Chapter 25: An Exhibition of El-Amarna Sculptures and Reliefs of the M. A. Mansoor Collection
After having thoroughly studied all the sculptures remaining in the Tell-el-Amarna Collection for a period of more than two years, Dr. Andreina Leanza Becker-Colonna, Professor Emeritus at San Francisco State University, Curator of Egyptian Antiquities and of the Egyptian Sutro Collection at San Francisco State University, Lecturer on History of Art and Archaeology at the University of California Extension in San Francisco for more than twenty-five years, was now prepared to exhibit the Collection and publish her preliminary study of it. Being also a member of the Archaeological Institute of America, the American Research Center in Egypt, the Egypt Exploration Society of England, and the International Association of Egyptologists, she was admirably qualified for this noble project.
The exhibit took place in June-July 1975, in the Library of San Francisco State University, and was sponsored by its Department of Classical Archaeology and by the Marie Stauffer Sigall Foundation. A beautiful, scholarly forty-five page catalog illustrating the sculptures was written by Dr. Colonna and mailed to the four corners of the world. It was also made available at the exhibit.
This booklet, the first comprehensive study by an Egyptologist, of a part of the original Collection, comprises a foreword, maps of Egypt, chronology, genealogy of the Royal Family, Ancient Egypt, a historical outline from the first to the eighteenth dynasty, Hymn to Aton, The El-Amarna artistic reform, The El-Amarna sculptures and reliefs in the M.A.Mansoor Collection, the El-Amarna Collection, list of plates, and selected bibliography.
For lack of space, I have chosen to reproduce only some excerpts from the "Foreword," and "The El-Amarna Sculptures and Reliefs in the M.A. Mansoor Collection."
Excerpts from the "Foreword":
We are very fortunate and proud to present an exhibit of precious and rare works of ancient Egyptian art...to pay dutiful homage to the memory of one of the finest and most selective collectors of Egyptian art, the late Mr. M. A. Mansoor.
His unquestionable reputation as a gentleman and a man of noble character was equal to that of his integrity as a dealer and to his knowledge in the field of Egyptian antiquities. The greatest Egyptologists of our time all enjoyed his warm hospitality when they visited his antique gallery in Cairo, proud to be numbered among his personal friends. The trust placed in Mr. Mansoor for his professional competence and honesty was also shared by King Fuad of Egypt and his son and successor, King Farouk....To both of them Mr. Mansoor was personal advisor and expert on Egyptian antiquities.
The importance of these works of art does not lie only in their intrinsic beauty and their exceptional quality of technical perfection, but it is also deeply enhanced by the religious, historical, and psychological significances of one of the most interesting as well as obscure periods of the history of ancient Egypt. It is possible that the mysterious side of this phase of ancient Egyptian civilization challenged Mr. Mansoor to acquire a whole collection of about 106 pieces from El-Amarna, some of which were sold by him to Egyptian, American, and European collectors.
Among Mr. Mansoor's many clients were King Fuad and Queen Nazli of Egypt; King Farouk; King Alphonse of Spain; King Prajadhipok of Siam; King Carol of Rumania; King Ferdinand of Bulgeria; Howard Carter, who used to visit the Mansoor Gallery at the Old Shepheard's Hotel to acquire antiquities for his patron, Lord Carnarvon; important art collectors in Egypt such as Levi de Benzion; Achilles Groppi; the Khawam brothers; the Faculty of the university of Cairo....
A controversy unfortunately originated here in America. It is not the place here to delve into the details of this very unjust and sad story, especially since there is large documentation confuting the unfavorable "scientific" report which started the whole issue. This documentation is published and available. In fact, Mr. Mansoor, his sons and heirs were extremely geneous and correct in letting the collection be examined by various Egyptian, American and European experts of unquestionable reputation, integrity, and skill. The sculptures were subjected to petrographic, chemical, microscopic analyses, and other scientific techniques which the laboratories of three continents could offer. If that were not enough, the study of the style, fashion, symbols, postures, details, anatomy, etc., undeniably supply that "quantum" which only competent connoisseurs of ancient art history, trained by long experience and gifted with a special sensitivity may supply. Ample written documentation, both scientific and stylistic backs the strongest possible evidence of the authenticity of the El-Amarna sculptures....
Excerpts From "The El-Amarna Sculptures and Reliefs in the M.A. Mansoor Collection":
The M.A. Mansoor Collection consists of a number of artifacts which began to be acquired in Cairo at the beginning of this century....
