Chapter 26: "Les Moutons de Panurge" (The Blind Followers)

In response to Dr. Stross' request for a technical examination of an Amarna head of a princess from the Mansoor Collection, Professor Keith Seele of the Oriental Institute of Chicago wrote, on the letterhead of the University, on November 20, 1958:

Please note:

1) Prof. Seele has never seen the head he was asked to examine; yet twice, he gives a negative opinion on it. How can a scholar render a judgment on an object he has never seen? He didn't even know that it came from the Mansoor Collection. Therefore, in his mind, any Amarna object in the hands of a dealer must be a forgery!

2) Prof. Seele is referring to an auction sale the Mansoors gave at Parke-Bernet Galleries several years before. They actually had two: one on October 15 and 16, 1947 and the other on January 30 and 31, 1952. Since two other Egyptologists also mention the auction sale in derogatory terms, it is very important to clear this matter once and for all.

2A) There has never been any sculpture from the Mansoor Amarna Collection displayed or sold at the Parke-Bernett Galleries. Never. In fact, none of the Mansoors, father or sons, have ever included any object from the Collection in any auction gallery in the world. The Mansoors still have the two catalogues of the Parke-Bernet auction sales.

2B) The Mansoor records from the first sale catalogue of 1947, show that there were no returns and they had no problem in that sale. They deduce then that Professor Seele, as well as two other Egyptologists I will mention later, are probably referring to the second sale of 1952. I would llike to point out that the sale of October 15 and 16, 1947 took place exactly twelve days before Mr. William J. Young's letter dated October 27, 1947, in which he declared that "we [the MFA Boston} have had to throw the book at the objects as far as examinations are concerned."

2C) The foreword of the second sale catalogue of January 30 and 31, 1952, titled "Ancient Egyptian Art - The Magnificent Collection Formed by M.A. Mansoor - Cairo and Heliopolis," stated:

And the conclusion:

Obviously the sale was quite important and included outstanding rare artifacts. In fact, the XXV Dynasty group depicting King Taharqa was purchased by the Louvre (cf. Louvre - Paris, Newsweek/Great Museums of the World, 1967 p. 25, showing a stunning color illustration of that group), and "the extraordinary collection of foundation-deposits of the reign of Thotmes III" was purchased by the Oriental Institute of Chicago. What an Irony Prof. Seele! All other objects were purchased by museums, collectors and art dealers.

What is even more obvious is that Mr. Mansoor was offering "an unconditional guarantee of the genuineness of each and every article in the catalogue." And who on earth ever offered such an "unconditional guarantee" on ancient Egyptian artifacts in any auction sale? Doesn't this, in fact, mean that Mr. Mansoor was convinced of their authenticity? M.A. Mansoor must have made errors in his life. There may have been forgeries unknown to him in that sale, and according to the Mansoor records, four pieces, out of 342 lots, were returned. And that is clearly not "a very large proportion." Any person could have returned any object purchased under any pretense, because of the guarantee clause. Maybe someone was told that the object purchased was not genuine, or was too expensive, or maybe someone bought one, two, three or the four pieces with the intention of returning them later just to embarrass the Mansoors. The reader should remember that the ugly rumors about the Mansoors had already been circulating since the end of October 1947. What better example can we give than the letter of Prof. Seele?

3) As to the charge that the "original member of the Mansoor family ... possessed and was ready to sell objects that had originated much more recently than the pharaonic period," this is sheer nonsense. Prof. Seele has never been in any of the Mansoor places of business, neither in Egypt nor in the USA. Let it be known that M.A. Mansoor was a man of superior integrity. He has never attempted to sell anything that seemed to him to be doubtful, let alone fake. Those who knew him will attest to these facts.

4) Since Prof. Seele does "not know how well the senior Mansoor knew his antiquities," why is he insinuating that the senior Mansoor senior is "uneducated or untrained"? The Mansoors do claim a certain knowledge about ancient Egyptian art since they have spent years studying it and particularly handling ancient Egyptian artifacts. The Mansoor brothers' knowledge and experience in this field is, to be sure, but a fraction of what the senior Mansoor possessesd.  Were he living today, M.A. Mansoor would have claimed, probably in a most humble way, fifty years of expertise on the subject. As compared to most giants in Egyptology, the Mansoor brothers may be, or rather admit to be, dwarfs where the history and writing of the ancient Egyptians are concerned. But when it comes to art, nothing can beat the experience of handling ancient Egyptian objects. Seele wrote: "an uneducated or untrained dealer will scarcely have superior equipment with which to form an opinion." Is Prof. Seele referring to Young's ultraviolet lamp or is he referring to some other tool no one is aware of? Somehow, some scholars believe in scientific "superior equipment" and research, but only believe the results when they coincide with their opinion, whether right or wrong. One more thing, Prof. Seele: When the uneducated or untrained dealer buys a forgery and later discovers that it is a fake, he swallows it - as they say in Egypt, he learns from his mistakes and that is how he gets his education and expertise - losing his own money. But when the Boston, Brooklyn, or any other museum curator acquires a forgery, he either hides it, like the Brooklyn did, or forces it on the public, allowing no one else to test it, as the Kestner Museum of Hanover did.

