Saturday, October 17, 2009

More Nefertiti to Love

The transfer of the bust of Nefertiti from Berlin's Altes Museum to its new home at the newly restored Neues Museum on museum island has raised the old lingering question of who owns the iconic bust and what validity does the statement "too fragile to travel" actually have.

The bust has always been controversial as many believe it belongs in the Egyptian national collection and was removed from Egypt through trickery on the German side.

The leader of the German expedition of 1912 was Ludwig Borchardt a man who has been accused of everything from doctoring a photograph of the bust to make it less appealing to creating an outright forgery to present an alternative piece of equal value to the Egyptian antiquities official sent to divide up the finds of that year.

The bust went to Berlin but was not put on display for almost a decade in the early 1920's when Egyptian nationalists were rising in power against foreign archaeological institutions who were feared to be robbing Egypt of her national heritage and at a time when Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon and his estate were trying to receive compensation in objects for the discovery of king Tutankhamen's tomb.

Early on negotiations had promised Nefertiti's return for a couple of statues and a first class copy of a book of the dead from Cairo unfortunately with the rise of Hitler this agreement was discarded.

Seventy years later Nefertiti had become the Altes Museums biggest star drawing a half a million visitors a year. Egypt's secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Dr. Zahi Hawass has become a thorn in the neck for Berlin but using threatening language which has not helped his own cause.

This past weeks move of the bust seems to have put Berlin's excuse of "too fragile to travel" into question but in all fairness objects do get broken in travel even important objects.

The people at Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum can tell you about that experience from a few years ago when they opened a crate only to find the now discredited James ossuary broken on its journey from Israel.

Hopefully when Dr. Hawass' tenure ends this coming year a calmer head will prevail, perhaps Cairo and Berlin should do a 6 month exchange in which Berlin sends Nefertiti to visit Egypt and Cairo send its famous alabaster statue of Amenirdis to visit Berlin.

The answer should not be all that hard!

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