of the sculptures of the Collection on the basis of her knowledge of Egyptian art. It had to be reasoned, logical and comparative to other existing Amarna sculptures and royal portraits. It had to be complete.

Dr, Colonna was taking notes, looking, examining. The sculptures became associated with her; she had, as she said, "discovered the Collection in her own backyard."

In the following months, Dr. Colonna and Prof. Colonna met and discussed the Collection with Dr. Fred Stross and many of the scientists and other persons closely associated with it. All points of interest were outlined and studied. Dr. Colonna was not to remain idle. She had already formulated a plan. Despite the calumnies and the voices of doom, Providence was protecting the Collection for Egyptology, for the art loving public of the world, and for the history of art.

Copyright © 1995 Christine Mansoor

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