Chapter 33: "In Defense of the Mansoor-Amarna Collection" (Gianfranco Nolli - Andreina Leanza Becker-Collona, Rome, June 1986)

The Fourth International Congress of Egyptology was held in Munich in 1985. Dr. Colonna was expected to present a report on the princesses of the Mansoor Amarna Collection. On May 19, 1985, she received a letter from Prof. Dr. D. Wildung, written on the letterhead of the Congress Bureau:

Dear Colleague,

As far as the program of the Fourth International Egyptian Conference is concerned, I see myself forced to reject your report on "A group of Portraits of the Amarna Princesses."

As it is well known to you, today in the Egyptian art milieu exists an overall understanding that the Mansoor objects are not antique. During an exhibit in Munich, Hamburg and Brussels we publicized this position and it looks upon us as our duty to prevent anything which would give the Mansoors' pieces a pseudo-legitimation.

The gifts of the Mansoor family to the Vatican Museum and to the Louvre were done by the Bank of America as advertisement during the offer for sale of further pieces and I fear that a presentation of the Mansoor pieces during the Fourth International Conference of Egyptology would also be used as advertisement for the authenticity and importance of these pieces.

I beg you therefore to understand that your report at the Munich Conference cannot be accepted.

With friendly greetings.

Prof. Dr. D. Wildung (signed)
Congress Bureau

With his letter, Dr. Wildung enclosed a copy of an article published in "Zeitung Zur Sonderausstellung," titled "Falsche Faraonen" (False Pharaoh). A copy of the English translation of that article is published in "In Defence . . . ," pp. 48-54.

Dr. Colonna was shocked by the article, Monsignor Nolli was shocked and the scientists were stunned. They could not believe the succession of absurdities contained in this shameful article.

This article was the legitimate heir of the rumors spread by Cooney, Bothmer, and their few unnamed followers who communicated their undocumented comments to Ms. Sylvia Hochfield in her ARTnews article.

Dr. Colonna and Msgr. Nolli answered this new unjustified and vicious attack on the Collection in the strongest but most ethically possible way in a fifty-five page booklet titled: "In Defence of the Mansoor-Amarna Collection."

This booklet, which unfortunately cannot be reproduced here for lack of space, was sent to museums and universities interested in Egyptology, just as was all the previously published literature discussing the Collection.

In response to Wildung's haughty and self-serving letter of May 14,  Dr. Colonna replied on September 28, 1985, on a San Francisco State University letterhead:

Dear Colleague:

This is in response to your letter of May 14, 1985, which accompanied the article 'Falsche Pharaonen' published in your magazine 'Zeitung zur Sonderaussetellung' of July 21-October 31, 1983.

While appreciating the very commendable endeavor of your Department and Colleagues to prepare a work in the field and history of forgery and to have set up an exhibition of fakes from various German Museums, I still don't see why and how your laudable initiative has anything to do with the Mansoor-Amarna Collection.

In the above mentioned article I have found a number of inaccuracies and superficial remarks concerning the Mansoor-Amarna Collection which I feel it is my professional responsibility and moral obligation to confute. But of this, later. For the time being I will limit myself to few objections to your letter.

In Paragraph 1 of your letter you state: "As far as the program of the Fourth International Egyptian Conference is concerned I see myself forced to reject your report on "A Group of Portraits of the Amarna Princesses."

In Paragraph 2 you state: "As it is well known to you today, in the Egyptian art milieu there exists an overall understanding that the Mansoor objects are not antique." On what do you base your statement that it is well known to me that the Mansoor objects are not antique? What you so definitely affirm is merely your assumption as I don't recall ever having had the opportunity of discussing the problem with you or with anyone else of your "Egyptian art milieu." On the contrary I have unquestionable scientific and stylistic evidence proving that the Mansoor-Amarna objects are antique.

In the same Paragraph 2 you say, "During an exhibit in Munchen, Hamburg and Brussels we publicized this position and it looks upon us as our duty to prevent anything which would give the Mansoor pieces a pseudo-legitimation."

May I ask Dr. Wildung, which pieces of the Mansoor Amarna Collection did you produce in the above mentioned exhibits where you and your colleagues, not well identified, took upon yourselves the duty to prevent anything which would give the Mansoor Amarna Collection a pseudo-legitimation? As far as I know, none. In fact, you are not, and you were not at the time, in possession of any part of the Mansoor-Amarna Collection.

