Many centuries ago, a Chinese philosopher by the name of K'ung-Fu-Tze (Confucius) remarked:
One dog barks at something, a hundred bark at the sound.
This was said sometime between 551 and 479 B.C., and this, as we all know, has happened repeatedly since K'ung-Fu-Tze's time.
One picture becomes clear. Some noise was made by someone in the Boston Museum's Laboratory. Another man comes out of the bush, hears it and starts yelling with all his might. Others soon follow and add their sound to the already deafening noise. They yell and scream in different tones and languages, but they don't know what they are yelling and screaming about. It's total confusion!
History repeats itself. Controversies on art have come and gone. The vast majority of them have been solved by logic, true knowledge and common sense. Again we are reminded of Michel de Montaigne's famous saying: "Where one man fails in an experiment, another succeeds. What is unknown in one age, is clarified in the next."
So it has been with the unfortunate problem of the Tell-el-Amarna sculptures of the late M. A. Mansoor.
It is the conviction of the present writer that a few dissident Egyptologists and their followers in the museum world have made innumerable mistakes and have shown poor judgment in their evaluation of the quality, aesthetic merit, and antiquity of these sculptures. This is obvious from their unqualified interpretations, their contradictions of one another, their false assumptions, their distortions of the Egyptological facts, their unacceptance and/or misunderstanding of the scientific evidence, and their lack of ethics.
Some have said that certain heads in the Mansoor Collection are copies of heads of Amarna in the Museums of Cairo, Berlin, etc., when the latter were discovered many years after the first appearance of the Mansoor sculptures. According to eminent Egyptologists, all the Amarna portraits extant everywhere, represent Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and the princesses as seen by individual artists who portrayed them with their very "own touch," as they pictured their images or as they copied - and stylized - the facial and bodily features of the sitter. As many heads, statuettes, and reliefs in the Mansoor Collection have no equivalent in the presently known sculptures of Amarna, from which models have these been copied? All the sculptures of Akhenaten and Nefertiti and their family in the museums, as well as those of the Mansoor Collection, represent the Amarna style in its many stages of development and are all the works of many artists. All one needs to do is to look at the faces of Akhenaten and Nefertiti on the Talatat to realize that they had been carved by different artists.
The Mansoors do not know why it is so difficult for the dissident Egyptologists to understand that the ancient Egyptian artists worked from text books which made them reproduce similar works of art. Don't they know that there are more than one pyramid, one obelisk, one ushabti figure, one Osiris, one Amenophis III, one Ramses II, and so on. And that "since the heads of ten Mentuemhat's statues are preserved, it is disappointing to note how little they resemble each other. . . . Though some of the heads show traces of realism, not even his famous bust in the Cairo Museum (C.G. 647, Fig. 29) can be aclaimed as truly presenting the features of the great man" (Egyptian Sculptures of the Late Period, the Brooklyn Museum, 1960, Bernard Von Bothmer).
Let the true art critic, the true connoisseur of Egyptian art, and the logical person observe and compare the head of the statue of Akhenaten of the Louvre, and the heads of the colossi found at Karnak. They are all heads of the same person, Akhenaten, sculptured most assuredly by different artists, and they are all as different from one another as the heads of Akhenaten of the Mansoor Collection are different from them. Consider the heads of the princesses! Consider the bas-reliefs. Two Temple blocks with Nefertiti's head are published in the National Geographic Magazine of November 1970. One on the front cover and the other on page 645. Do the Cooneys, the Wildungs, the Von Bothmers, and their followers know why they look different? Why are they of different style? They are different because they were carved by different artists!
Three Tell-el-Amarna master sculptors are known to us by name: Yuti, Thutmose, and Bek. Certainly many more artists must have also been at work in those days. Sice the art of Amarna has offered us many and varied representations of its phases of development, is it not possible that one of these masters could have changed his style, mellowed it, or transformed it to produce these masterpieces? Is it not also possible that they could have been carved by an independent artist? And who knows what may still come out from excavations at Tell-el-Amarna and elsehwere? Who knows what these may yield?
