Egypt Makes Claim to Nefertiti

The gallery displaying the Nefertiti bust.

Egypt has hinted at an official demand for the return of the bust of Nefertiti from Germany this week.  The demand comes as Germany opens the rebuilt Neues Museum, reinstalling the limestone and stucco bust there.  Zahi Hawass has told German media outlets that “[i]f she left Egypt illegally, which I am convinced she did, then I will officially demand it back from Germany”.  These comments come after Culture Minister Faruq Hosni of  Egypt failed to gain election as the new director general of UNESCO, and Egypt threatened France with a cultural boycott to secure the return of recently-purchased frescoes from the Louvre.  There are no indications Egypt will make a similar threat with this case, though perhaps if evidence comes to light indicating some wrongdoing, Egypt may attempt this aggressive strategy again. 

The bust has been in Germany since 1913.  A German archaeological expedition digging near Amarna found what may have been the house and studio complex of the sculptor Thutmose in 1912.  The bust of Nefertiti was found on the floor of a storeroom along with other plaster casts.  The removal of the busts does not appear to be an illegal smuggling or criminal in the same way the frescoes returned from the Louvre were.  This dispute then will share some characteristics with the dispute between Yale and Peru over artifacts from Macchu Picchu. 

In a piece in the New York Times, Monika Grütters, an “art history professor, legislator and a leading cultural expert” in Germany is quoted arguing:

“The documentation exists. The arrangements were agreed. The process was legal . . .  There was a complete understanding about what would remain in Egypt and what would be taken to Germany . . .  Maybe there is a bit of jealousy on the part of Egypt over Nefertiti. In any event, I am not so sure Egypt has the best conditions for this statue . . .  And because it is so fragile, I am not sure the statue can even be flown. We have excellent conditions here in Germany.

 There are indications the Egyptians may have been misled during the initial meeting over the partage of many of the objects which were recovered from the Thutmose workshop in 1912.  Are these issues which can be litigated today?  Perhaps not, as the limitations periods may have expired.  But in the court of public opinion, more evidence of German misrepresentation might compel some action or calls for return.

Judy Dempsey, Egypt Demands Return of Nefertiti Statue, The New York Times, October 19, 2009.

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German Court Rules for Nazi-era Poster Claimant

A German court has ruled that Peter Sachs’ is entitled to an entire poster collection seized from his father in 1938.  The elder Sachs received about $50,000 in compensation for the collection which was then believed to have been destroyed. 

From the AP:

The Berlin administrative court ruled that Hans Sachs never gave up ownership of the collection of 12,500 posters taken from his home on the orders of Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels.


Sachs, 71, sued in a test case for the return of two posters — a 1932 poster for “Die Blonde Venus” (“Blonde Venus”) starring Marlene Dietrich, and one for Simplicissimus, a satirical German weekly magazine, showing a red bulldog. The court ruled that it was unclear whether “Die Blonde Venus” was part of his father’s collection, but that there was no doubt about the Simplicissimus poster and that it must be returned to him.


The ruling means that the court has backed the claim of Peter Sachs of Sarasota on the surviving portion of his father’s collection — some 4,000 posters at the German Historical Museum in Berlin, said his attorney ,Matthias Druba.


“We are definitely delighted,” Druba said . “It’s a shame that we didn’t get the Blonde Venus, but in the end what is more important is that the general question has been answered clearly in our favor: Peter is the rightful owner of the collection and he has a claim to get them back; we couldn’t want more.”


The posters include advertisements for exhibitions, cabarets, movies and consumer products, as well as political propaganda — all rare, with only small original print runs.
Only a handful of the posters on display at any given time at the German Historical Museum, but officials maintain they form an integral part of its 80,000-piece collection. The museum also points out that those in storage are regularly viewed by researchers.

