Chapter 30: His Holiness Pope John Paul II, Receives Two of the Amarna Sculptures of the Mansoor Amarna Collection as a Gift to the Vatican's Egyptian Museum

In the last few years, several of the Mansoor brothers and Sister Elvira had met, discussed, and worked on many occasions with Monsignor Gianfranco Nolli in regard to the Amarna Collection.

In the spring of 1979, Michel and Alfred departed for Rome to inform the high officials of the Vatican Museum of their intention to donate two sculptures from the Collection to the Vatican's Egyptian Museum, in memory of their late father and mother.

As usual, the two brothers were warmly greeted and the officials of the Vatican expressed delight and enthusiasm for this gesture. Michel and Alfred had carried with them the two sculptures. The first, a slightly smaller than life-size head of Queen Nefertiti (one of the last three remaining in the Collection) in pink limestone, is one of the noblest portraits of the Collection. The other, a white limestone relief showing a profile of King Akhenaten, is also one of the finest representations of this great idealist and first monotheist known to history.

Upon Michel and Alfred's return to California, their attorneys, Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher began to draw the necessary papers for the transfer of ownership of the two sculptures, and a correspondence between the State Department of the Vatican and their attorneys ensued (correspondence is reproduced in "In Defence . . .", Colonna and Nolli, June 1986, p. 33 & 34).

Around the end of September, the Mansoors were informed that an audience with the Holy Father had been set for October 24, 1979. On that morning, at nine o'clock, all the members of the Mansoor family and their friends who had traveled to Rome met in Monsignor Nolli's reception office in the Department of Egyptian Art of the Vatican. They were greeted by Dr. Pietrangeli, Director General of the Vatican Museums, by Mr. Persegati, and by Monsignor Nolli.

At eleven o'clock they arrived at St. Peter's Square where the Holy Father would appear to the public.

The Mansoors had forgotten all about Tell-el-Amarna. All they wanted was to watch His Holiness as he appeared, standing in an open car, smiling, waving at, and blessing this happy multitude of men, women, and children from all nations.

Then the Holy Father arrived at the Papal throne. Many cardinals addressed His Holiness, bringing with them the greetings, quest, and querries of their nations, and the Holy Father greeted and answered them, each in his own antive tongue.

When the Papal speeches were over, the Holy Father received and conversed with three eminent persons from some European countries. Soon it was the Mansoors' turn. They approached and formed a circle around the Holy Father. Monsignor Nolli introduced Dr. Colonna and the Mansoor family to His Holiness. He explained the nature of the Mansoors' visit, adding that the family was presenting these two important sculptures to the Egyptian Museum of the Vatican in memory of their father and mother. The names Akhenaten and Nefertiti rang in the Holy Father's ears. His Holiness began to ask questions about their period, provenance, material, etc.; Monsignor Nolli and Dr. Colonna answered him. When Dr. Colonna presented her book, he looked very pleased and gave her a most gracious smile. (Photographers of the "Osservatore Romano," the Vatican's official paper, were taking pictures of this visit.)

With the interview over, His Holiness walked away. The Mansoors were all thankful to Amarna for having brought them this great moment of hapiness.

The Mansoors bid farewell to Msgr. Nolli, to Dr. Colonna, and to the officials of the Vatican Museum. A few days later, they were back in California.

Dr. Colonna presenting her 1975 catalogue on the Mansoor Amarna Collection to His Holiness, Pope John Paul II. Next to Dr. Colonna is Alfred Mansoor with dark sunglasses.

Monsignor Nolli, presenting a Head of Nefertiti to his Holiness, Pope John Paul II. In the background Henry Mansoor.

An article, concerning the donation, appeared in the Italian version of the "Osservatore Romano" (January 10, 1980), and in the English version of February 4, 1980, under the title of "Significant Homage to the Pope" - "Gift from the Mansoor Brothers" - L'Osservatore Romano wrote:

A delicate homage and at the same time an act of exceptional generosity was recently carried out by the Mansoor brothers, of Los Angeles (USA), who, to honor the memory of their parents (Abdel Sayed Mansoor and Isabella), have recently offered the Holy Father two Ancient Egyptian finds, belonging to a collection gathered by their father. One is a medallion, of calcareous stone, representing the head of Amenophis IV, Akhenaton (XVIII Dynasty), a work of exquisite workmanship, which in addition to its intrinsic worth, takes an exceptional value owing to its rarity. In fact, it is probably a model, that, in the workshop of a sculptor of the capital Akhetaton (today Tell-el-Amarna), was to serve as a model and sample for the exercises of apprentices in drawing and in bas-relief. The exceptionally delicate quality of the work, and the expressiveness of Akhenaten's face, confirm that it is the work of a great artist. The other item is even more remarkable. It is, in fact, a head (a little broken, but otherwise very well preserved) of Akhenaten's wife, the no less famous Nefertiti. Everyone will remember the splendid bust of the queen that is in Berlin: but this representation excels that famous masterpiece, not for the colors (they are completely lacking here), but because of the intensity of the expression and the interiority of sentiments conveyed by this head bare of all ornaments, but pulsating with exceptional vitality . . . . The Holy Father expressed his sincere thanks and talked amiably with each of the donors. He gave instructions, furthermore, that the two finds should be sent to the Egyptian section of the Museum of Eastern Antiquities, where they will find a setting worthy of their value.

Copyright © 1995 Christine Mansoor

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