In examining the M.A. Mansoor Collection, analyzing it in an objective frame of mind and with a dispassionate and detached critical approach, it is evident that all its pieces bear the unmistakable imprint of the Amarna school - a school which, as said before, had already made known its aims and new trends under Amenhetep III and later reached the apex of its stylistic development under the impact of the religious, aesthetic, and philosophical doctrines of the supreme ruler of Egypt who had gone so far as to identify himself with the sun god.
...these works show some differences as they must be creations of different artists, some of whom were very talented and experienced, some of a less high artistic standard, and others who might have been apprentices or disciples.
One must realilze that Akhenaten's rule lasted only about seventeen years and that in this short span of time the Pharaoh had become involved in a titanic project that subjected the deeply rooted tradition of the country and of the people of Egypt who were by nature extremely conservative. A new city was being founded, for which a large amount of buildings such as royal residences, temples, and tombs had to be completed in a very short period of time. These buildings had walls...statues representing the royal family...made by the hundreds and some of them were of colossal size....Hundreds of artists, painters as well as sculptors, must have been feverishly engaged in carrying out this almost unique example of undertaking in art history.
...The leading masters must have had disciples, apprentices, helpers...as we see in the Mansoor Collection all the typical basic features of the art of that period, we may assume that these works are original and come from other workshops just as good as those already known to us....
In concluding this descriptive summary presentation of the Mansoor El-Amarna Collection it is hoped that it has been made clear that, according to the author's belief, all the pieces exhibited are genuine, original, authentic and ancient. This statement is necessary because, for approximately twenty-five years, a cloud has been hanging over these remarkable works of art of one of the greatest periods of ancient Egypt. The cloud unfortunately originated in this country because of an ill interpretation of a "scientific" report.
Now I turn to those experts who have, over a period of twenty - years, studied the Collection and given positive reports. All this important, scientifically interesting and ample documentation is available to anyone who wishes to consult it through publications, reports, letters, etc. After a careful study of the Collection, and according to the technical, stylistic, and aesthetic analysis presented in this catalogue, it is self-evident that the preponderance of data speaks in favor of the authenticity of the Mansoor Collection.
From the scientific viewpoint, the ample documentation available refutes any doubts about the merits of the antiquity or originality of these works.
The question now remains: How did the late Mr. Mansoor acquire these El-Amarna sculptures? It is evident that archaeological items whose provenance is unquestionable are those found in excavations, well documented by the archaeologist in charge, and described in their daily records and reports. But how many items found in museums and private collections are from these unquestionable, scientific digging sources? If we should accept as authentic only those works of art whose provenance is that of documented excavations, our museums would be half empty.
In the controversy over the Mansoor Collection, after having carefully studied the documentation, the author has found a great deal of superficial, unsubstantial, invalid statements made by people who have briefly looked at only a few pieces, or who have not even examined a single piece of the Collection, or who have issued their definitive and all-sweeping judgments based only on photographs, or who have heard about the Collection from other people....
A positive, critical declaration, honest and worthy of professional consideration can be given by a critic of art only after having thoroughly examined all the pieces in question. This I have done.
The Collection is exhibited, the scientific and aesthetic documentation printed. Any scholar with professional knowledge, unbiased approach, and ethical behavior who wishes to come forth with sound arguments well supported scientifically and/or stylisically is welcome.
Professional and ethical art criticism is not based on gossip nor random talk and it is, therefore, high time that such a beautiful collection of fine Egyptian art comes out of the cloud cast on it by the unexplainable behavior of a handful of historians or so-called stylists who have, so far, neither followed the ethical and scholarly procedures of studying the whole Collection nor offered detailed, sound evidences on which they should have based their statements.
Is it fair of me to ask the reader to compare these excerpts with the one page expert opinion of Muller or the ravings of Derchain, even though the reader may not be familiar with the art of Amarna? What tangible facts have Muller or Derchain offered? Doesn't Colonna's study indicate a superior knowledge of the art of Amarna, as well as a greater instinctive appreciation of its diverse styles? There is no point in discussing the dissident Egyptologists because they wrote nothing that one could debate.
After Drioton, Gabra, Varille, Boreux, etc., the Mansoors had found another scholar of Egyptology: Dr. Colonna. Others were to follow and still more will when the Collection will be further studied for its stylistic and aesthetic merit as well as its scientific proofs of authenticity.