5) "That two technical reports on the Amarna head should have reached opposite conclusions is highly suspicious." Dr. Stross had mentioned in his letter to Prof. Seele that there were two contradicting technical reports without giving their sources: the MFA Boston report and the one of the Cairo Museum. The two "technical reports" in fact existed. Prof. Seele states further: "Unless the head has a known history before it came into the hands of the dealer, the burden of proof is on the dealer to prove that it is genuine, not merely to state an oinion (a definately prjudiced opinion) that it is genuine." Look who's talking about prejudice! And just what is the known history (or "pedigree" as Munro of the Kestner Museum calls it) of well over fifty percent of Ancient Egyptian artifacts in museums around the world? Can anyone deny that most came directly or indirectly from dealers? The "World of Learning Book" (Forty Fourth Edition, England, 1994) lists the Oriental Institute Museum of Chicago as an institution that does "research on the civilization of the Near East; over 70,000 objects, 65% from known archaeological contexts from Egypt, Mesopotamia, etc...." Are we to assume that the other 35% are "forgeries" or at least of a doubtful nature? It is wrong to rely only on a "pedigree" or "history" of an artifact since these documents could very easily be falsified.

6) Prof. Seele twice referred Dr. Stross to Dr. Cooney, as perhaps "the most qualified authority to atempt" to give a judgment on the head "on the study of style and material alone," and in whose opinion he has "absolute confidence."

There is so much more to refute in Prof. Seele's letter. There is no logic in it, with the exception of one point: "Detecting forgeries on the basis of style and technique is a really difficult and tricky business, and many great scholars have been deceived, even though they have devoted their lives to the study of ancient art." On that point Mr. Seele is right; it is "a really difficult and tricky business." Therefore, the Egyptologists who do not know should rely on scientific findings.

Edmond Mansoor went to visit Professor Seele at the Oriental Institute of Chicago and was received very courteously. After normal polite exchanges of news about business and M.A. Mansoor, etc., Edmond took out a copy of his (Seele's) letter to Stross, asking him why he wrote it. Seele's answer was something like "You know, we hear things...." When asked if he had ever before met M.A. Mansoor or any of his sons, or whether he had ever been in any of their places of business (in Egypt or in New York or California), the answer was "no" and again something like, "We hear things from various people." Prof. Seele, a scholar, seemed to Edmond to be an amiable individual, but he was most unconscious of the damage he was causing.

I tend to believe that Prof. Seele is a "Mouton de Panurge," a blind follower!

The 1975 Exhibition of the Mansoor Amarna Collection at San Francisco State University was sponsored by the Department of Classical Archaeology of the University and by the Marie Stauffer Sigall Foundation, whose founder and president, Mrs. Mitzi S. Briggs, purchased the outstanding head of Akhenaten illustrated on the front cover of the exhibit's catalogue.

Mrs. Briggs sent an invitation to the "Preview of the Exhibition" to Professor Lorenz Eitner, Chairman of the Department of Art, Stanford University. On June 20, 1975, Professor Eitner wrote to her the following: "Many thanks for your invitation to attend the opening of the Exhibition of the Mansoor Collection at San Francisco State. Unfortunately, I was in New York all last week and could not get in time to be present...I enjoyed looking through the interesting catalogue; I hope very much to be able to see the exhibition soon."

On June 23, 1975, Professor William A. Clebsch, Chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at Stanford University, wrote to Mrs. Briggs saying: "After our last telephone conversation, I talked with Lorenz Eitner again and can reassure you that his mind is not closed with respect to the objects in the Mansoor Collection. He has studied a number of reports verifying the antiquity of the materials from which these objects were made, and I believe he is persuaded that the materials are ancient. He would like to see any reports you may have concerning the antiquity of the carvings. After that, I hope the three of us can have lunch together. I am certainly no expert in this area, but my interest continues in that I told you our Department would, if the Department of Art is persuaded of the authenticity of the pieces in the collection, wish to cosponsor some exhibit of them at Stanford. Meanwhile, I hope to see the collection while it is on exhibit at San Francisco State University."

On June 27, 1975, Mrs. Briggs wrote to Dr. Eitner:

In answer to that letter, Dr. Eitner wrote on July 1, 1975:

Answering Prof. Eitner's letter, Mrs. Briggs wrote on July 11, 1975:

In his answer dated July 23, 1975, Dr. Eitner said:

The last reply of Mrs. Briggs, dated August 1,1975, stated:

As one can see, the above correspondence between Mrs. Mitzi Briggs and Prof. Eitner is interesting but shocking. Although Mrs. Briggs answered in a splendid manner what Prof. Eitner claims, I feel, with all due respect to Prof. Lorenz Eitner, that he is totally wrong in his assertions, which definitely require some explanations, clarification and comments.

