Chapter 29: An Egyptian Fairy Tale: "A Clever Forger"
At the Mansoors' suggestion, and for the benefit of many, let us explore a totally different point of view, setting aside the opinions of both stylists and scientists.
Suppose for a moment that the sculptures are modern imitations, or, as Young and Cooney claimed, are of "recent origin." If this were the case, let us proceed step by step to determine when and by whom they could have been produced. They would have had to be carved prior to the early 1920's (approximate date of the first purchase), and if Gabra's version of their earlier appearance is correct, then they would have been carved between 1880 and 1890.
To reach a conceivable date, let us assume that they were produced around 1900 or even a few years later.
One sculptor would have had to achieve the tremendous job of shaping 106 sculptures and many fragments of insignificant monetary worth. It is highly improbable that he could have been assisted in this task by any helpers, lest one of them should later betray him. Besides, all the sculptures display an unmistakable work and style of a single artist, one master mind could have used several students or apprentices for the carving of the objects in the rough, leaving the finishing and polishing touch for himself.
Our man of the Twentieth Century, then, went hunting for an unusual pink limestone which was seldom used in ancient Egyptian times (therefore dangerous to be used by a forger). He wanted to be different, original. Having, by enchantment, found a quarry showing strata of various shades of beautiful pink limestone (in Egypt, or somewhere nearby), he congratulated himself and cut as many blocks needed for his project. Naturally, he had to have a few camels or donkeys to help him in the transportation of his material to an unknown destination.
On the way back, he stumbled onto another hill or mountain of another color limestone. He cut many more pieces from this new find, some of them white, others ivory-hued and still others of a yellowish shade.
His mission accomplished, he now returned to civilization and tried to find a safe place to rent a studio or a workshop. Where could he go? Some remote village in Egypt? A suburb of Cairo? Paris? Berlin? He must think carefully. He debated a long time and he was getting impatient. He must start working because he had a long way to go. He had already decided to carve 106 sculptures of the type produced in Tell-el-Amarna 3,300 years earlier, because no one had attempted to reproduce them in a mass-production fashion yet. In addition, he would also make a few fragments, even though they would not bring him much cash.
But where to go to carve them? If he stayed in Egypt, his job would become difficult because he would have to travel to England to copy the wall painting in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, which, luckily, had just been discovered by Flinders Petrie at Amarna. He would also have to go to Berlin, to Brussels, Holland, the Louvre, maybe even knock at the door of some private collectors as far as New York or even farther.
But that was all right; he was a strong and adaptable man, he spoke many languages and was immensely wealthy to be able to spend at will for his needs. He would travel to all these countries to see how much of the art of Amarna had already been unearthed. Another thing, if he settled for a few years somewhere in Europe, would he be able to sell his work on the Continent? The Europeans are sharp; they could discover the subterfuge and he would be stuck with so many pieces of beautiful art. On the other hand, if he stayed in Egypt, he could easily sell them to some Egyptian fool. People there did not know much! Come what may, he decided to go to work in Egypt.
He found a place suitable for a workshop, but he kept it a secret. No one must find it. As it proved later, no one ever did. The first year, he carved only a few sculptures; his hands were shaky and he was not yet quite sure of himself. He had produced certain pieces which had no parallel in the known Amarna art of the day.
He was dying to copy the beautiful head of Nefertiti now in the Cairo Museum, but alas, it had not yet been excavated at Memphis. He thought he would wait for this one. Another beautiful head of a princess now in the Agyptisches Museum in Berlin pleased him very much, but unfortunately, this one had not been discovered either. He patiently waited for the two heads to be unearthed!
But he was still working and trying his hand. He noticed that he was getting better. Encouraged, and sure of himself now, he decided to take a trip to England. As soon as he arrived in London, he went to visit the British Museum. He wanted to know what they had of Amarna that he could easily copy.
