Chapter 4: The Abbé Drioton Seeks to Acquire the Remaining Sculptures of the Collection for the Cairo Museum

Toward the end of 1941, after having had ample time to examine the many sculptures of the collection, and being aware of their importance in the study of the art of Amarna, Dr. Drioton sought to acquire the remaining pieces of the Collection for the Cairo Museum. They were, as he said,"national Egyptian art treasures, and as such should be purchased as a comprehensive group by the government before their dispersal."

He therefore approached Taha Hussein Bey, the eminent philosopher and writer who was the Minister of Public Education at the time. Taha Hussein responded to Drioton's proposal with enthusiasm. Together, they studied and discussed the matter. M. A. Mansoor would bring to the Cairo Museum some of his Amarna sculptures to be subjected to a technical examination in the Department of Antiquities Laboratory. Mansoor agreed.

Mr. Alfred Lucas, Consultant, forensic and geological chemistry, Chief Chemist of the Department of Antiquities of Egypt, was educated at the School of Mines, London, and the Royal College of Sciences and worked for eight years for the Governmental Laboratory in London. He also worked for nine winters with Howard Carter on the objects found in the tomb of Tut-Ankh-Amon and was the author of "Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industires," which remains the most important reference on this subject even today. Mr. Lucas went to the Mansoor Gallery and viewed the remaining Collection. He selected twenty-seven sculptures, including many fragments, and made sure they were representative of the different colors of limestone and the type and degree of weathering on their surface.

A few weeks later, Lucas completed his examination of the sculptures and submitted a positive report. Although it was only a preliminary study (detailed scientific reports were something of a novelty in those days, for lack of established methods of research), it was, nevertheless, a scientist's justification of the opinions of Drs. Drioton, Gabra, Varille and Boreux. Lucas, whose expert eye was familiar with every type of weathering on ancient Egyptian carvings, and very familiar with the diverse attempts to simulate ancient patina, could not have failed to detect any false or forced condition on the surface of these Amarna sculptures.

The remaining pieces of the Collection and a few fragments were offered for sale to the government. For months, Taha Hussein discussed Drioton's proposal with the Council of Ministers, but they were always preoccupied with the deteriorating political situation and the unavailability of funds.

After World War II, while the council of Ministers was debating the possibility of acquiring the Amarna Collection, M. A. Mansoor showed the sculptures to whomever he thought was interested in Egyptian art. Nigel S. Warren, a colonel in the British army whom Mansoor had befriended since the earlier years of the war, informed Mansoor one day of his interest in the acquisition of a sculpture from the Collection. He chose a most attractive head of a princess in pink limestone, broken at the neck and damaged in a few places. It was approximately five inches high.

Colonel Warren, a barrister, and an avid collector of Egyptian art, took it to England. In Oxford, he showed it to Professor S. R. K. Glanville, the eminent Egyptologist, whose reaction concerning its great aesthetic beauty and authenticity was entirely favorable.

Warren had an idea. If Farouk and other collectors had already acquired some of the sculptures, and since the Egyptian government had no funds to buy the remaining pieces, perhaps he could convince the authorities of the British Museum to purchase them. For several months, Mansoor corresponded with Warren, who was doing his utmost to convince those in authority to act as quickly as possible. But post-war circumstances were very difficult in England, and the prospects were doubtful.

However, A British delegation headed by Sir Walter Smart arrived in Egypt in early 1946. Sir Walter informed Mansoor of the great interest the collection had stirred in London and asked if he could see all the sculptures displayed in one room. Mansoor obtained permission from the management of Shepheard's hotel to use one of its large attractive salons. The collection was thus displayed and the effect was again breathtaking.

Sir Walter arrived with Sir Robert Gregg, a British high official in Egypt. The Abbé Drioton, Dr. Sami Gabra and Dr. Alexandre Varille accompanied them as advisors. The conclusion of the Egyptologists was that these sculptures could very well be the finest and most comprehensive group of Amarna royal portraits in existence. Several relevant details were noted. The shape of one of the crowns worn by Akhenaten was unusual but not unknown. The pink limestone, not uncommon in ancient Egypt, was novel to this period. The royal portraits ranged in height from three and one half inches to life-size. Some of the sculptures were far more beautiful than others, indicating that perhaps the finer were the works of the master sculptor while the others had been carved by student artists. Could they have come from a studio that had produced only royal portraits? The wide range of facial expressions, from austerity, anxiety and depression to serenity, compassion and even smiles, gave the distinct impression that the master sculptor (and his students or apprentices) had portrayed the king and his family in as many emotions as possible. And never, except perhaps at certain ages of the Old and Middle Kingdoms, had an Egyptian artist so excelled in the mastery of his profession. Sir Walter departed with his friends and advisers, pleased with what they had just seen.

Much still remains to be known of the art, life and times of Akhenaten, and though many scholars of Egyptology have published important works, a more comprehensive picture will evolve only with thorough study of these sculptures in relation to the existing works of other schools of Amarna. Dr. Andreina Leanza Becker-Colonna, Professor Emeritus, San Francisco State University, has already made valuable contributions to this effort.

In the summer of 1946, M.A. Mansoor and his son William, saw Nigel Warren in Switzerland. Warren had lost none of his enthusiasm for the Amarna Collection. Sir Walter's visit was discussed, but regarding a possible acquisition of the Collection by the British Museum, Warren advised patience. Time and funds were needed, and in fact, Mansoor was in no hurry to part with the sculptures.

Copyright © 1995 Christine Mansoor

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