October 21, 2009

Louvre to return some Egyptian artefacts

Posted at 1:16 pm in Similar cases

In a surprisingly rapid response to Egypt’s threats to withdraw cooperation with the Louvre, the French Museum has now agreed to the return of five fresco fragments, admitting that there are now serious doubts over their provenance.


France to Give Back to Egypt Five Artifacts Bought by Louvre
By Farah Nayeri

Oct. 9 (Bloomberg) — France said it is returning to Egypt five fresco fragments acquired by the Louvre Museum, saying there were “serious doubts” about their provenance, and responding to Egyptian demands for their return.

The 35-member commission overseeing France’s national museum collections met today, and unanimously agreed that the fresco fragments from the wall of a prince’s tomb must be given back, the culture ministry said in an e-mailed release. Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand has decided to return them.

The mural fragments, from the tomb of a prince of the XVIIIth dynasty, “were acquired in good faith by the Louvre in 2000 and 2003,” the ministry said. “In November 2008, following the rediscovery by archaeologists of the tomb from which the frescoes seemed to originate, serious doubts emerged as to the legality of their exit from Egyptian territory.”

Earlier this week, Egypt suspended co-operation with the Louvre, saying the Paris museum was not returning the mural paintings removed from Luxor in the 1980s. The Supreme Council of Antiquities said the Louvre was refusing to honor an agreement to give back all stolen and smuggled Egyptian antiquities to the Arab country.

Zahi Hawass, the head of the antiquities council, has been on a campaign since 2002 to recover Egyptian antiquities located abroad, including the bust of Queen Nefertiti in Berlin’s Neues Museum, which opens next week, and the Rosetta stone at the British Museum in London.

To contact the reporter on the story: Farah Nayeri in London.

Associated Press

France to return Egyptian art after Louvre row
By ANGELA CHARLTON (AP) – 2 days ago

PARIS — France’s culture minister agreed Friday to return five painted wall fragments to Egypt after a row over their ownership prompted the Egyptians to cut ties with the Louvre Museum.

A committee of 35 specialists unanimously recommended that France give back the painted wall fragments from a 3,200-year-old tomb near the ancient temple city of Luxor.

Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand “immediately decided to follow this recommendation,” his office said in a statement. It was not clear when France would send the fragments back to Egypt.

Mitterrand said the items were acquired by the Louvre in “good faith” and that the decision to return them reflects France’s and the Louvre’s commitment of “resolute action against illegal trafficking of cultural goods.”

Egypt’s antiquities chief Zahi Hawass described the disputed fragments as pieces of a burial fresco showing the nobleman Tetaki’s journey to the afterlife.

Hawass took his campaign to recover the nation’s lost treasures to a new level Wednesday by cutting ties with the Louvre over the artifacts. It was the most aggressive effort yet by Hawass, Egypt’s tough and media-savvy chief archaeologist, to reclaim what he says are antiquities stolen from the country and purchased by leading world museums.

Thousands of antiquities were spirited out of the country during Egypt’s colonial period and afterward by archaeologists, adventurers and thieves.

France is full of emblems of Egyptian history, from the Obelisk of Luxor at the Place de la Concorde, given to France by an Egyptian viceroy in the 19th century, to halls of sculptures, sarcophagi and other works in the Louvre.

Those at issue now, however, were obtained relatively recently. Hawass’ office said thieves chipped them from the walls of the tomb near the Valley of the Kings in the 1980s. The Louvre bought them in 2000 and 2003.

“It wasn’t until November 2008, after archaeologists rediscovered the tomb from which the frescoes appear to have come, that serious doubts emerged about the legality of their removal from Egyptian territory,” Mitterrand’s statement said.

The Egyptian move to cut ties with the Louvre could jeopardize the renowned museum’s future excavations in Egypt. Egypt suspended the Louvre’s excavation in the massive necropolis of Saqqara, near Cairo and canceled a lecture in Egypt by a former Louvre curator.

After Hawass’ announcement Wednesday, both the Louvre and France’s Culture Ministry said they were ready to return the pieces. Mitterrand had ordered French museum experts to meet first to study the issue.

The Culture Ministry would not comment on another piece held by the Louvre that Hawass has said he wants back: the painted ceiling of a temple at Dendera showing the Zodiac.

Hawass also cut ties with the St. Louis Art Museum after it failed to answer his demand to return a 3,200-year-old golden burial mask of a noblewoman.

Hawass also wants the return of the bust of Nefertiti — wife of the famed monotheistic Pharaoh Akhenaten — and the Rosetta Stone, a basalt slab with an inscription that was the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics. The bust is in Berlin’s Egyptian Museum; the Rosetta Stone is in the British Museum in London.

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