As you did not have any Mansoor artifacts to exhibit and appraise, you, as is evident from your above mentioned magazine, showed only photographs of them, four of them, as a matter of fact.

Now I assume that the "Egyptian art milieu" you talk about is composed of the same people who were at the exhibits of Munchen, Hamburg and Brussels and who were so eager and determined to publicize their position. But on what evidence did these "experts" base their infallible verdict on the Mansoor-Amarna Collection, and, judging from only few pieces, condemned the Collection in its entirety? And this verdict was passed judging only a few pieces and these from photographs? Since when do responsible and objective art experts judge works of art not from the originals but from photos of them?

An "overall understanding" is a very vague statement that has no value whatsoever. Any judgment in our field must be undersigned by the expert who expresses his criticism, otherwise it carries no weight and amounts to mere gossip.

When you mention the "Egyptologist milieu" who have an "overall understanding that the Mansoor objects are not antique," you don't produce any name of Egyptologists who have given proof of what you state.

The only one to undersign his criticism after having examined three pieces of the Mansoor-Amarna Collection is, a far as I know, Prof. H. W. Muller of the Munich University. Although I have strong reservations about his opinion, I consider it for its value, the report of a serious student of Egyptology.

The late Mr. J. D. Cooney, former curator of the Brooklyn Museum of Ancient Art had, in 1949, the opportunity to examine some pieces of the Mansoor-Amarna Collection, but he did not express publicly any valid and constructive argument against them. I don't know of any other Egyptologist to have examined and studied the Mansoor-Amarna Collection and published a negative judgment of it.

You know very well, Dr. Wildung, that the praxis followed by any appraiser of good standing is first to examine the original art work for an amount of time that may be of few days, months, even years, depending on the importance of the case, and then express his criticism supported by sound, valid arguments. This is the customary practice, and this is what all the scholars of Egyptology who (on the contrary) have expressed favorable judgment on the Mansoor-Amarna Collection have done. I will mention only the two most recent ones, Monsignor Nolli of the Vatican Museum and Mme. Desroches Noblecourt of the Louvre Museum. Both of these world-known Egyptologists have studied some Mansoor-Amarna pieces for more than two years, had them scientifically analyzed and examined, and only after a careful study they have expressed their favorable conviction about the authenticity of these artifacts and accepted them for for their respective museums. This is the proper standard procedure.

I will not now reproduce here the list of all the other well known Egyptologists who have in the past delivered an impassionate, objective verdict and not doubted of the authenticity of the Mansoor-Amarna Collection, as I will take care of the matter later.

For those who have been denying the genuineness of the Mansoor-Amarna Collection (and for some unknown, unexplicable reasons) it has been a game of "hide and seek." This proceeding is not the one followed by honest and learned scholars, responsible for what they state and who are conscious that they are dealing, in the case of the Mansoor-Amarna Collection, with one of the most extraordinary "trouvailles" of our time. The Mansoor-Amarna Collection is too important for its historical and artistic value in the field of Egyptology to be dismissed easily and irresponsibly with a few superficial, vague statements uttered by people, some of whom have not even seen the Collection at all!

In Paragraph 3 you say "The gifts of the Mansoor objects to the Vatican Museum and to the Louvre Museum were made by the Bank of America as advertisement during the offer for sale of further pieces . . . . " This statement is totally untrue as the Bank of America had nothing to do with the gifts that the Mansoor Family offered to the two museums directly and with no intermediaries. This statement is based on misinformation, and therefore this part of Paragraph 3 is inaccurate and misleading.

In the same Paragraph 3 you continue: ". . . And I fear that a presentation of the Mansoor pieces during the Fourth International Conference of Egyptology would also be used as advertisement for the authenticity and importance of these pieces. I beg you, therefore, to understand that your report at the Munich Conference cannot be accepted."

This statement implies that I, knowing that the Mansoor-Amarna Collection is not antique, nevertheless have tried to advertise its authenticity and importance. This statement of yours refers to me personally and I take it as a very serious intimation hinting at the fact that I willingly have tried to deceive the public and the professional "milieu" you talk about. This is a serious implication, which impairs my moral and professional integrity and has nothing to do with the Mansoor-Amarna Collection being authentic or not, but concerns me directly and exclusively. I am sure that you did not intend your declaration to have that sense but, unfortunately for you, it sounds like it.