The few dissident and anonymous Egyptologists contradicted themselves. They tried desperately to justify the wrong verdict of their masters. One said: "the features are not there, they are simply not Amarna." Another said: "The features are there, but they are not placed together as they should have been." Muller said: "They are exaggerated in such an obtrusive fashion." One said: "They are identical copies . . . ." Another said that the sandals of Smenkhkare... of the Mansoor reliefs, were unknown during that period. What about Nefertiti's remarkable crown? No other queen, before or after her, had such a crown. Furthermore, did the Egyptians have only one style of sandal during the Amarna period? Some unnamed Egyptologists talked of "this head is a copy of that head," of "intangible, like a perfume," of "cesspools," and every sort of absurdity their ignorance could imagine. Others could not utter one word concerning their style, but still said they were not genuine because their masters have said so, and still others said they were not genuine by simply looking at photos. As I have mentioned earlier, it is a fallacy to believe that experts can tell from photographs if an artifact is genuine or not. Cooney said: "They give every indication of a recent origin," but was never inclined to cite any details: stylistic, scientific, or otherwise that would support his opinion. Bothmer talked recklessly about the Mansoors, their sculptures, and "wares." None of these remarks or utterances could go down in history as logical statements contributed by worthy Egyptologists.
In his indecent letter, Prof. Derchain wrote: "Your insistence, which seems to me to be at the limit of dishonesty" and "to throw all these [the sculptures] into the sea." Eitner prevented the Collection from being exhibited in Stanford based on nonsensical reasons. Wildung is trying to prevent the exhibit of the Collection for reasons of his own. None of these three individuals have seen one single sculpture of the Mansoor Collection. One would think that instead of trying to destroy the Collection, they would study it, they would investigate the matter for the sake of Egyptology and the TRUTH. Shouldn't these individuals be excluded from the art museums and institutions of learning? The reader should remember the article in the Los Angeles Times of March 17, 1981, Mr. William Rempel writes: "Mounting public demands that the art and artifacts of mankind's cultures be protected from abuse or incompetence . . . " The reader should also remember the letters written to Ms. Hochfield by Prof. Bishara and Dr. Ragusa. They were shocked by the ill-reasoning of the few dissident and anonymous Egyptologists.
Many giants in the Egyptological world, art critics, and connoisseurs believe in the authenticity of the Mansoor Amarna objects. Some of these sculptures have been acclaimed as ranking with, if not surpassing in beauty and/or workmanship, some of the finest Egyptian artistic productions.
More than twenty eminent scientists known throughout the world in diverse fields of research have examined it from 1942 to this day and have found on the surface of the sculptures undeniable evidence of great age that cannot be duplicated in a short time by any forger.
It is ironic that the Boston and Brooklyn Museums, two of this country's leading institutions that have important departments of Egyptian art, should have been the ones to have originated this controversy, when they should have been the first to investigate the problem, for the sake of their good names, for the sake of Egyptian art, and for the sake of the art-loving public they serve. The Mansoors have been accused of embarassing Young, Cooney, and their museums. But what were they supposed to do? Were they supposed to tell them "Thank you for destroying our life, our business and reputation? Thank you for refusing to re-examine the sculptures in the light of true artistic evaluations and factual scientific evidence?" No, the Mansoors did not embarrass them. Young, Cooney, and their Museums embarrassed themselves when they refused to listen to reason and countless offers to reexamine the sculptures.
It is ironic that the Metropolitan Museum, which also has one of the largest departments of Egyptian art outside of Egypt, and which, through its curator of Egyptology, the late Dr. Ambrose Lansing, was the first institution in this country to have asked M.A. Mansoor to send some of the sculptures of Tell-el-Amarna for consideration of purchase, should have dropped the matter and ceased all investigation after the appearance of Mr. Young's report.