Then he went straight to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. At last, he saw the painting of the two lovely daughters of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. He marveled at the exquisite art of his ancestors who had produced it. He returned to admire it so many times that the guards and museum people began to wonder about him. Surely he was a lunatic. No one before him had returned so often in such a short time to look at this strange fresco. He did not care what anyone thought of him. Quietly, and as inconspicuously as he could, he went about his study of this remarkable creation, and decided to copy it. There was one great problem, however. This was a painting, and he was not a painter, at least not a very good one. He was a sculptor. What difference? He would copy it on stone. He would make bas-reliefs of it. What a challenge! What ingenuity! He went to work right away.
Unfortunately, no one knows how he produced the first relief. Did he make sketches of it first and take them to Egypt or did he go right ahead and carve it in England? Whatever happened, he was so satisfied with the first relief that he made four more, in pink as well as in white limestone.
One of them, however, was sunken, and for some strange reason he never quite finished it. Many of his other sculptures in fact suffered the same fate. Why? Perhaps he was lazy at times, or perhaps his hands were getting tired from chiseling.
When he finished his five reproductions of the Ashmolean painting, he studied them for several weeks. Something was lacking. What if anyone noticed the recently carved surface of the sculptures? He could not let this happen. He had to somehow patinate them. That was nothing to him because he was not only a very clever and genial sculptor, but also a top scientist. For general patination, all he needed was to spread a crystal clear and filmy substance on the surface of his carvings. To do this, he devised a devilish method to obtain this substance. He made it look exactly as if the surface had been discolored by the action of time, a very long time, like three thousand years. He kept at his work, producing many more remarkable portraits, including some of Akhenaten, and happily continued to apply his devilish patina.
A few years later, he had a stroke of luck. In 1912, the Germans discovered the magnificent head of a princess, which was now in Berlin. He could not go to see it right away, and when he was ready to leave, the First World War had already started. He was quite upset, but he was not a man to be so easily discouraged by such a conflagration. He crossed the Mediterranean - no one knows how he did it - climbed over the Alps and sneaked into Germany, completely unnoticed. The fantastic thing is that he found the place where the head was hidden. And oh, did he ever love it! When he first saw it, he quickly identified it as the work of one of his competitors of earlier days.
Not only did he decide to copy it, to a degree that is, but even tried to surpass it in beauty. If he were right about this, he thought, he would tease the connoisseurs and let them decide which was finer, his work or that of his competitor. He had three of them: Thutmose, Yuti and Bek. He could have been one of them, reincarnated of course - he was not sure which - but he also could have been someone else. Of that, he was not sure either. In any case, he fooled the Germans, their armies, their guards, and all, and he saw the head many times. He could have made several of his own representations of princesses in Berlin - this, he never told anyone - or he could have been satisfied in just taking sketches, to later carve the portraits at his hiding place in Egypt.
He then returned to his own country, this time via Austria, Yugoslavia, Greece and the troubled Ottoman Empire. Back to work he went. He produced a tremendous quantity of heads of princesses and several standing statuettes of many different sizes. He was getting better and better all the time. As he was a man of far-reaching vision, he also thought of eroding the surfaces of the sculptures he had so far produced. He had to have them pitted by very fine sand. Since he could not stand there holding them in sandstorms for 3,000 years or at least keep rubbing them against the fine crystals, he invented a powerful machine with a very fine nozzle to achieve his purpose. He must have spent a tremendous amount of money as he had to have the help of several specialized engineers for this unusual and novel instrument.
By injecting finely grained desert sand into this device and by projecting it at great velocity onto the surface of the sculptures, he could produce the same effect as that caused by storms or long contact with sand.
Of course, he was no fool either. He did not pit all surfaces equally. That would have been unnatural. This task completed, he thought of something even more diabolic than anything he had done yet. He began an uncanny process of alternating patination and pitting. He did this repeatedly, untiringly. Now, he maliciously thought, "Even Kirk, Arnal, and Compton will never be able to tell the difference between a natural weathering and the one I have forced on the sculptures." And when he remembered the Members of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, and Plenderleith of the British Museum and UNESCO, he laughed the louder. After all, what did they know that he did not?