I believe that the position you are taking against the Mansoor-Amarna Collection is due to the tendentious misrepresentation of facts of which you may be unaware. Now I refer you, Dr. Wildung to pages 39-41 of my publication on the Mansoor-Amarna Collection (1975) where I extend the invitation to any Egyptologist to come to California, to study the Collection and discuss it with me and whoever is a well-known authority in the field of Egyptology, either a historian or a scientist. At this time I invite you, Dr. Wildung, whom I know as a scholar, objective and honest in his professional dealings, to come at your convenience and to study the Collection.

Anyone can make mistakes, your exhibit of the 'Falsche Pharaonen' definitely proves it. But it is also true that mistakes can be corrected. It only takes the courage of one's own opinion to retract what has been wrongly affirmed or misrepresented and make it right.

I have faith that among the "real" scholars and Egyptologists there are still some who, aware of the great injustice perpetrated against the Mansoor-Amarna Collection will accept my invitation and follow in the steps of two of the best known Egyptologists today, Mme. Desroches-Noblecourt and Monsignor Nolli and all the others before them.

I am sure your Conference was a success.

With friendly greetings,
Dr. Andreina Leanza Becker-Colonna (signed)
Professor Emeritus
San Francisco State University
Curator Emeritus of the Sutro-Egyptian Collection
San Francisco State University
Curator of the Mansoor-Amarna Collection

Let it be known once and for all that:

This means that in 1978, no one knew - and positively not Bank of America nor the Mansoors - that gifts would be donated to either the Vatican Museum or the Louvre at any time (cf. "In Defence . . ., " 1986, pp. 18, 33, 34, and 35).

Concerning the German article "Falsche Faraonen," Dr. Colonna writes in her booklet "In Defence . . . .":

In the conclusions of her "Defence" Dr. Colonna writes:

At this point, the writer asks: Obviously art "experts" bought the forgeries that were so proudly exhibited in "Munich, Hamburg and Brussels," now Dr. Wildung, who declared these statues "fakes?" Scientists or art experts?

Also "In Defence . . . ," p. 24, Monsignor Gianfranco Nolli (Vatican Museum) refutes substantially all allegations, false pretenses and foolish statements made in this German article. Its introduction states:

In reading the article "Falsche Pharaonen" and in particular the part concerning the Mansoor-Amarna Collection, one has the impression of an attempt by its author to justify someone who likes to remain in the shade. However, this justification is not based on evidence supported by proofs or documents. It develops through uncertainties and incongruities on one side, while on the other it attempts to back up its conclusions by simple statements on the non-authenticity of the examined artifact. What should have been the conclusion drawn from clear and definite premises becomes the thesis to be demonstrated, the principle from which to start but also the assertion to which one arrives without having first produced weighty motives and conclusive evidence.

Under Point 2, Monsignor Nolli writes:

The author seems to attribute a great importance to the fact that the "question of the Mansoor-Amarna Collection has never been widely dealt with in any Egyptological publication." But what does this prove? If it has not been done before, now is the moment to do it!

Sincerely, there is nothing else to say about this question and the matter is not for or against the subject. The argument "ex silentio" is especially weak, particularly in this case.

Under Point 3, Monsignor Nolli writes:

The author admits that even though the origin of the Collection is "obscure" this does not impair its authenticity. Otherwise one should be in doubt about too many archaeological findings!

Under Point 4, Monsignor Nolli writes:

. . . The important fact is to know whether or not Mr. Mansoor was a man worthy of being trusted or not. The author sincerely admits that "Mr. Mansoor was well known to a number of Egyptologists of repute during the twenties and thirties." Besides, he adds that "many importnt works of ancient Egypt had been acquired by Museums through Mr. mansoor, objects whose authenticity is without question."

Now, it is legitimate to ask: "Is it possible that a competent art dealer like Mr. Mansoor could have been deceived not once, on one piece, but on 106 pieces? Pieces acquired by him not in a block but at different times and without any doubt of their authenticity ever occuring to him, when the number of the pieces themselves would have made suspicious even one completely lacking any knowledge in the matter? Is it conceivable that a man who has been dealing for decades in the field of ancient Egyptian art and in which he has given proof of having undoubtable competence, could be cheated by a forger not on an item of mediocre importance but on archaeological discoveries, only one of which would be a rarity for any museum?

Under Point 5, Monsignor Nolli writes:

A STRANGE ARGUMENT - " . . . If the first object of the Mansoor-Amarna Collection was acquired in 1924 (twelve years after the discovery of Thutmosis' studio). Then the history of the Collection suposedly existing at Mellawi around the turn of the last century, would suggest an independence from the statues and reliefs of Amarna, which, well-known in the twenties, were available as models . . . ."