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Peter Sachs’ Nazi-Era Restitution Disptue

David Rising for the AP has the story of 71-year-old Peter Sachs and his attempts to secure his father’s 12,500 rare posters:

When Peter Sachs was only a year old in 1938, the Nazis seized his father’s collection of 12,500 rare posters on the orders of Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels.

Sachs’ father, Hans — a Jewish dentist — was then thrown into the Sachsenhausen concentration camp north of Berlin. After his wife managed to secure his release, the family fled to Boston — leaving the posters behind.


Today, some 4,000 of the posters, worth at least euro4.5 million ($5.9 million), are in the possession of the German Historical Museum in Berlin, largely in storage. Peter Sachs goes to court Tuesday to try to get them back.


“I think that any disposition of the posters would be preferable to their languishing in a museum for 70 years without ever seeing the light of day,” Sachs told the AP in a telephone interview from his home in Sarasota, Florida.


The posters include advertisements for exhibitions, cabarets, movies, and consumer products, as well as political propaganda — all rare, with only small original print runs. One jewel of the collection was a 1932 poster for “Die Blonde Venus” — The Blonde Venus — a film starring Marlene Dietrich. It formed the basis for Sachs’ suit when he filed it last year, but museum officials say it is not part of the Sachs collection they have.


Only a handful of the posters on display at any given time but museum officials say they form an integral part of its 80,000-piece collection. The museum also points out that those in storage are regularly viewed by researchers.


The suit at the Berlin administrative court is the latest step in a case that has dragged over several years.


Sachs, 71, lost his first attempt to have the posters returned through a German restitution panel, known as the Limbach Commission, which ruled in 2007 that the museum was the rightful owner. But Gary Osen, Sachs’ Oradell, New Jersey-based attorney, said he is more confident of recovering the posters through the German legal system at Tuesday’s one-day hearing.

It could be a difficult claim for Sachs, as his father accepted compensation in the 1960s of approximately $50,000, and the elder Sachs apparently viewed the sum as an appropriate payment.  

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30 Works Stolen from Berlin

Art thieves don’t party.  30 Works were stolen from a Berlin gallery sometime close to New Year’s Eve the AP reported earlier this week:

Nu au rocking chair by Henri MatisseThieves stole works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and others from a Berlin gallery over the New Year’s holiday, police said Friday.
More than 30 works — worth an estimated euro180,000 ($250,000) — were stolen, apparently between Wednesday afternoon and lunchtime Thursday, police spokeswoman Claudia Schweiger said. The artwork was taking from the Fasanengalerie, a private gallery near western Berlin’s central shopping district.
The etchings, prints and sculptures included “Profil au fond noir,” a 1947 work by Picasso; “Nude in a rocking chair,” a Matisse print from 1913; and “Le Boupeut,” a 1962 color print by Georges Braque.
The gallery’s owner discovered the loss New Year’s Day, having found signs the door had been pried open, police said. Given the number of works stolen and the weight of the sculptures, two or more people probably were involved, police said in a statement.

New Year’s Eve is a popular time to steal works of art, as are other nights when cities revel and police may be stretched thin.  The theft from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum took place on St. Patrick’s day in Boston. 

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Germany a Haven for Cypriot Antiquities?

According to German professor Klaus Gallas at a gathering in Dortmund as reported by the Financial Mirror of Cyprus:

Organised international art smugglers, in cooperation or with the tolerance of the Turkish occupation army, have virtually flooded international black markets with stolen icons and other religious and architectural artifacts stolen from the occupied areas of Cyprus, said German professor Klaus Gallas.

Speaking at a gathering at Dortmund, Germany on the destruction of the cultural heritage in the occupied north, Gallas made an extensive reference to the case of Turkish art dealer Aydin Dikmen in Munich and criticized the German authorities for not giving the go ahead for the return of artifacts which have proved to be of Cypriot origin…

 The event was organized by the Cypriot embassy in cooperation with the Greek Academics of North Rhine-Westphalia and was held at the Municipal Art Museum. It included a presentation of a documentary prepared by the Press and Information Office of the Republic of Cyprus on the destruction of the cultural heritage in the occupied areas…

According to the church of Cyprus, some 500 churches have been either destroyed or pillaged since the 1974 Turkish invasion. Some religious relics have been bought back, others were returned to the church after lengthy legal proceedings and others are still at large.