Sometime later, the exquisite head of Nefertiti excavated at Memphis around 1915, appeared in the Cairo Museum. This time, he did not have to go far. Before anyone had enough time to absorb all its beauty, he was already at work, producing his portraits of this most beautiful and noble queen. There again, he surpassed himself. He made several in this delightful pink limestone that he had been so lucky to find (he would not say where) and some in the white color. He made one for King Farouk, one for the Khawam brothers, one for Otto Karl Bach of the Denver Art Museum, one for the Egyptian Museum of the Vatican (this head will be discussed in a later chapter), and two for Mister Mansoor.
Never lacking resourcefulness, he figured that he might as well add hundreds of dendritic formations to the surface of most sculptures. Knowing that dendrites could only be formed naturally after the passing of hundreds if not thousands of years, he fabricated his very own. These he scattered at random anywhere he thought desirable. But in order to completely fool the cleverest of scientists, even Leon Silver of the California Institute of Technology, he enriched the patina, which some scientists, would later call "desert varnish," not only in manganese, but also with barium and copper, an enrichment which he knew would be discovered by Engel and Sharp, much, much later in 1958.
Our modern sculptor/scientist bravely kept on working. He was certain now that he had achieved a great measure of success.
He traveled to Paris, to Berlin, to Karnak, and sneaked unseen into the homes of several private collectors, faithfully copying many of the portraits which showed Akhenaten in different moods.
Pleased with himself because of all the sculptures he had so perfectly executed, he began to seize them and fragment them at random. Some received blows on their nose, ears, chin, cheeks, eyes, crown, neck, or anywhere he pleased. Some received harsher blows than others.
Strangely enough, our talented artist-scientist broke one of the charming statuettes of a princess in four parts, taking care to patinate the edges of the breaks. He also badly damaged and eroded its beautiful face (this statuette is presently in the Louvre Museum). This, he said, would later baffle Lucas, Kirk, Arnal, Iskandar, and the other scientists. Very few of his portraits and statuettes were left as he had sculptured them.
Not content to do just this, he took one head of the smallest heads of princesses, pierced the bottom of its neck and inserted in it a peg made of another pink limestone, different indensity from that of the head. He just wanted to be difficult and confuse the scientist of a later day. He covered the circle formed around the bottom of the neck with his devilish patina. This funny trick, he thought, would not be discovered until 1959, When Dr. DeMent would accidentally subject the head to a radiography examination.
Now he contemplated his overall massacre of the sculptures. The breaks looked fresh. He had to weather them in the same manner as he had the surfaces of the carvings. He had become a professional at it. He did such a remarkable job that he patted himself on the shoulder once more. Again he thought of the gullible scientists of later years: "Let them guess how I applied this weathering." He smiled maliciously, as was his habit.
What a sculptor! What a scientist! What a genius! Once more he jumped. He had just discovered that he had missed something to add to the scientists' endeavor to discover some oversight on his part. He was much cleverer than they would think. He placed the sculptures on a large floor area of his studio, some face up, some face down, and covered them with sand, simulating very small dunes. Thsi done, he collected from his garden and the surrounding area hundreds of worms, bugs, and insects which usually prefer to hide underground when in danger. This took him several weeks. He placed them all in small boxes and fed them with appetizing chunks of vegetables, starch, and delicious morsels of meats and poultry, with the intent of fattening them. He was also considerate enough to provide them with circulating water.
Several days later, he found that the insects looked healthy, round, and chubby. He opened the boxes and let them run free on the sandy area where his sculptures were buried. Then he did something absolutely frightful. He began an unusual dance, stomping around the ground with his feet and beating it with a stick. The poor insects, half scared to death, frantically scrambled around seeking to hide from his noisy and infernal scene. In just the space of a few minutes, they had all disappeared under the sand. That was precisely what he wanted them to do. None dared to surface for several days. When he noticed some of them popping their heads out he knew what he wanted them to do. None dared to surface for several days. When he noticed some of them popping their heads out he knew that his experiment was over. He crossed his fingers, mumbled a kind of barbaric prayer and unearthed one of the sculptures. "Victory" he shouted! The insects had excreted on its surface! He did not dare to smudge or even touch the excreta. Gently, he placed the sculpture on a table. Then he unearthed another carving, and another, and another. In the end, he observed that very few of his sculptures had been missed by the frightened insects. All the others showed the unmistakable residue on several parts of their surface. Then he gallantly thanked his captive insects and freed them with his blessings.