Is it reasonable to assume that the American Association of Museums and other persons in prominent museum positions have been unwilling to act so far only to save face for the few who made a mistake? And what about the Preface of the 1971 Directory of the American Association of Museums in which Mr. Kyran M. McGrath, Director of the Association, says: "But museums exist to serve the public and they will continue to provide these services to the utmost of their ability and their resources." Again, the Mansoors say: "We are at a loss here! Are we to laugh, lament or weep when we read this statement?"
The Mansoors returned repeatedly to the Metropolitan Museum for a re-examination of the sculptures after they had obtained numerous scientific reports authenticating the Collection. On March 17, 1960, Dr. Murray Pease, Conservator at the Conservation Department of the Metropolitan Museum, wrote the following to Dr. Stross: "We have been fascinated by your article in Analytical Chemistry for March, and I wish to extend my hearty compliments on an extremely able presentation . . . . These pieces have recieved the full treatment." Though Dr. Murray Pease wished to examine the sculptures, Mr. Rorimer, the Director of the Museum at the time, prevented him from doing so on the grounds that Mr. Young of Boston had already examined them and had declared them forgeries. All other scientific evidence was ignored.
Another significant letter dated August 25, 1959, by Dr. Rutherford J. Gettens, Curator of the Research Laboratory, Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, addressed to Dr. Stross, states: "Recently on my return from Europe I found on my desk a series of reports related to 'Examination of Sculptures in the Collection of Mr. Mansoor.' I have read several reports and find them most interesting . . . . Furthermore, on reading the reports it would seem that just about the last word has been said on the subject anyway. I should think you would be well content with the expert opinion expressed by Dr. Kirk, Mr. Arnal,and others. I don't think there is much point in getting another opinion, even though it is from a person connected with a prominent institution."
It is ironic that the Denver Art Museum, which has one of the smallest collections of Egyptian art in this country, should have been the first and only one, through its Director, Dr. Otto Karl Bach, to acquire one important sculpture from the Mansoor Amarna Collection. Significantly, Dr. Bach, who is not an Egyptologist, but who has a profound and magnificent appreciation of ancient Egyptian art, had decided to acquire this sculpture after having seen only the negative report of Mr. Young (1949) and the two favorable reports written in Egypt in 1942 by Mr. A. Lucas and in 1950 by Drs. Iskandar and Mustafa. As it happened, the massive scientific evidence came later to vindicate his good judgment and understanding of the problem.
One of the greatest misfortunes that the Mansoors have encountered in all these years is that even "experts" have given fateful opinions without examining or even seeing the sculptures themselves.
Another great misfortune is that several of the leading Egyptologists of our time have refused to intervene in this matter, some for reasons of their own, some because of their institutions' regulations, and others perhaps to save face for their colleagues.
Another of the great frustrations the Mansoors have endured is the unwillingness of the officials of the leading museums to act in this matter despite the irrefutable evidence. Can anyone deny that most of them have shied away from their sacred responsibilities toward art, the museums, and the public they serve?
Need it be said that history repeats itself? Need it be mentioned that similar controversies have occured in the past (Altamira, Tell-el-Amarna Tablets, the case of Shapira, and others); that originally one renowned expert had misjudged these great works of art or historical documents; that other experts had followed blindly; that the discoverers or owners of these great artifacts or documents had spent a lifetime in the pursuit of the truth; that most of them died disillusioned, before they could see the day of vindication?
M.A. Mansoor purchased these ancient art masterpieces over a period of twenty years. They were shown to great Egyptologists who studied them thoroughly and authenticated them. Then, a "scientist" in Boston and an "expert" in Brooklyn misjudged them. A few other "experts" followed suit without seeing one single sculpture. A massive body of scientific evidence then authenticated these sculptures. Under various pretexts other museum officials and experts refused to act. M.A. Mansoor died disillusioned, before he could see the day of vindication.
