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Will Nefertiti Return to Egypt for a Brief Visit?

By June 17, 2006

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Egypt Asks Germany for a Majestic Loan

by Stan Parchin
Saturday, June 17, 2006

Image © Ägyptisches Museum, Berlin; Used with permission of The Museum Store Company™ 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.

Related articles: Image credit:

Thutmose (Egyptian, 18th Dynasty)
Queen Nefertiti
Tell el-Amarna
Painted limestone
H. approx. 20 in.
Ägyptisches Museum, Berlin


June 19, 2006 at 8:07 pm
(1) Robert Alan says:

There should be a separate website for ancient Egyptian art and civilization.

June 19, 2006 at 8:10 pm
(2) Robert Alan says:

Does NOTHING escape you in the museum world? Your coverage is phenomenal.

June 21, 2006 at 11:24 pm
(3) Britt says:

intriguing. It’s wierd because all this drama about works being returned to their owners seems to be more implemented now. I did hear about the Rosetta Stone. Can you really ask for that back after it being away so long? My concern is…The wear and tear that would go with transporting the works to and fro.

June 22, 2006 at 6:01 am
(4) Stan says:

Dear Britt,

You bring up an extremely valid point. Although a very definite line has been drawn legally as well as historically regarding repatriation, there are people who do not share your viewpoint. These same individuals place preservation and conservation of the works of art last on their lists of priorities. And in my own recent experience, some of them, especially those not well-versed in the facts, get violent in expressing their opinions.

One assumes that anyone can ask for any object back after such a long period of time. Whether it’s practical to do so or not is another story altogether, especially after the object has been taken care of expertly for so many years by its current owner.

Thank you for expressing your concern.


January 30, 2007 at 3:17 pm
(5) Leslie says:

If the object was taken illegally (meaning were Egyptian officials notified that it was leaving the county in 1912?) then it belongs to Egypt and needs to be returned.

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