Tutankhamun bust faces London sale despite Egyptian outcry

The 3,000-year-old stone bust of Tutankhamun, above, set to be auctioned on July 4 by Christie’s in London, has set off a diplomatic tug-of-war with Cairo. (Christie’s Auction House/AFP)
Updated 04 July 2019

Tutankhamun bust faces London sale despite Egyptian outcry

  • The famous pharaoh’s finely-chiseled face comes from the private Resandro Collection of ancient art
  • Former antiquities minister Zahi Hawass said that the piece appears to have been ‘stolen’ in the 1970s from the Karnak Temple complex

LONDON: A 3,000-year-old bust of Egyptian “Boy King” Tutankhamun goes under the hammer on Thursday in London despite an outcry from Cairo.
Christie’s auction house expects the 28.5-centimeter (11-inch) quartz relic to fetch more than $5 million (£4 million) at one of its most controversial auctions in years.
The famous pharaoh’s finely-chiseled face — its calm eyes and puffed lips emoting a sense of eternal peace — comes from the private Resandro Collection of ancient art that Christie’s last sold in 2016 for £3 million.
But angry Egyptian officials want the sale halted and the treasure returned.
Christie’s decision “contradicts international agreements and conventions,” Egypt’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday.
Former antiquities minister Zahi Hawass said that the piece appears to have been “stolen” in the 1970s from the Karnak Temple complex.
“We think it left Egypt after 1970 because in that time other artefacts were stolen from Karnak Temple,” Hawass said.
Christie’s counters that Egypt had never before expressed the same level of concern about a bust whose existence has been “well known and exhibited publicly” for many years.
“The object is not, and has not been, the subject of an investigation,” it said in a statement to AFP Wednesday.
The auction house has published a chronology of how the relic changed hands between European art dealers over the past 50 years.
Its oldest attribution from 1973-74 places it in the collection of Prince Wilhelm of Thurn and Taxi in modern-day Germany.
Yet that account was called into doubt by a report from the Live Science news site last month suggesting that Wilhelm never owned the piece.
Wilhelm was “not a very art-interested person,” his niece Daria told the news site.
A journalist and art historian who knew Wilhelm told Live Science site that the prince had no arts collection at all.
Tutankhamun is thought to have become a pharaoh at the age of nine and to have died about 10 years later.
His rule would have probably passed without notice were it not for the 1922 discovery by Britain’s Howard Carter of his nearly intact tomb.
The lavish find revived interest in ancient Egypt and set the stage for subsequent battles over ownership of cultural masterpieces unearthed in colonial times.
Tutankhamun became commonly known as King Tut and made into the subject of songs and films.
International conventions and the British government’s own guidance restrict the sale of works that were known to have been stolen or illegally dug up.
The British Museum has been wrangling for decades with Greece over its remarkable room full of marble Parthenon friezes and sculptures.
Egypt’s own campaign to recover lost art gained momentum after numerous works went missing during the looting that accompanied former president Hosni Mubarak’s fall from power in 2011.
Cairo has managed to regain hundreds of looted and stolen artefacts by working with both auction houses and international cultural groups.
But Egypt has been unable to substantiate its case with firm proof that the Tutankhamun bust was illegally obtained.
Christie’s said that it would “not sell any work where there isn’t clear title of ownership.”


TWITTER POLL: More than 50% say Qatar relations with Israel either already sealed or about to be

Updated 17 September 2020

TWITTER POLL: More than 50% say Qatar relations with Israel either already sealed or about to be

  • More than 44% don't believe Qatar will normlize relations with Israel
  • This week saw the signing of the Abraham Accords with the UAE, Bahrain and Israel

DUBAI: More than half of 1,207 respondents to an Arab News Twitter poll said they believed Qatar either would be the next country to normalize ties with Israel – or had already done this.

The poll followed the signing of the Abraham Accord by the foreign ministers of Bahrain and the UAE with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, on the South Lawn of the White House, with US President Donald Trump taking center stage as the host and broker of the deal.

The normalizing of relations has already led to a suspension of further settlements in Palestine and the creation of various highly lucrative business deals.

The Twitter poll found that 44.1 percent of respondents did not believe that Qatar would be the next to normalize relations.

But 33 percent said they did, while a further 22.9 percent said they believed the normalizing of relations between Israel and Qatar had already happened.