Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Our Treasures Abroad, London: Northampton museum will sell ancient Egyptian statue to Christie’s Auction House

Northampton Sekhemka Statue - AFP/Leon Neal
Northampton Borough Council voted in favor of selling a 4,500 ancient Egyptian statue, currently displayed in the town’s museum, to Christie’s Auction House to reinvest the proceeds into other cultural and heritage projects in the region, according to Northampton chronicle.co.uk. On April 28, Christie’s Auction House announced the Northampton Sekhemka (estimate: £4–6 million) will be offered in The Exceptional Sale in London on July 10.

“Christie’s is honored to present the Northampton Sekhemka, which ranks as the most important Egyptian sculpture ever to come to market … This sculpture, over 4,500 years old, is remarkable in terms of its exceptional quality, near perfect condition and impeccable provenance. It is unquestionably a masterpiece of Egyptian art,”Director and Head of Antiquities at Christie’s London Georgiana Aitken said.

The painted limestone statue, measuring at 30 inches high, belonged to a court official during the fifth Dynasty (2400 B.C–2300 B.C.) and comes probably from Sakkara archaeological site, 26 km south of the Giza Pyramids. It was originally acquired by Spencer Compton, the second Marquess of Northampton during his trip to Egypt in 1849-50 and was given to the Northampton Museum either by the third or fourth Marquess of Northampton prior 1880.

The motion infuriated a wide range of people inside and outside Northampton and caused outrage among historians and Egyptologists. It also raised a number of issues about the “ethical” and “legal” questions arising from the sale of the statue.

Lord Northampton, the seventh Marquis of Northampton was quoted by the BBC as saying: “I am taking legal advice about whether Northampton Borough Council (NBC) has the right to sell any or all of the collection which my ancestor gifted to the museum.”

Northampton Borough Council said the statue’s value made it too expensive to insure and secure. This statue is not a “key part” of that heritage and it does not help to tell the story of the town’s history, cabinet member for community engagement Councilor Brandon Eldred said. In addition, locals from Northampton formed an action group to “save” the statue.

“No matter how worthy the cause [to sell the statue], the museum will be seen to be profiteering and this will cause loss of accreditation,” according to the statement on the Save The Sekhemka Action Group website. “The statue is part of the town’s heritage by virtue of the fact it is here and has been for many years – even if it has nothing to do with shoes!” the statement added.

According to UNESCO’s 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, Egypt has no right to claim the recovery of this statue, director of the Antiquities Ministry’s Repatriation Department Ali Ahmed told the Cairo Post.

“Since the statue was taken from Egypt before the UNESCO convention was ratified in 1970, Egypt has no right to call for the repatriation of the statue,” Ahmed said.
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