Chapter 36: A Baffled and Puzzled Egyptologist
In the summer of 1989, on the initiative of Dr. Desroches-Noblecourt, Professor Claude Vandersleyen of the Collège Erasme, Brussels, was asked to study stylistically and artistically the Mansoor Amarna Collection. For his study, Prof. Vandersleyen was shown all the pieces of the Collection the Mansoors have at the present time, which are illustrated in the 1986 Mansoor catalogue except: 1) Fig. 26, which was sold to a private collector in 1987; 2) Fig. 1, the almost life-size bust of Akhenaten; 3) all the pieces illustrated in the catalogue belonging to private collectors. This was done during three days in a Paris bank where the pieces were kept at that time. During his viewing of the Collection, he took some 400 photos of the pieces in color as well as in black and white, and it was obvious to the Mansoors that he was enthused, admiring at length the extreme beauty of some of them. Michel and Henry noticed this from the way he was pointing out some of their outstanding features to the world-renowned Egyptologist, Dr. Desroches Noblecourt, who was also present. Of course, the Mansoors gave the professor all pertinent material concerning the Amarna Collection; all scientific reports, including Young's, the Stross and Eisenlord Report, the 1975 and 1986 Colonna catalogues, "In Defence . . ." (Nolli and Colonna, 1986), " Je Cherche un Homme . . ." (E.R. Mansoor 1971).
On July 15, 1990, Prof. Vandersleyen wrote the Mansoors a letter enclosing a temporary reflection (report) on the Collection. The Mansoors understand from it that he was not sure whether the objects are genuine or not, and that it would take him a long time to study them. The overall impression the Mansoors had from this temporary report is that he was, perhaps, confused, but to be sure puzzled. Let us consider some of what he wrote (translated from French):
. . . Despite the features, sometimes "ridiculous," of certain heads of the Collection - among Egyptologists we often discuss, with a smile, the "Mansoor style" of Egyptian art - the pieces are in general of very good quality that shows not only great skill, but especially an unexpected competence in all details of the Amarna style . . . .Considering the overall uniformity of the Collection, the anomalies are unexplainable, unless we are facing some unexpected audacity as in the Colossi of Karnak. Even the bas-reliefs, which at first sight seemed to Mme. Desroches-Noblecourt as well as to myself absolutely horrible, hideous or "stupidly copied," turned out to be very finely executed.
It seems to me difficult, almost impossible, to separate certain pieces from the Collection and determine the genuine from the forgery. Either all or none of the pieces are authentic . . . .
. . .One should therefore find out - and this is the study I will make whenever time permits - how a sculptor who lived between 1920 and 1940 could have been so familiar with certain Amarna sculptures. If one cannot find an answer to this question, this could be in favor of your collection or at least a part of it.
I had talked to you about a friend who specializes in examining ancient sculptures and who could perform a microscopic study of the surface of the sculptures (all the opinions of the geologists in the file have no weight at all) to disclose any traces of tools, etc. . . .
The scientific analyses do not prove much . . . .
The writer wonders: During what kind of meetings do certain Egyptologists "often discuss, with a smile, the Mansoor style of Egyptian art." As I have mentioned earlier, these secret meetings, "held in the manner of the medieval Star Chamber" (Leonard D. DuBoff), are contrary to academic ethics and moral principles.
Since, according to prof. Vandersleyen, "the scientific analyses do not prove much," what then is the use of further subjecting two or three pieces of the Collection to a "microscopic study" as he suggests? Do the Mansoors have to keep spending time, effort and money on scientific evidence all their life? As for his suggestion, " . . . a friend . . . could perform a microscopic study of the surface . . . ," doesn't it prove that some consideration by Egyptologists should be given to scientific evidence?
In February 1991, the Mansoors sent Dr. Stross a copy of the letter/temporary report and asked him to write a letter to Dr. Desroches Noblecourt and comment on it - particularly because it contained remarks on the scientific aspect as well as on the reports obtained on the Mansoor Collection. Dr. Stross wrote on March 3, 1991:
Dear Dr. Noblecourt,
Some of the brothers Mansoor have made me aware of a report by Professor Vandersleyen on a study of a number of the Amarna carvings in their possession, and they asked me for my comments on his report. They have also intimated that they might be of interest to you - since, I believe, it was at your much valued initiative that this study came about. I am now taking the liberty to transmit to you these comments in the hope you will not mind taking the time to peruse them. At this time I should like to express my personal appreciation for the interest you have taken in the scientific studies involving the Mansoor pieces.