If one is not mistaken, this means that we already know the entire production of Thutmosis so that, if a new piece is similar to one from his workshop, it must be a fake because we know everything made there. Also should we infer that it is not possible that other shops working in the same style existed in Egypt at that time?

We know, on the contrary . . . how repetitive the artists of ancient Egypt were in any period.

To affirm that an object is "copied" from another because it is similar to it, means that one does not take into account one of the fundamental characteristics of Egyptian art, where works, centuries apart, seem to have been done by the same artist.

It seems, therefore, totally arbitrary to propose one artifact as a "model" for another and try to demonstrate that the latter is the "copy" of the former, basing this judgment on the differences existing between the supposed model and the supposed copy of it. This fact deprives the whole part of the article of any serious ground as the author makes an effort to show the difference of the "expression of feelings," for example in Nefertiti's portrait, deriving from the alteration that the "forger" has made on the "original." (1915, Mitrahina, Cairo Museum).

Under point 9, Monsignor Nolli writes:

The author tries to lessen the value of the fact that two pieces of the Mansoor-Amarna Collection have been accepted by the Vatican Museums.

He probably ignores the facts that the two objects have been donated to the Holy Father by the Mansoor family. Now, for anyone who does not know it, before any object of this kind is presented to the Pope, the competent authorities have it examined by the experts and technicians who are in charge of the particular field to which the artifacts belongs, to be absolutely sure that it is not a forgery.

This is what has been done for the two Mansoor-Amarna pieces, which were examined and studied for almost two years by the Inspector of the Gregorian Egyptian Museum, pro-tempore, Monsignor Gianfranco Nolli, who declared them authentic. It is not as the author of the article seems to insinuate, a gift blindly accepted.

Under Point 11, Monsignor Nolli writes:

Without doubt, imitations or fakes in the Amarna style cannot go back earlier than 1887, year of the discovery of the Royal Archives that made Amarna famous. Or we may consider the date of 1912, the year in which the studio of the sculptor Thutmosis was discovered. If a fake were datable with certainty to a preceeding period, it could be in its own right an object worthy of being displayed in a museum.

Now, one may debate the issue as follows:

The Mansoor-Amarna Collection has been declared a forgery for stylistic reasons, that is, it shows characteristics not in agreement with what up to now is known about the Amarna style. If it is possible to demonstrate that these findings were ot carved in a recent period (within 100 years at the most) one ought to face this dilemma:

a) either they are "fakes" of a recent period within 100 years at the most;

b) or they are "fakes" made in the acient period;

c) or they present features different from those already known and just because of this fact they are of great importance in obtaining a more adequate knowledge of Amarna.

According to what the opponents of the Mansoor Amarna Collection say, no expenses were spared by its owners to obtain the most unquestionable and undeniable accurate physico-chemical-petrographic analysis. One of the best equipped laboratories able to perform indisputable petrographic examination, gave an answer which may be summarized as follows:

"The surface patina of the objects of the Mansoor Amarna Collection presents characteristics that doubtless are due to the physico-chemical and radio-active action of centuries. Today, such a patina could be reproduced artificially through extremely expensive treatments, in highly specialized laboratories, with materials not commonly available. It is therefore to be excluded in the most peremptory way that this patina has been produced in the 20's and 30's when, even if sufficient knowledge in this field was at hand, laboratories well enough equipped to obtain such results were totally lacking."

Monsignor Nolli's Conclusion:

In this debate one is facing this reality:

a) On one side the few Egyptologists who deny the authenticity of the Mansoor-Amarna Collection on an aesthetic-stylistic reasons;

b) On the other side chemists and physicists who affirm without any doubt that these sculptures could not have been artificially made recently to look antique.

Therefore, because of the certainty that the material of which they are made is and was found in Egypt, and because their production is not of a recent epoch but is some millenia old, the stylistic-aesthetic arguments cannot be accepted for the simple reason that they are based on a limited number of samples, which certainly do not cover the whole variety of the Amarna art production.

Thus, either one accepts the Mansoor-Amarna Collection as an "ensemble" of authentic works and considers it for a better understanding of the Amarna style, or one admits that it represents an attempt of an artist who wanted to imitate a great master.

In this case the value of the Mansoor-Amarna Collection is even greater because it can reveal the existence of currents and "schools" of which, so far, we have but very scanty documentation.