Dr. Lorenz Eitner had been invited to attend the opening of the exhibit at San Francisco University, and had missed it because he was in New York (and Brooklyn?) the preceding week. In the letter of June 23, Dr. William A. Clebsch, Chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at the University, indicated his interest in the Collection and apparently had discussed it with Dr. Eitner, who had told him he thought the materials were ancient.

In her letter of June 27, Mrs. Briggs tells of her total involvemnet in the Collection.

The letters of July 1 and 23, written by Dr. Eitner to Mrs. Briggs, are the two which deserve more attention.

First, Eitner begins by declaring: "The pieces of the Mansoor Collection were previously known to me, through catalogues and brochures, sent to me over the years." Contrary to his allegation, no one ever published any "catalogues" or "brochures" before 1975 except:

1) A small pamphlet, "Je Cherche un Homme...", 1971, in which the Mansoors wrote the tragic story of their Amarna Collection and an appeal for an investigation, in fourteen pages with eight objects illustrated.

2) "A Report on a Group of Limestone Carvings Owned by M.A. Mansoor and Sons," a booklet privately published by Stross and Eisenlord in 1965, consisting of twenty-four pages plus nine photographs.

Both publications (8 ½" by 6 ½") include photographs that are not numbered. Therefore, we can hardly call them "catalogues and brochures." Furthermore, the Mansoors are not certain that he received these publications from them, but this declaration is acceptable. He then attests to the fact that he is "far from being an expert" - in the art of ancient Egypt, naturally - and later adds "I do not, in any way, regard myself as a specialist, far less an infallible authority, in the matter of the art of Tell-el-Amarna." This being established, he then rambles throughout both letters by saying "...and have used every opportunity to see as much of Egyptian art as possible, most recently at the splendid exhibition, Akhenaten and Nefertiti, which I was able to study closely in the Brooklyn Museum....To my eye, the sculptures in the Mansoor Collection appear to be imitations, rather than...I find that my own reaction to them closely resembles that of Dr. Hans W. Muller,...A case in point are the two reliefs of Smenkhkara and his Wife....The relief of the Two Princesses, finally,...appears to me to be a rather clumsy translation into stone of the celebrated fresco...."

All these unfounded, unconvincing and unscholarly assertions had already been heard before. All this random talk, propagated by the few dissident Egyptologists, was now being repeated by an individual who is the Chairman of the Arts Department of one of the greatest universities in the world. One would think that all this gibberish would be below the dignity of any individual who had just announced that he is far from being an expert in Egyptian art.

On December 9, 1971, Professor Max Guilmot, Egyptologist, sent a letter to the Mansoors from Brussels. He wrote: "However, as you know, [ancient] Egyptians worked from 'model text books' that could create very similar monuments." ("Toutefois, comme vous le savez, les égyptiens travaillaient d'aprés des 'cahiers de modèles, qui pourraient naissance à des monuments fort semblables.")

Furthermore, should one refer to the catalogue of the Brooklyn Exhibition of 1973, "Akhenaten and Nefertiti" (Cyril Aldred, Viking Press), one will not fail to find many examples of pieces similar to or "copied" from others. Aldred wrote:

And in his "Commentary" on No. 100 on page 173, "Unfinished Head of Nefertiti," Aldred wrote:

Dr. Eitner claims that he went to study closely the splendid exhibit of Akhenaten and Nefertiti in Brooklyn. This made him strong. It took him but little time to become an expert in Amarna art. This is fantastic. Already he was able to say that "to my eye" this is so an so...and he says it expertly. Look at the years that Muller, Bothmer and Cooney have spent trying to study the Amarna art, and look how little they have learned. Is it possible that this beginner could have learned faster, to even surpass his masters? One should not be impressed by the fact that he "was able to study closely" in the Brooklyn Museum and in Detroit, the splendid exhibition of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. Hundreds of people and possibly thousands including professors of Art, Ancient Art, Archaeology, History, History of Art, and Egyptology, as well as collectors and art dealers, etc., must have also studied "closely" the exhibition and here again, this hardly makes them experts to recognize the real from the fake.

According to the Mansoors, this splendid exhibit "Akhenaten and Nefertiti," which Eitner was able to gobble up fast, comprised only a handful of Amarna masterpieces but was crowded by many mediocre works. It is wrong to label all the productions of Amarna as great. Amarna, like all other periods of Egyptian art, also produced the inferior and the provincial. This is understood by true experts in Egyptology.