Invitations to attend the opening of the exhibit had been sent to Egyptologists, directors and curators of museums, presidents of universities, and many others. Almost all answered to accept or politely decline for one reason or another. But the directors, curators and Egyptologists of the Boston, Brooklyn, Cleveland and some othe Eastern United States museums were not heard from. Incompetence? Yes. Prejudice? yes. Obstruction? Yes. Now, lack of ethics!
Although it was boycotted by some Egyptologists, the exhibition at San Francisco State University was indeed a tremendous success. Most viewers showed positive enthusiasm and admiration - some visiting the Collection more than once.
Dr. Zaki Iskandar, former Chief Chemist of the Cairo Museum Laboratory and former Director General of the Antiquities Department of Egypt, and one of the first scientists to test the sculptures (his report was dated 1950), flew from Cairo to San Francisco, at the invitation of the Department of Classical archaeology, to attend the opening of the Exhibit and to lecture on the Collection and on the application of scientific methods to authenticate ancient works of art. At San Francisco State University and at Stanford University, where he had been invited as a guest lecturer, he told of the many relevant tests used by himself and other scientists to determine the genuine antiquity of the entire Collection.
Several articles on the Collection and the Exhibit appeared in some of the greater San Francisco area newspapers. One of them by Dr. Alfred Frankenstein, the famed syndicated art critic, lauding the great artistic merit of the sculptures. There was also television coverage of the sculptures and radio interviews on the Exhibit by Drs. Colonna and Stross, both stressing their aesthetic and historic importance as well as the nature of the scientific tests used to authenticate them.
In the following four weeks, several meetings were attended by eminent officials of San Francisco State University and scientists in honor of Dr. Colonna and her work.
In Los Angeles, some members of the Mansoor family had the pleasure and honor of attending several meetings which included Dr. Iskandar, Dr. Willard Libby (developer of the carbon 14 test), and Dr. Rainer Berger, Professor of Anthropology, Geography, Geomotry, and Geophysics at UCLA.
These eminent scientists once more discussed the Collection and all scientific documents relating to it and suggested that some of the sculptures be submitted to yet more tests which had just recently been developed to determine the age of works of art. (These and the resulting reports will be presented in a following chapter.) It is interesting and baffling to note that Egyptologists such as Cooney, Bothmer, and Muller never mentioned scientific research on Egyptian works of art. Why? Why are they so terrified by these scientific analyses?
Two other meetings were arranged for Dr. Iskandar in Los Angeles. The first took place in Mr. Stead's office in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The Deputy Director received Dr. Iskandar and William very warmly. From the start, Stead informed Iskandar that he had been interested in the sculptures for many years and that he often considered them for acquisition despite the opposition and the pressure exercised on some by voices from the East Coast. Iskandar seized this opportunity to describe Drioton's, Varille's, Gabra's, and Boreux's feelings as well as his own about the Collection. He assured Stead that all possible scientific means available had been used to authenticate it, and that if he wished to acquire important Egyptian antiquities for his museum, he would find nothing greater and more beautiful anywhere. Stead fully shared his opinion but felt obliged to mention all the difficulties that he had so far encountered to fulfill his cherished wish.
The second meeting was scheduled to be with Dr. Ben Johnson, Director of the Museum's Laboratory. Stead escorted Dr. Iskandar and William to the Laboratory, but when they reached it, Johnson had vanished. Stead was annoyed, but Iskandar and William understood. They knew that Johnson had worked with Young and that he did not wish to have his back against the wall discussing the Amarna sculptures with Iskandar. The former Chief Chemist of the Cairo Museum's Laboratory would have been a powerful and convincing opponent. Again, there was obstruction! To counteract Johnson's disappearance, Iskandar was courteously guided by Stead and one of Johnson's assistants on a tour of the Laboratory.
Iskandar's visit to California had been a personal triumph for Dr. Colonna, for her admirable work and for the Amarna Collection.
The eminent Dr. Alfred Frankenstein was a Lecturer at Stanford University, and at the time was one of the leading West Coast art critics. He wrote a two-page article titled "Akhenaten and His Family" in the San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle, Sunday, July 6, 1975 ("This World," pp. 21 & 23).
...Akhenaten was responsible for a new style in Egyptian portraiture which is most dramatically expressed in the portraits of the monarch himself. "The heads are grotesquely distorted," says Edward L. B. Terrace in his great book, "Treasures of Egyptian Art from the Cairo Museum." The face is long and narrow, the chin and cheekbones angular and elongated, the eyes narrow, overlong and hooded, the lips huge, pendulous, sensual. The thin fold of flesh between nostrils and lips is emphasized by the pouche flesh at the corners of the mouth." These remarkable innovations have been described by Aldred as having "been exaggerated to such an extent as to lose their natural significance and take on a new, superhuman symbolism - a stigma."
