Posts Tagged With: London

Selling Out Sekhemka

The sale of Ancient Egyptian artifacts took a step in a dangerous direction last week.

The Northampton Museum and Art Gallery in the United Kingdom has planned an immense expansion which would double the size of its exhibition space, as well as create new galleries, teaching spaces, and retail areas. The expansion is projected to cost £14 million (or just under $24 million), and the museum has slated for part of these funds to come from the sale of a unique Egyptian statue of a man named Sekhemka.

(courtesy of the Getty)

(courtesy of the Getty)

Titled as “Inspector of Scribes in the House of Largesse, one revered before the Great God”, the statue of Sekhemka was most likely produced around 2400 BC. Standing at 30in (76cm) tall, the limestone figure sits with a scroll in hand and his wife Siitmerit seated at his feet. In antiquity, the statue would have been presented with offerings of beer, bread, wine, oil, and linen by family members of the deceased in order to help provide for the spirit of the deceased in the afterlife. The figurine is believed to have been acquired by Spencer Compton, the second Marquis of Northampton, and brought back from Egypt after he journeyed there around 1850. It was later gifted to Northampton’s museums by the 4th Marquis of Northampton in 1880.

When the news was released that the statue would be auctioned off at Christie’s London on July 10th, the world responded with great disapproval.

(courtesy of bbc.com)

(courtesy of bbc.com)

A group of Northampton residents formed the Save Sekhemka Action Group and protested the sale of the statue by having members present outside the Christie’s auction. A spokeswoman for the group, Sue Edwards, claimed that it was “the blackest day in Northampton’s cultural history”, further adding that the town had been “shamed across the world.” The Egyptian Ambassador to Britain Ahsraf Elkholy strongly expressed his personal disdain with the situation, commenting that “Sekhemka belongs to Egypt and if Northampton borough council does not want it then it must be given back. It’s not ethical that it will be sold for profit and also not acceptable.” Adding to the severity of the situation, Arts Council England announced it would be reviewing the museum’s accreditation status post-sale, potentially jeopardizing the museum’s eligibility for grant funding for future projects and programming.

Despite the backlash that occured, the Northampton museum did not back down. According to Mackintosh, “It’s been in our ownership for over 100 years and it’s never really been the centerpiece of our collection; We want to expand our museum and to do that we need to raise the money.”

The statue was sold at auction for £15,762,500 ($26,883,259). The Northampton Borough Council will retain around £8million ($13.6 million), while the remainder will be remitted to Lord Northampton.

 (courtesy of Christie’s)


(courtesy of Christie’s)

Humankind is lucky to have the opportunity to view and study amazing works of art from antiquity. All artifacts cannot be the “Centerpiece of a Collection”, but that in no way diminishes their cultural and historical value. Although building and planning for the future is an important and necessary progression, museums have an obligation to visitors and to the cultures/artists of the past, to safeguard these treasures and make them available to as many visitors and scholars as possible. In a time when arts funding is dwindling, we all sympathize with the financial need the Northampton museum may be experiencing, but the sale of artifacts, particularly of those gifted to the institution, is unacceptable.

Sekhemka’s story is not yet over. The identity of the buyer has not yet been releases and there is still hope that they may come to their senses and donate the work to a museum or send it back to Egypt.

“Those who choose to approach the sale of collections cynically or with little regard for the sectoral standards or their long-term responsibilities will only further alienate both key funders and the public who put their trust in them to care for our shared inheritance” ~Scott Furlong, director at Arts Council England

Works Cited:

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-northamptonshire-28260067

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-northamptonshire-23288143

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/jul/10/northampton-borough-council-sells-egyptian-statue-sekhemka

http://www.northampton.gov.uk/news/article/1855/major-new-extension-planned-for-northampton-museum

http://www.northampton.gov.uk/news/article/1899/statement-the-sale-of-the-statue-of-sekhemka

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-northamptonshire-28257714

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/27dda990-08d2-11e4-9d3c-00144feab7de.html

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Meux Than Meets the Eye

Museum Collections were  major catalysts in the development of my love of Ancient Egypt. The ability to take a day trip into the city (I grew up in a suburb of Chicago) and allow myself to become completely immersed in the culture of the ancient world was an amazing experience.  Yet, as I have grown older, I’ve learned that, for all the beautiful objects  on display in any museum in any part of the world, there are multitudes of additional artifacts hidden away within the museum walls. Furthermore, there are many, many items that are kept in the personal collections of archaeologists, historians, or private families—passed down through generations.

