Chapter 3: King Farouk Buys Amarna Sculptures

Beginning in 1910, Mansoor traveled to Europe every year. He always took with him a substantial collection of Egyptian antiquities, which he sold to collectors, dealers and museum agents. He never took any of the Amarna sculptures or other antiquities that he was especially fond of. He owned them and enjoyed them, for many years, then, when the right time came, he sold them. Many important Egyptian works of art now in European and American museums were in his possession for ten, twenty, even thirty years, though he could have sold them much sooner. "We are only temporary custodians of every beautiful art object we own," he used to tell his friends. "Sooner or later, they end up in museums, for all the world to admire and enjoy."

In 1936, Dr. Etienne Drioton, one of the greatest scholars of Egyptology of this century, became the Director General of the Egyptian Department of Antiquities. As with many other Egyptologists in the past, a solid friendship developed between Dr. Drioton and M. A. Mansoor. Since Mansoor had a legal license to buy and sell antiquities, he decided to show his growing Tell-el-Amarna Collection of sculptures to Dr. Drioton.

Time and again, Dr. Drioton, sometimes alone with Mansoor, but often with other Egyptologists-Alexandre Varille, Charles Boreux, Sami Gabra-examined all the sculptures. From the outset, Dr. Drioton made his opinion clearly known. To him they were unquestionably ancient, belonging to a school of Amarna that was related to other schools that had produced works now exhibited in Egyptian, European and American museums. Boreux, Varille and Gabra agreed, as did many others at later dates.

All these Egyptologists, as well as Mr. Alfred Lucas, Chief Chemist of the Department of Antiquities of Egypt, agreed that the sculptures were the product of one workshop under the guidance and direction of one master artist, who worked near Tell-el-Amarna, and who had to have been familiar with the immediate royal family. In later years, many other Egyptologists concurred. Their opinions will be discussed in due course along with Dr. Colonna's scholarly study of forty sculptures of the Collection.

In 1936, King Fuad died and Farouk ascended the throne of Egypt. A few months later, Ahmed Hassanein Pasha, who was charged with Farouk's education and guidance, introduced Mansoor to the young king. From his first visit to the palace, Mansoor was quick to realize that Farouk, even at his early age, was an ardent admirer of the art of ancient Egypt. Consequently, Mansoor began to show him a wide variety of antiquities, scarabs, amulets, bronzes, vases, small sculptures, etc., for the start of a conprehensive collection. Farouk became an avid buyer. For advice he called upon Drioton and other Egyptologists. Trips to the monuments of Upper and Lower Egypt were organized with Drioton and Mansoor as guides.

Farouk became a frequent visitor to the Cairo Museum and the Mansoor Gallery in Shepheard's Hotel. He learned fast and continued to buy everything he liked. Soon he demanded to see finer and greater works of art.

In 1939, Mansoor was asked to show the king the Amarna sculptures, approximately seventy-five of them. Hassanein Pasha offered one of the elegant salons of Abdin Palace to display them. Drs. Drioton, Gabra, Varille, and Charles Boreux, Curator in Chief of the Egyptian Department of The Louvre, who was visiting Egypt at the time, were present.

Never had the sculptures been exhibited all together in this fashion thus, and the impression was unforgettable. Farouk began to ask the Egyptologists many pertinent and intelligent questions. Each, in his own words, explained to him the important events of Akhenaten's revolution.

Akhenaten had overtly challenged the rules and conventions of his time. He has been called the first monotheist, the first idealist, certainly the greatest rebel and innovator of antiquity. He motivated changes in religion, philosophy and art at a time when no one would have dared to oppose the iron will of the all powerful Egyptian priesthood. Akhenaten was also a poet. His "Hymn to Aten" one of the world's most beautiful poems, perhaps inspired the biblical writers. He removed himself , his family and his entourage from Thebes and built a new capital in the desert, Akhetaten, which he dedicated to the glory of Aten, the greatest power in the universe, his "only god." He gave artists their freedom, advising them to break away from the tradition to represent in their works what they saw in life, nature, and their dreams. He influenced them to use their imaginative powers to seek the truth and to accentuate, even exaggerate it. those dynamic changes characterized the philosophy and art of the period. King Farouk then announced that he would make his own purchase.