Mme. Becker-Colonna sees the new style for the rendering of the royal countenance a little differently. "The eyes are almond-shaped slanted," says she. "The nose is very thin at the top, becoming wider at the nostrils; the eyebrows are rounded, and the eyelids are heavy and seem to veil the gaze, which looks toward a distant inner thought, to a mysterious inside world." And she credits the sculptor or sculptors who made these works with an astonishing gift of "expressing on the king's emaciated face the tormented spirit of a disillusioned individual suffering from a deep spiritual conflict."
Terrace and Becker-Colonna are modern critics capable of understanding this Egyptian modernism of the Fourteenth Century, B.C. There are fashions in the criticism of ancient art just as there are fashions in the criticism of everything, and in an older day, Egyptian art was filtered through a screen of classic Greek idealization, whether or not these older critics were aware of that fact. The face of Akhenaten horrified them, and so did the portraits of his daughters, of which there are numerous examples at San Francisco State. They felt there had to be something wrong with these people, some mental or physiological deficiency to explain their departures from the norm.
The faces of the daughters have puckered lips, big eyes, prominent ears, and fleshy nose like that of Akhenaten himself, but the most extraordinary thing about them is the enormous, bulbous distortion of the backs of their heads. There is no trace of hair, represented on these curious and rather revolting bulges, but William Mansoor says contemporary paintings show abundant hair done up into the same bulbosity; it is therefore likely that the skulls of the princesses were perfectly normal and that their apparent distortion is merely the high-style coiffure of the day. The one person represented without distortion is Akhenaten's queen, Nefertiti, whose name means "the beautiful one is come." The Mansoor sculptures of this lovely lady may not equal the painted one in Berlin, which is probably the most famous single Egyptian bust in existence, but they fully justify Nefertiti's name and, since they are unfinished, they add an insight into the workings of the Egyptian sculptor's studio which the Berlin version does not....
....Some authorities have challenged their authenticity, but the overwhelming preponderance of expert opinion is in their favor. The Mansoors, who are dealers and have been hurt by the unfavorable opinions make too much of the verdicts on their side. They and their agents snow you with the views of this, that, and the other friendly expert, and this produces a reaction exactly opposite to the one they seek. I, for one, went to see the collection in a highly skeptical mood, but the works themselves instantly won me over.
Their provenance is mysterious. One is told an unverifiable tale about a shadowy Greek who lived in the Egyptian desert around the turn of the century and found them. Aten (the king's One God) alone knows where. This kind of thing is regarded as criminal today, but when Karl Meyer, author of 'The Plundered Past' and the writer who, more than any other, is responsibel for arousing the contemporary conscience against the heedless destruction of ancient sites was here in San Francisco last week he remarked that he does not believe in retroactive morality; mysterious Greeks materializing ancient pieces out of nowhere were a fixture on the archaeological scene for generations, and there is not a collection of ancient art in the world that did not take advantage of their offerings.
The forty-four sculptures at San Francisco State are all, with one exception, remarkably small. They are all displayed in one little room on the third floor of the library, and they have been beautifully installed and superbly lighted. The delicacy and finesse of the techniques whereby they were wrought are incredible. This is perhaps most impressively apparent in the reliefs, but the sculptures in the full round are magnificent too....
All these pieces look as if they were made yesterday, but experts in petrography agree that they show the proper patinas and the proper evidence of erosion by wind and sand. What pleased me most was that these proofs of antiquity appear on the surfaces at the base of each neck as well as everywhere else. In other words, if any of these heads were knocked off full-standing figures, that insult to their integrity was committed in ancient times. Whatever else the mysterious Greek in the desert may have been, he wasn't a desacrator of ancient sites. And that makes me feel a lot better about the whole thing....
Immediately after the successful showing of the Collection at San Francisco State University, twenty-seven of the sculptures were shipped by air to Provo, Utah, to be exhibited for more art lovers to enjoy.
The exhibit was sponsored by the Brigham Young University and again by the Marie Stauffer Sigall Foundation. There, the exhibit met with the same success as it had in San Francisco. Here, too, Dr. Colonna appeared on Utah television and was interviewed in connection with the facts relating to the Tell-el-Amarna Collection.
Copyright © 1995 Christine Mansoor
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