The report contains some highly astute observations, such as that the artist (or artists) must have been thoroughly familiar with the features and style of the models in ancient Amarna, by contrast with other features he considers absurdly simply blunders. But of that later. First our response to his discussion of the Parke-Bernet auction in 1952, even though this matter is not really relevant, since, as he correctly remarks, there was no connection between the pieces sold there and the Amarna pieces, which are subjects of the present discussion. As he correctly notes, the sellers of the pieces were obviously convinced of the authenticity of the very heterogeneous collection offered for sale at that auction. This, of course, is not incompatible with the possibility that one or the other of those pieces might indeed have been of modern manufacture. There is no evidence or reason to believe that there was 'un grand nombre de pieces fausses, but it is not impossible that there could have been a very small number of dubious pieces among 342 items. This would still represent a high standard compared to auctions of this kind, even those backed by the best experts in the field. The offer of the money-back guarantee (which was taken up in four cases) testifies to theintegrity of the seller, which in any case is not in question. Nor can one compare the expectation of authenticity of a large, thoroughly heterogeneous collection of antique objects, none of which have undergone scientific scrutiny, with that of a relatively small group of highly homogenous character, which has been thoroughly studied by acknowledged scientific authorities, some of which are members of the National Academy of Sciences and also of worldwide renown. The remarks regarding the scientific analytical studies are to be taken more seriously. These studies are dismissed in two sentences, indicating that they have not been read or at least not understood to any degree. 'Les analyses scientifiques . . . ne prouvent pas grand chose; oui c'est du calcaire égyptien - oui ce sont bien des oeuvres dont les charactères anthropologiques sont semblables à ceux des autres objects amarniens connues.' The fact that the material is indeed Egyptian limestone is not part of the evidence offered for the authenticity of the objects, and has only been brought up in some of the reports in order to refute the bizarre notion of a Mr. Young that the material was 'a made stone' (concrete? plastic? soap?). The other statement, that the objects resemble other known amarnian objects, is obviously, and certainly was not offered as part of the scientific evidence. It would certainly have no bearing on authentication in any case. The fact that 'les affirmations de la patine et des dendrites ne semblent pas avoir convaincu tout le monde,' on the other hand, is obviously true. After all, the whole world is not convinced that the Earth is (nearly) round. But this does not change the fact that the evidence, in one case as in the other, is strongly on the side of science. And it should be very convincing to any intelligent, open-minded individual who takes the trouble to read the reports.
We wish to point out at this time again, that Professor Vandersleyen makes some excellent stylistic observations, which seem to have escaped some of the other critics of the collection. He finds it difficult to explain the 'compétence inattendue dans tous les détails du style amarnien . . .' and the workmanship of some of the bas-reliefs, which, at first glance are affreux . . . se sont relevés d'unne finesse et d'une sureté d'éxécutin insolites.' This reaction to some of the now well-known "caricaturing" styles of the Amarna period is familiar to many of us on viewing them for the first time, perhaps in the Cairo Museum. His comment is also to the point, that the audacity of a modern forger is nearly always producing doubly pierced earlobes, is inexplicable, in view of his (the forger's) demonstrated acquaintance with details of style and fashion. This implication, that this is a styllistic error, however, is mistaken. The ears of Tuyu, grandmother of Akhenaten, were doubly pierced, as can be verified by inspecting her mummy in the Cairo Museum. Aldred, in his book "Jewels of the Pharaohs," (Praeger, 1971, p. 143) describes the 'most popular earring during the Eighteenth Dynasty . . . evidently worn by women, a pair in each earlobe. . . " and mentions, as one of his examples, the mummy of Tuyu. Another example of double piercing of the earlobes is found clearly indicated on the quartzite head of Nefertiti in the Staatliche Museum, Berlin, which presumably is known to most serious Egyptologists. It is reproduced on page 114 of Treasures of the Pharaohs, Desroches - Noblecourt, Skira 1968.
In view of these acute observations it is somewhat surprising to read as one of the principal arguments against the authenticity one listed under b) on page four, line four, 'Les fautes criantes, comme par example le pschent totalement circulaire et symétrique . . . .' This type of crown was not unknown in the New Kingdom, see, for example, in a colossus of Ramses II, shown e.g. in Michalowsji's Art of Ancient Egypt (Harry N. Abrams, N.Y.p. 409). It is all the more astonishing to read, in the next sentence, under c), the argument that the shoulders are raised, 'à propos [des] [copies] d'oeuvres ultra-célè:bres . . . .' Forgeries because precedents don't exist or because they are too well-known? One can hardly have it both ways.