Thus, Eitner has followed in the path of Keith Seele, a simpleminded Egyptologist; of Sherman Lee, the Director of the Cleveland Museum with an amateurish interest in Egyptian art; and of Phillipe Derchain, a haughty Professor of  Egyptology.

In this connection, a message should be relayed here to the so-called "style experts," and the dissident Egyptologists. When the "eye" of the expert can fool him (ignorance, uncertainty, mistake), proof of authenticity (ancient age of the surface of the sculptures) must rest in the scientific analyses.

But Eitner raised the banner high for his coaches of Brooklyn, Boston, and Munich. As the Chairman of the Department of Art of a great university, he should have been more careful with his words. He should have talked only of what he knows. He said he was not an expert - "even far from it" - so what was he talking about? Eitner writes in his letter dated July 1, 1975: "...when the exhibition of Akhenaten and Nefertiti was being organized for the Brooklyn and Detroit museums by excellent scholars who drew on all available collections in the West and East Germany...they made no use of the Mansoor material though this was certainly not unknown to them." The Mansoors have on numerous occasions offered to have their objects examined by any and all qualified experts and scholars. Did any of these "excellent scholars" ever bother to find out for themselves about the Mansoor Collection? No! They preferred to listen to Muller, the only so-called "expert" whose valueless opinion has been demonstrated, and destroyed, by his own reckless statements and his inability to recognize the origin of the stone.

Throughout these ill-conceived letters, one finds several observations made on the opinions of scientists, on the value and merit of scientific research. Just what does Eitner mean when he says that he has "no doubt whatsoever of their professional competence," nor would he "challenge their identification of the stones, or their dating of the patina and of the organic matter adhering to some of the sculptures?" Don't we understand that he is not contesting the irrefutable evidence enumerated by the scientific authorities, but that in the case of these sculptures "...these are asserted to be works of art from a particular period of history." Does this mean that scientific research is valid for all periods of art, except for the one of Amarna? Who decreed so? Was he told that or did he guess it himself? Is it the opinion of the few dissident Egyptologists? Is it because they are scared of the revelations of science? Because science interferes with their sacred authority? Was Eitner's observation rational? Why is Amarna art different from other types of art? Does it elude scientific research? What sort of nonsense is this?

Then, superbly, as a new expert - one who studied in haste or was told in haste - of Amarna art - , Eitner declares, "Whatever their geological age, it appears to me that their quality and style clearly point to a much more recent origin than is being claimed for them. Several of the pieces, in fact, repeat - with the errors and accidents typical of copies - famous works in British, German and French Museums." The Mansoors say: "Absurd! Heard before! Archaic reasoning like Derchain's. Can an intelligent person say 'Whatever their geological age,' and then unbelievably add, 'It appears to me that their quality and style clearly point to a much more recent origin than is being claimed for them? Does this mean if their 'geologic age' is over 3,300 years old, they are still of 'a much more recent origin'? Does this make any sense? Is this a logical statement? If something is geologically 3,300 years old, it is 3,300 years old! Elementary! When he talks about their quality, he proves that he is not an 'art expert.' And since he is not an Egyptologist, he is not qualified to talk about their style."

In any case, before writing such nonsensical letters, Eitner should have consulted with three eminent scientists from Stanford University: Dr. Eliot Blackwelder, Professor of Geology, Emeritus, member of the National Academy of Sciences; Dr. C. Osborne Hutton, Professor of Mineralogy; and Dr. Robert R. Compton, Professor of Geology. All three have analyzed and/or commented on the Mansoor sculptures.

We have thus seen how Eitner was able to give his unwanted opinion of the sculptures of the Collection, an opinion he should have hidden in the darkest corners of his mind, and one on which no one can rely. His opinion, and bizarre attitude, as those of all the dissident Egyptologists, is detrimental to the reasoned history of art, to the interest of the educational institutions, and in the case of Eitner, most unworthy of a chairman of the Department of Art of a great university.

Throughout the years, the Mansoors have kept their sanity in the face of all the incompetence, the prejudice, the inconsistincies and obstruction encountered in their problem with the dissident Egyptologists and their followers. They will continue to do so. Their faith in the authenticity of their Tell-el-Amarna sculptures has been expressed by far greater and better qualified authorities than the voices of ignorance and doom.

Mrs. Briggs' letter of August 1, in reponse to Eitner's letter of July 23, is eloquent in itself. In conclusion, the Mansoors admit that in a sense they are indebted to Eitner. He has come forth, unknowingly, to betray his ignorance of all facts pertaining to the art of Amarna.

Before ending this chapter, some questions come to my mind: In Egyptian Art and Egyptology in general, who knows best? Drioton or Seele? Drioton or Eitner? Drioton or Derchain? Drioton or Muller? Drioton or Cooney? And I could go on....

Copyright © 1995 Christine Mansoor

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