One more thing remained to be done. He had to age this newly deposited substance to make it hard and appear resinous. He pondered for a few days, and finally figured out how. Though no one ever discovered how he did it, it is suspected that he used some sort of a microwave lamp of his own invention.
When he tested the resinous material which developed from this very daring experiment, he knew that it was beyond a doubt a complete success. It looked and appeared exactly the same as other excreta deposited on other works of art, which had ample time to harden naturally over a period of 3,000 years or more. "Now," he said to himself, "we will see if Dr. Zaki Iskandar and other scientists will be able to tell the difference between my work and that resulting from old age."
Thus, our artist-scientist-forger-inventor had brilliantly anticipated most, if not all, analytical methods of examination which would later be used by the great scientists, and had beaten them at their own game.
All these Herculean tasks would have had to be accomplished by one man in the early 1920's. He dared to use pink limestone, not often used by the ancient Egyptians, when a clever forger should not have taken this risk. He copied portraits which had not yet been unearthed. He was a master craftsman. He was such an expert that he was able to fool great Egyptologists like Drioton, Gabra, Boreux, Varille, Nolli, Desroches Noblecourt, Lansing, Stevenson Smith, Colonna, etc. He was such a scientist that those of a later day could prove that his weathering of the surfaces of the sculptures could have only been achieved naturally, after the passing of 3,000 years, or some such long period. He had fooled the scientists. He fooled thousands of connoisseurs and lovers of art. But he did not fool Young, Cooney, Von Bothmer, and Muller. Nor did he fool the standard bearers such as Derchain, Eitner, Seele, Wildung, and the few dissident unnamed Egyptologists.
If you, the reader, believe this story, read no further.
If you do not, this book is meant for you.
While all the assumptions enumerated above are hypothetical - a reasonable attempt to present all facts relating to the Collection - they still contribute to the sum total of the logical stylistic and scientific evidence authenticating the sculptures.
The Mansoors have known scores of Egyptologists. Some have understood and described Egyptian art with vivid feelings, in the light, as a reality. These I have named: Drioton, Varille, Desroches Noblecourt, Du Bourguet, Nolli, Colonna, and many more. Others, like Cooney, Muller, and the few unnamed and unidentified Egyptologists cited by Sylvia Hochfield in her ARTnews article, seem to have never understood it. Those who have a general appreciation of art will understand what I mean by this.
To discuss Egyptian art here would require the writing of several books. Hundreds of talented authors have done it. To be a good Egyptologist is one thing; to understand Egyptian art is another. An individual may not be an Egyptologist but may see, feel, and understand Egyptian art. As one can see, each one of these so-called experts had his own invalid or unreal statement to make. All were successful in adding to the confusion in their own minds. This book is aimed at not allowing them to confuse the minds of the art-loving public.
Let us compile on the one hand all the absurd allegations uttered by the few dissident Egyptologists:
The unscientific report of Young
The "expert opinion" of Hans Wolfgang Muller
Von Bothmer's ill-fated letter
Philippe Derchain's unethical letter
Sherman Lee's sarcastic letter
All the rambling given Hochfield by her "anonymous" Egyptologists for the writing of her article
Let us on the other hand present the logical evidence:
Etienne Drioton's letter of authentication
Sami Gabra's letter of authentication
The report of Stross and Eisenlord
The more than twenty scientific reports of eminent geologists, chemists, geochemists, petrologists and others, all authenticating the sculptures
Colonna's study of the Collection
And the scores of opinions of antiquarians, art connoisseurs, presidents of universities and many directors and officials of art museums
Faced with these facts, how would the logical and honest person judge this collection?
Copyright © 1995 Christine Mansoor
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