Another point to be made in this connection, is that, again, under c), the famous bas-relief of Smenkhkra and his queen in the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, display what surely would have been called 'blunders' had they been exhibited by any of the Mansoor pieces: the strangely inconsistent left leg and the exaggerated necks, particularly of the queen are cases in point. It might be noted that the Mansoor 'copy' (which incidentally is quite different from the Berlin piece) does not show these anomalies. With regard to the other example, the mural fragment of the 'two princesses' at the Ashmolean, beautiful as it is, displays startling features, too: the highly elongated necks of both figures, and the spaghetti-like left lower arm of the squatting princess ) forerunners of Expressionism?). The corresponding reliefs of the Mansoor group show more realistic, truly engaging proportions. Several comments suggest themselves: these are the only reliefs of this scene known to exist. The 'forger' exercised his imagination by 'correcting' the anatomical shortcomings, supplying missing features and details, such as showing the fingers of the seated princess resting on the shoulders of the crouching figure, which are in a broken area of the Ashmolean piece. At the same time these pieces are suspect because they are (exact?) copies of the well-known pieces. Here too, you can hardly have it both ways.
It is hardly worth mentioning that the 'expertise scientifique négative de Young de boston' has been discredited so thoroughly in a substantial number of the reports that to call it a scientific report itself is a contradiction in adjecto. The items discussed in Young's report actually were refuted in an article published in 1960 (Stross, Analytical Chemistry, 32:17A). This article has received many congratulatory responses, from heads of research laboratories of important museums as well as from other parties, but not a single comment attacking any ot the scientific evidence presented in the article. Young made no comment, nor did he answer a letter inviting him to comment on the new evidence presented in the article.
Incidentally, The Mansoor family tells me that at no time have they offered to donate any of the Amarna pieces to the Cairo Museum. They are planning to send you, if they have not already done so, a copy of the report and letter by professor . . . .
Very sincerely yours,
Fred Stross (signed)
According to Prof. Vandersleyen, he has known of this Collection for over thirty years, and during all that time he has been aware of the "hushed remarks" about the Mansoor sculptures ("among Egyptologists we often discuss with a smile . . ."). Considering that during the last forty or so years, that this controversy has lasted, not one of Ms. Hochfield's annonymous Egyptologists has contacted the Mansoors to view the Collection. The acceptance by Prof. Vandersleyen to study the Collection at the request of Dr. Desroches Noblecourt is in itself a step in the right direction. As Prof. Vandersleyen told the Mansoors, the Collection deserved to be studied "meritait étude."
So, what's this affair all about? It is about some small, inconsequential people, who followed blindly, someone who blundered pitifully. Had these so-called "scholars" followed the established ethical rules, this controversy-turned-conspiracy would have never happened.
The Mansoors do not know what Prof. Vandersleyen's final opinion will be, but whatever it is, they will consider it to be that of a man of courage and integrity, because he dared to look and find out for himself. Hopefully, others will see fit to emulate him. They too, will be puzzled, by what they will discover, but their efforts will be richly rewarded and their knowledge of the Amarna period will be vastly expanded.
Before closing this chapter, I would like to quote the following from "Je Cherche un Homme . . .1971, (Sequel)."
Perhaps no single chapter of the long history of ancient Egypt has been as much discussed and written about as the period of Tell-el-Amarna. Indeed it was a fascinating age.
Most of the scholars of Egyptology, particularly those of this century, have given us their different interpretations of the life and times of Akhenaton, of his religious philosophy, of his sacrosanct belief in Aton, "his only god," of his relation with the many members of the royal family, and of his feelings toward love, peace, his people and mankind. All these writings, of course, are presumably based on the many inscriptions that have been found on temple and tomb walls, on coffins, on the Tell-el-Amarna Tablets, and on carved fragments and shreds of evidence now scattered in the museums of the world. One subject, however, has yet to be further studied, understood and described. It is the art of Tell-el-Amarna.
This must be done by Egyptologists who possess not only a deep knowledge of the period of Tell-el-Amarna, but also a talent to recognize and appreciate the true aesthetic merit of its art productions. Although many scholars have made appreciable efforts in this direction, and many have understood the motivating forces that caused the changes and innovations that are evident in the art of Amarna, yet one feels that their works have remained incomplete.