Gianfranco Nolli (signed)
Former Director Museo di Antichità Orientale
Docente di Religione Antico Egitto
Alla Pontifica Università Laterano
Consulente del Museo Biblico in Vaticano
Consultore per la Congregazione per la cause dei Santi.

September, 1985

"Falsche Pharaonen," whether written by Wildung, D. Klemm, Muller, or any of their followers, repeated many of the lies and distortions of the dissident Egyptologists. And there, in Frankfurt, next door to Munich , Dr. Reiner Protsch Von Zieten, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Osteo-Archaeometric Laboratories at the J.W. Goethe University, had published a few years earlier his report on the Collection in which he affirmed: "I can only reach the conclusion that if the Berlin and Kairo pieces are genuine, which could be solely due to different workmanship by different artists, those pieces of the Mansoor Collection are also genuine."

In October 1986, Dr. Becker-Colonna organized a second exhibit of the Collection at San Francisco State University, sponsored by the Department of Classical Archaeology. Dr. Colonna's intention was to allow more art historians, Egyptologists, curators, and art lovers to further view the Collection. The response was most encouraging. Again scholars and art students, as well as connoisseurs, came in great numbers to study and admire these stunning masterpieces of ancient Egyptian art. Some even came for a second and third visit.

Dr. Desroches Noblecourt, Monsignor Nolli, and Father Pierre Du Bourguet honored the Collection by attending this second exhibition. They were able to study and handle the Mansoor sculptures. Needless to say, these three scholars admired them, pointing out to each other the various exquisite and indeed realistic details. Besides Dr. Desroches Noblecourt, Monsignor Nolli, and the Rev. Pierre Du Bourguet, how many "real and honest scholars" have accepted Dr. Colonna's invitation? Very few! I suppose that many were discouraged by the dissident Egyptologists and their "milieu," who, instead of studying the Collection, come out of the woodwork in the dark of the night to plot against the Mansoor Collection.

To honor Dr. Andreina Leanza Becker-Colonna, a great scholar who had thoroughly studied all the sculptures in the Mansoor Amarna Collection since 1973, the Mansoor family donated to the University, on the day of the preview, a standing figurine of an Amarna princess from their collection. The Honorable George Xanthos, Judge of the Superior Court of the State of California, who had been an enthusiastic admirer of the Amarna sculptures for more than ten years, was entrusted to perform the donation ceremony.

While the exhibition was in progress and the three illustrious European visitors were still in San Francisco, Dr. Andreina Leanza Becker-Colonna gave a dinner reception in their honor at her club, The Metropolitan. Also present were Dr. Fred H. Stross; Dr. Richard L. Trapp, Associate Dean of the School of Humanities, Chairman of the Classics Department. Some members of the Mansoor family and other guests also attended.

In a speech that evening, Dr. Desroches Noblecourt stated that she did believe the objects were truly ancient, she also said that she had heard many rumors about the Mansoor family that she knew were not true.

The Mansoors say: "From deep in our hearts, we offer a sincere thank you to Dr. Desroches Noblecourt from the Mansoor family who acknowledge their debt with eternal gratitude, not only because of the statements she made concerning the Mansoor Collection, and the Mansoors, but mostly because, in spite of her heavy workload, she alloted time to come view the Collection in San Francisco. We also express a posthumous gratitude to Professor Pierre du Bourguet, S. J. and to Monsignor Gianfranco Nolli." The Mansoors are hoping and praying that other Egyptologists with integrity and a higher conscience will do likewise - i.e., come to California to view and study the Collection.

Furthermore, in an interview with Dimitra Pozirekides-Seres of KCOP-TV, on October 15, 1986, Dr. Desroches Noblecourt said: "This collection is very important because it is of the Amarna period . . . a very difficult period to understand." Again on October 17, 1986, Dr. Desroches Noblecourt declared to Ms. Seres, "There are many others [workshops] unknown to us . . . the workshop from which comes the Mansoor Collection was certainly that of a very realistic and skilled artist . . . this collection cannot be compared to any collection . . . . I don't think we have now in America or in Europe so large a collection of objects coming from one workshop."

Declarations such as these, made by "an Egyptologist of the first rank . . . a special consultant of UNESCO" (his Excellency Dr. Sarwat Okasha, Minister of Culture and National Guidance of the United Arab Republic [Egypt]), should not and cannot be discarded that easily.

Copyright © 1995 Christine Mansoor

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