by Stan Parchin
Saturday, June 17, 2006
It's no secret that Zahi Hawass, the Secretary General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, has been seeking to repatriate (with measured success) particular Egyptian works of art and artifacts from foreign museums to their homeland. Among the objects on the top of his wish list are the Rosetta Stone and the famous bust of Queen Nefertiti.
Al-Ahram Weekly reported on June 1, 2006 that Dr. Hawass, Director of the Giza Pyramids, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and curator of Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs currently at Chicago's Field Museum, has requested a three-month-long loan of the limestone bust of Nefertiti from the Berlin Museum. The occasion for Hawass' entreaty to the German government is an admirable one: the artwork is intended to go on temporary display in Cairo's Egyptian Museum as part of the centennial festivities for the German Archaeological Institute in Egypt beginning in November 2006. The scholar has offered to lend the Berlin Museum a comparable piece of art in the sculpture's place for the same period.
A diplomatic resolution to the situation is not a clearly cut one. Berlin's Martin-Gropius-Bau Museum is presently showcasing Egypt's Sunken Treasures, a special exhibition of more than 300 works of art and artifacts, many recently discovered in Alexandria and other Egyptian sites bordering the Mediterranean Sea. So one would assume that a brief loan of Nefertiti's bust would be eagerly entertained by the Germans considering the Berlin show's size and scope. Dr. Hawass has assured the German government that he will guarantee the sculpture's return to Berlin after his exhibition's conclusion.
However, the Egyptians still insist that the bust was illegally obtained by the Germans during the customary partition of archaeological finds from Tell el-Amarna in 1912. And Hawass has said that he will continue to pursue the bust's permanent return to Egypt. Furthermore, if Germany succeeds in resisting Egypt's demand for the masterpiece's repatriation to Cairo, Dr. Hawass has threatened to sever all relations between the Supreme Council of Antiquities and the Berlin Museum, effectively forbidding any loan of objects from Egypt to the institution for future special exhibitions. An added complication is that the exquisite bust of Nefertiti is the Berlin Museum's equivalent of the Musée du Louvre's Mona Lisa when it comes to star attraction and tourist revenues. The sculpture's absence from its home in Berlin would deal a significant blow to the museum's finances.
All of this controversy flies in the face of the UNESCO Convention. The document clearly states that all artworks removed legally from a country before 1972 do not have to be returned to their places of origin. One hopes that an amicable solution to this dilemma, if only for three months, can be reached as soon as possible.
- Queen Nefertiti at About Ancient/Classical History
- Nefertiti of Amarna at About Archaeology
- Nefertiti at About Women's History
Thutmose (Egyptian, 18th Dynasty)
H. approx. 20 in.
Ägyptisches Museum, Berlin