The known artistic productions of this period cover a wide range of style, from conventional and life-like representations to idealized forms, then to dynamic lines, finally exploding in grossly exagerated portraits. No such disparity in style occurred during the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom, the early part of the Eighteenth Dynasty or in later periods of Egyptian art.
Breasted called Akhenaton "the first individual in history." Is it not likely then that this king who rid himself of the conventions of the past, and who, one must assume, was the inspiring force behind his artists, felt the urge to have himself as well as the members of the royal family represented in different ways of expression, attitudes and moods to coincide with his philosophy? One must therefore conclude that the artists of Akhenaton were allowed far more independence and freedom to create new forms, to stylize features, indeed to instill new blood in the slow-changing art of Egypt than their predecessors or successors.
Because of the complexities and subtleties of the art of Tell-el-Amarna, it is possible that all its phases have been only superficially discussed by most Egyptologists. In this connection, what should one think of the incredibly exaggerated forms of the colossi of Karnak which defy every artistic rule and pattern to this date? Why was Akhenaten represented in this manner? The change was certainly drastic.
A challenge is offered here to present-day Egyptologists to scrutinize the many phases of the art of Tell-El-Amarna. To be sure, the task is difficult; but the effort could be rewarding.
Although this paper far from pretends to be even a short study of the art of Tell-el-Amarna, the points discussed above have been mentioned because our purpose here is to explain why certain Egyptologists have failed to recognize the authenticity as well as the great aesthetic merit of the Mansoor sculptures dating from this period.
Since the overwhelming scientific evidence in favor of the genuine antiquity of the collection, as against the sole negative opinion of Mr. William J. Young of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, has already been presented in other publications ("A Report on a Group of Limestone Carvings Owned by M.A. Mansoor and Sons; Analytical Chemistry"; "The Vortex") and in the reports of several eminent scientists, this aspect of the problem will not be discussed here any further.
The other important factor to consider is the value of the opinion of certain experts. Over the years, experts in many fields have made innumerable mistakes in judging old works of art. Among these, many Egyptologists are known to have made such mistakes. Whereas science describes with positive facts the natural chain of events that cause the alteration of the sculptured surface of ancient art objects, Egyptologists, like their counterparts in other fields, can only base their opinion in judging such objects on purely stylistic or aesthetic grounds. In other words, they rely on their own "feelling." There is no need to mention here the numerous and well-known cases in which this "feelling" of the experts was proved to be wrong. Because of this human inadequacy, whenever important art objects are considered for purchase by museums today, the scientific evidence will always have the final word over the eye of the expert. This is precisely what happened in 1947 when Dr. Ambrose Lansing was considering the purchases of the Mansoor Amarna Sculptures for the Metropolitan Museum. The "scientific" evidence presented in 1949 by Mr. Young prevailed then over Dr. Lansing's expert opinion. It is unfortunate that Dr. Lansing retired shortly thereafter. He died long before the appearance of the many scientific reports that authenticated the collection.
A short time later, Mr. John D. Cooney proclaimed his negative opinion to many directors of museums, to curators of Egyptology and to collectors in the United States. Although he has often repeated it for many years, he cannot refute the scientific evidence, nor can he come up with any substantial evidence of his own to justify his claim. One must therefore conclude that since he could not express his "feeling" in tangible terms, he must have relied on the "scientific opinion" of Mr. William J. Young. In deference to Mr. Cooney's opinion, a few other Egyptologists in the United States refused to commit themselves to an opinion.
In Europe, Professor Hans Wolfgang Muller of Munich also gave a negative opinion. Unlike Mr. Cooney, who offered no arguments at all, Professor Muller wrote a short report titled "Expert Opinion" on two sculptures sent to him for study. All the statements of this report are inaccurate. In one statement he assumes a knowledge of geology; in others he indicates a lack of knowledge of the art of Tell-el-Amarna; and in his final statement he indulges in technical assumptions. This report must be seen and seriously examined not just by Egyptologists and scientists, but also by art critics and impartial judges. In the case of our Tell-el-Amarna sculptures, one can therefore conclude that the error of the above named Egyptologists is due to one or more of the folowing reasons:
1) prejudice after reading the Young report;
2) lack of experience and training;
3) dependence on obsolete points of view;
4) sole reliance on their own feeling;
50 knowledge restricted to only certain aspects of the study of Egyptology;
6) failure to recognize the subtleties, the aesthetic merit and style of these sculptures.