One such collection that has made semi-recent headlines is the collection once belonging to Lady Valerie Meux.

a

(courtesy of Egyptology News Network)

Lady Meux was born Valerie Susie Langdon in 1847. She met her husband, Sir Henry Meux, while she worked as a Banjo-playing barmaid in Brighton. Gossip tells that she may have worked as a prostitute under the name “Val Reece:”, and supposedly lived “in sin” with a Corporal Reece. All that Valerie commented on the subject was “I can very honestly say that my sins were committed before marriage and not after.” You go, Val.

At age 31, she married Sir Henry Meux, 3rd Baronet, in secret.  Sir Henry’s family owned a very successful brewery and had become fairly rich through trade. They were certainly unimpressed with his choice of spouse, never fully accepting Valerie into their social circle. She was a scandalous woman, known to drive herself around London, attend meetings of the Theosophical Society, host many glamorous parties, and—according to popular gossip—attend prize fights in disguise and ride around town in a carriage pulled by zebras. I repeat, ZEBRAS.

b

(courtesy Natural History Museum of London)

A frequent visitor to the British Museum, Lady Meux became fascinated with Egyptian artifacts and had soon acquired her own collection of over 1,700 items. Her massive collection is documented in two detailed catalogues, authored by Egyptologist Wallis Budge and published at the Meux’s expense.  One of these catalogues, entitled “Some account of the collection of Egyptian Antiquities in the possession of Lady Meux at Theobald’s Park”, describes in detail some of the most prized artifacts within the collection, including the coffin (mummy included)  of Nes-Amsu, a priest of the Ptolemaic period. Nes-Amsu was “acquired” in Egypt by Walter Herbert Ingram, who in turn gifted it to Lady Meux in 1886. Ingram was killed by an elephant in the following year, inspiring the rumor that he was a ‘victim of the curse’.

c

(courtesy of “Some account of the collection of Egyptian Antiquities in the possession of Lady Meux at Theobald’s Park”)

Yet almost as mystifying as the possibility of a mummy’s curse is the collection’s mysterious history after the death of Lady Meux in 1910. According to her will, the British Museum was offered the entire collection for £2,250, but the Board rejected the offer due to the conditions of the trust. Consequentially, the collection was auctioned off in 1911.

The location of the bulk of the Meux collection remains, to this day, a mystery. Some think it was acquired by American William Randolph Hearst, who had agents at the Meux sale and who purchased a showpiece of the collection, the pair statue of Nebsen and Nebet-ta. This statue was acquired by Lady Meux herself on a visit to Egypt, and now sits in the Brooklyn Museum. Two small artifacts sit at the Petrie Museum, while two others surfaced at an auction in New York in December of 2007 where an alabaster vase inscribed for Pepi I sold for $91,000 and a granite head from a block statue for $102,000.

The location of the remaining 1,695 pieces of the Meux collection remains a mystery.  And although we may never know their whereabouts, it is hopeful to think that one day, they, like the thousands of artifacts sitting behind closed doors of museums, will be brought to light, allowing us to uncover even more ancient secrets of the Valley of the Nile.

Works Cited:

http://egyptologynewsnetwork.blogspot.com/2010/07/lady-meux-banjo-playing-barmaid-who.html

http://books.google.com/books?id=Ky1PAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

http://www.virtual-egyptian-museum.org/Collection/FullVisit/Collection.FullVisit-JFR.html?../Content/STO.VL.01112.S.html&0

 

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Eye on the Needle: The Fight to Save an Iconic Egyptian Monument

While scouring the internet for current Egyptology news, I came across a campaign that desperately needs our help.
“Eye on the Needle” is a documentary created by Dr. Paul Harrison, a graduate of University College London, and his team. The video (which is currently in the filming stage) features ‘Cleopatra’s Needle’, an Ancient Egyptian Obelisk that sits on London’s Embankment. The documentary will follow Dr. Harrison as he reveals the history of ‘Cleopatra’s Needle’, recounts how it came to London, and discusses the conditions that are putting the monument in danger. Many modern technologies, such as vehicles, are generating pollution that is causing gradual erosion of the needle, which, over time, is causing the precious hieroglyphs on its face to begin fading.
This film will hopefully spark crucial conversations about conservation and preservation strategies for all Ancient Egyptian obelisks and monuments.
Not convinced? Check out this video by the team:

There are only 12 DAYS left in the campaign, and they are in desperate need of your support! Whether you can give a monetary donation (and receive rewards like a t-shirt, personal tours of the British Museum, and even days on the film set) or simply spread the word on social media, Please take the time to help save this unique and irreplaceable Egyptian Monument.

To support the campaign, check out its campaign page on facebook ‘Eye on the Needle Campaign’, follow on twitter @eyeontheneedle, and support here: http://www.sponsume.com/project/eye-needle941818_112839192259619_1780023929_n

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