He chose: 1) A life-sized head of a princess in white limestone with an elongated cranium and long neck; 2) a life-size head of Akhenaten in white limestone; 3) a life-size head of Nefertiti in white limestone, her eyes and eyebrows hollowed out in preparation for inlay; 4) a statuette of Akhenaten in yellowish limestone, standing and holding an offering tablet, wearing the blue crown, a short skirt and sandals; 5) a small head of a princess in pink limestone, the smallest sculpture of the Collection, approximately two inches high; 6) a bas-relief in pink limestone showing the king wearing the uncommon Amarna cap with a band of frontal striped lines, the features precisely outlined; 7) a pink limestone statuette of a princess of extraordinary craftsmanship, approximately eight inches high, wearing the nemes headdress, showing an elongated and triangular face; 9) a bas-relief in white limestone showing two princesses seated on cushions, facing one another, approximately eleven by nine inches; 10) a pink limestone, six inches high, bust of Akhenaten wearing the double crown.

Shortly after, the Faculty of Arts of the University of Cairo purchased, from Mansoor, a bas-relief that was presented to the King on the occasion of his accession to the throne. The relief represents Akhenaten enthroned, his feet resting on a stool, wearing a curly wig with hanging flaps and a rather large uraeus. It measures approximately eleven by eight inches.

At about the same time, Queen Nazli, Farouk's mother, purchased a very handsome complete statuette of a youthful princess in a light pink limestone for Farouk's birthday. It measures approximately nine inches in height.

After Farouk's purchase, Hassanein Pasha called several editors of the leading Cairo newspapers and magazines, including the Al-Ahram, and showed them the sculptures. Egyptologists and art historians from the university of Cairo were interviewed, scores of photographs were taken, and articles described the beauty of the pieces and their importance in the history of ancient Egyptian art.

Rumors began to circulate in Cairo that the entire group consisted of forgeries. From fear of losing much business, two Cairo antique dealers, Maurice Nahman and Phocion Tano, spread rumors that the Mansoor Amarna objects were spurious. In fact, Tano had the audacity to offer king Farouk, for purpose of purchase, an ugly Amarna-type head in quartzite adding, "It is a forgery similar to the Mansoor Amarnas." Another rumor was, "How can any dealer own so many genuine sculptures from the period of Amarna?" Another proclaimed the pieces to be of oriental origin (because of the almond-shaped and slanted eyes). All these random remarks were dismissed by Farouk, the Egyptologists and Mansoor, as products of ignorance and jealousy.

The twelve sculptures remained a part of Farouk's important collection of Egyptian art until he was forced to abdicate in 1952. Several years later, some efforts were made by certain iterested parties to locate their whereabouts, but all inquiries remained fruitless. Someday they will reappear, for works of art of this quality cannot remain in obscurity forever.

A few weeks after Farouk's acquisition, an important Egyptian art collector, Mr. Levi de Benzion, came to the Mansoor Gallery. Pointing a finger at Mansoor, he said: "Do you mean to tell me that you had some wonderful Amarna sculptures like those you sold the king and never whispered a word to me about them? Mansoor, what kind of friend are you?" Mansoor laughed and went to hug his old friend. Benzion had been in Europe at the time of the sale. Benzion selected a somewhat smaller than life-size head of a princess in pink limestone and a head of Akhenaten in pink limestone, the face and neck painted in pink color and the wig in light blue turquoise.

Levi de Benzion was one of the greatest collectors of Egyptian art ever, his knowledge and love of art was based on a life long experience. He knew most of the eminent Egyptologists and art dealers of his time. Many will remember his fabulous Egyptian treasures in Cairo and his "Château des Folies" in France.

At this time, it gives me great pleasure to inform the reader that M. A. Mansoor, to the best of my knowledge, was the only antique dealer to be granted with the honored title:

By Royal Appointment to H.M. King Farouk

M.A. Mansoor


Copyright © 1995 Christine Mansoor

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