It should be noted here that several eminent scholars of Egyptology, including Drioton, Boreux, Gabra, Varille and Iskandar, as well as other connoisseurs, have agreed that in character, essence and technique, these sculptures fit absolutely within the scope of the many phases of the art of Tell-el-Amarna. Dr. A. Lansing of the Metropolitan Musuem had also acquiesced in this point of view.
Other important observations and features are also to be considered in this collection. The following are examples:
a) that some of the sculptures were made of an unusual, but by no means unknown, pink limestone. This point was already discussed by Dr. Stross and Mr. Eisenlord in their report, and mentioned in "Je Cherche un Homme." We feeel that this "originality" on the part of the artists of Amarna did puzzle some of the dissident Egyptologists. In response to one of Professor Muller's statements, we must add that practically every conceivable type of material - whether native or imported - available to the ancient Egyptians was, at one time or another of their long history, used by their artists in all sorts of artistic productions. A few, of course, were used much less than others because of their rarity.
b) that some of the male heads, both in the round and in the relief, wear crowns and headdresses that are somewhat different from others of this period. How many Egyptologists know of forgers who have been innovators? One would think that the slightest mistake that these forgers could make would reveal the forgery at once. Furthermore, from other periods of Egyptian history, several fine sculptures have been found wearing crowns and other features not exactly conforming with the conventional style of the period.
c) that many of these sculptures could have been made to serve as models for student artists. That some were finished sculptures and others were not.
d) that some or all of the sculptures were probably made with the intention of being painted but were not. Drs. Zaki Iskandar and Zahira Mustafa describe in their report one statuette of a princess, made of pink limestone, with traces of pink coloring, invisible to the naked eye. On chemical analysis, the composition of the faint water color on the statuette was found to be identical to other pigments used by the ancient Egyptians.
Finally we must include this important quotation from Dr. Jack De Ment's report ("Radiography" section, page 15):
"The small head shows feature (a) supra, plus (b) a very strong indication that during its sculpturing the artisan gouged out a small hole at the base of the neck and inserted a limestone "pin" or peg that has a slightly different density. This cannot be seen with the unaided eye, nor at low magnifications, for the fit of the pin is exceptionally good. The juncture of the pin with the edge of the neck hole, into which it is inserted, is filled in and covered over with patina that is typical of both the rest of the head and neck as well as the surface of the pin."
"Hence, one should be able to conclude with a very good degree of certainty that this operation was done at the time of the making of the small head."
"It would seem that a counterfeiter of Egyptian artifacts of the kind described herein certainly would not take the trouble of first drilling a hole and, finally, meticulously inserting a peg and making sure of an excellent, concealed fit; this could only have occured through a very great period of time, with patina forming over the seam of the fit and concealing same. Moreover, the fact that the density of the limestone peg is slightly different from the rest of the neck and head, as indicated by radiolucency, is favorable evidence reinforcing authenticity. It would appear that the maker of a spurious piece of sculpture would take the easy way out, and would very probably utilize limestone from the confines of one locality or from one large piece of stone having common characteristics."
Thus, the stylistic as well as the scientific points in favor of the genuine antiquity of the collection are rational and innumerable. Those presented by Messrs. Young, Muller and Cooney have been proved time and again to be respectively unscientific, erroneous and undocumented.
In his article published in "The Vortex," and reproduced in "Je Cherche un Homme . . . ," Dr. Fred H. Stross makes this final statement: "The scientific vindication has been accomplished, but is there something missing?"
The fact cannot be emphasized enough that in his letter of authentication, the late Abbé Etienne Drioton, one of the greatest Egyptologists of this century, declared: "But I will add that, from the artistic point of view, these pieces come from a workshop related to, but not identical with, the one that produced the colossi of Karnak. Their stylization, driven in the same spirit is of such plentitude and faultless craftsmanship, that they cannot be, in my opinion, the work of a forger."
In the interest of Egyptology, and for the sake of a collection of sculptures that has been aclaimed by many eminent Egyptologists and connoisseurs as ranking with, if not surpassing in beauty, some of the finest ancient Egyptian artistic productions, we strongly urge the American Museum Association and all its members, as well as all Egyptologists and all departments of ancient Egyptian art in the world museums, to consider this problem very seriously, to evaluate all the stylistic and scientific facts relating to it, and to make their opinions known publicly. In doing so, the highest ideals for which these men of learning are constantly striving, will have been only faithfully and justly served.
Je Cherche un Homme. . . .
Edmond R. Mansoor
(Printed in 1971)
Copyright © 1995 Christine Mansoor
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