The sons and daughters of M. A. Mansoor have vowed to continue their father's struggle for this just and noble cause. Though they have already exhausted themselves over this controversy, they will continue to fight in the strongest possible manner until the awakening of the conscience of those persons responsible for this controversy, and until a just and honest action is taken by the officials of the museums. As Mrs. Briggs wrote to Prof. Lorenz Eitner on July 1, 1975: "The matter is far from being closed, and will never be closed until justice is done to this Collection. Twenty-five years of refusal to re-examine the sculptures by Boston and New York [Brooklyn and The Metropolitan Museums] can only lead me to believe that they doubt their own position and are afraid to re-examine these sculptures."
The Mansoors bear no grudges whatsoever against those museums. They respect them too much. They respect their fine traditions. They also respect all museum officials and have the highest respect for Egyptologists. But they do protest most vehemently the untoward and incongruous actions of the authorities of the Boston and the Brooklyn Museums, as well as those of Messrs. Young, Cooney, Bothmer, and their like.
The Mansoors ask for neither pity nor charity. It must be clearly understood that they are protesting and sending their appeals only for justice.
Years ago, Emile Zola, a French journalist and novelist with a noble heart and an unsurpassed conscience, put his life on the line by defending a human being, Captain Alfred Dreyfus. Dreyfus was a victim of anti-semitism, cover-up, and miscarriage of jsutice. Almost all of France and particularly the military were against Zola becausue he was trying to clear Dreyfus from any wrongdoing. But Zola did not care, he was fearless, his conscience was revolted that an innocent man had been unjustly condemned, publicly dishonored, and sentenced to life in jail on an infamous island, Devil's Island! He wrote "J'accuse." France had committed a crime by condemning an innocent man and "ce crime soulèvera la conscience humaine" ("this crime will revolt the human conscience"), Zola wrote. In fact, that horrible crime made headlines around the world at the turn of the century with appalling consequences. The truth prevailed, France corrected its terrible mistake, Dreyfus was cleared from all charges, he was reinstated in the French Army and promoted to the rank of Colonel and decorated with the "Legion d'Honneur."
It is indeed a tragedy that the opinions of the few who made a mistake, and who unfortunately placed a stigma on the Collection and mesmerized others in prominent positions in museums, have so far condemned these sculptures to remain in bank vaults for more than forty years. Insofar as the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York has a moral obligation to this controversy, a special invitation is hereby extended to the authorities, Egyptologists and scientists of this great art institution to re-examine the Mansoor sculptures. Others should also be included, therefore:
AN INVITATION IS EXTENDED TO ANY AND ALL INSTITUTIONS OF ART AND RELATED SCIENCES, TO DIRECTORS OF MUSEUMS, TO EGYPTOLOGISTS, AND TO CONNOISSEURS IN THIS COUNTRY AND ABROAD, TO EXAMINE PHYSICALLY THE MANSOOR AMARNA SCULPTURES, AND INVESTIGATE THIS PROBLEM IN THE INTERESTS OF NOT ONLY EGYPTOLOGY, ARTS AND SCIENCES, BUT ALSO AND ESPECIALLY FOR THE SAKE OF TRUTH AND JUSTICE.
THIS CONTROVERSY-TURNED-CONSPIRACY, WHICH WAS BORN THROUGH JEALOUSY AND/OR IGNORANCE, AND/OR PREJUDICE, MUST NOT BE ALLOWED TO DEGENERATE INTO A MOCKERY!
The American Association of Museums is without doubt a great conception, but the handling of the Mansoor Amarna problem by its directors has been very improper, assiduously tribal, deceptive, and contrary to the high ideals for which it was destined.
If the Mansoor Tell-el-Amarna Collection has suffered the fate of the Caves of Altamira, of the Greek bronze horse of the Metropolitan Museum, of the Clay Tablets of Tell-el-Amarna, and of innumerable other great works of art and important historical documents, it will equally, like those, enjoy its rightful place in man's greatest cultural heritage.
Copyright © 1995 Christine Mansoor
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