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Met Repatriates 19 King Tut Objects: Other Tut Holdings to Remain?


Bronze figurine of a dog with a painted gold collar, left; lapis lazuli bracelet inlay in the form of a sphinx, above (Photos: Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The Metropolitan Museum and the Egyptian government have jointly announced the Met’s return to Egypt of 19 objects from King Tutankamun’s tomb that had been unearthed during Howard Carter‘s celebrated excavations. Both sides agree that (in Met director Tom Campbell‘s words) “these objects were never meant to have left Egypt, and therefore should rightfully belong to the Government of Egypt.”

But what about the Met’s additional trove of Tut-related objects, which were recently exhibited in the absorbing, under-the-radar focus exhibition, Tutankhamun’s Funeral? Those pieces were excavated by the American archaeologist Theodore Davis in 1908 and were presumably not subject to the Carter-related stipulation that all Tut tomb finds remain in Egypt. Carter’s excavations began in the 1920s.

Here is one of the highlights from the Met’s temporary exhibition of Tut funerary material from its permanent collection, which closed in September:

Floral collar from Tutankhamun’s Embalming Cache, Tomb of Tutankhamun, c. 1336-1327 B.C.

I have a query pending with the Met about whether the research done in connection with “Tutankamun’s Funeral” and the public display of those objects had any role in triggering the the just announced repatriations. I’ve also asked whether Egypt is analyzing the Met’s collection (including Tut-related objects) for possible additional claims. If and when I know more, I’ll update this post.

: Here’s the comment from Elyse Topalian, the Met’s spokesperson:

The exhibition “Tutankhamun’s Funeral” had nothing to do with the objects now being repatriated. To our knowledge no one in Egypt is studying the Met’s collection for objects to be returned.

According to the joint announcement of the repatriation (linked at the top):

Fifteen of the 19 pieces have the status of bits or samples. The remaining four are of more significant art-historical interest and include a small bronze dog [above left] less than three-quarters of an inch in height and a small sphinx bracelet-element [above right], acquired from Howard Carter‘s niece, after they had been probated with his estate….Two other pieces—part of a handle and a broad collar accompanied by additional beads–entered the collection because they were found in 1939 among the contents of Carter’s house at Luxor….

The objects will now go on display with the Tutankhamun exhibition at Times Square, where they will stay until January 2011. They will then travel back to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where they will be shown for six months in the context of the Metropolitan Museum’s renowned Egyptian collection.

Upon their return to Egypt in June 2011, they will be given a special place in the Tutankhamun galleries at the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, and then will move, with the rest of the Tut collection, to the Grand Egyptian Museum at Giza, scheduled to open in 2012.

an ArtsJournal blog