The PIO states that thousands of antiquities illegally excavated in the occupied part of Cyprus have found their way to foreign markets. The channels through which the works of art are sent to the West remain basically the same. Frankfurt has become the main destination for ‘hot merchandise’, from there it reaches antiquities lovers with purchasing power in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg, Spain, Switzerland, Great Britain, the United States and Canada.

Germany has a large Turkish population, and the problems with Cypriot antiquities can be traced to the armed conflict on the island between Turkish and Greek Cypriots and the armed conflict which escalated in 1974.  Both sides have accused the other of destruction of heritage on the island.

The limited reporting here is an anecdotal account, and I’d be interested to learn more about the specific objects at issue.   I have very little knowledge of German law, though I do know the relevant EU regulations enforce export restrictions of other member states.  Perhaps the difficulty is that these objects may be ‘orphaned’ objects, where German authorities are unsure of their nation of origin? Or perhaps because of the different governments on the island — the Turkish occupied North or the Republic of Cyprus to the South? Or perhaps its bureaucratic red tape delaying the repatriation?  Or perhaps Turkey is pressuring Germany in some way?  Are the disputes over these antiquities a proxy-fight between Turks and Greeks?  

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International Red Tape, $500 Translation

International red tape often hampers the investigation of the illicit trade in antiquities, this example involves Leonardo Patterson (discussed earlier here) and the difficulty in acquiring a decent Spanish-German translation. From AFP a couple days ago:

SAN JOSE (AFP) — The price of a translation is keeping the Costa Rican government from retrieving a collection of pre-Columbian objects it claims were stolen by a private collector now living in Germany.

In August 2007, Costa Rica first learned about Leonardo Patterson’s collection stored in Spain since 1997. Its more than 1,700 pre-Columbian pieces originate from Costa Rica, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru.

Costa Rica is seeking the recovery of 457 of those objects it says are part of its national heritage.

Patterson’s collection is of incalculable value, said Marlin Calvo, head of the Cultural Heritage Protection department at Costa Rica’s National Museum.

The objects are “very beautiful, very diverse, and in very good condition,” said Calvo.

Patterson, a former Costa Rican diplomat and renowned art collector, was questioned and part of his collection seized by Munich police in April this year, after he took it out of storage in Spain and had it shipped to Germany.

Investigators valued the objects at more than 100 million dollars.

Costa Rica, along with Mexico and Peru, say some of the pieces were stolen and are attempting to recover them, even as Patterson maintains he obtained them in Europe, legally.

Since May, Costa Rican authorities have tried, without success, to reclaim the pieces. Their main problem: the price of a translation.

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Profile of an Antiquities Dealer


The Associated Press has an extended profile of Leonardo Patterson. An antiquities dealer from Costa Rica who is currently being investigated by German and Spanish authorities. In April, police in Munich seized more than 1,000 objects from his warehouse.

Pictured here is Peruvian archaeologist Walter Alva. He received a catalog of Patterson’s antiquities in 1997:

[H]e saw more than 250 ancient Peruvian pieces, mostly from tombs raided in the late 1980s. There were necklaces made of gold and lapis lazuli from la Mina in northern Peru. There were copper masks and a necklace made of 30 gold spiral-shaped ornaments from Sipan, the center of the Mochica culture dating to 200 A.D.

Alva was not surprised that many of the pieces had ended up in private European collections.

“There is a very active market in the United States and Europe,” said Alva. “We have to eliminate this idea that those who collect archaeological artifacts are cultivated people.”

He asked Interpol in Lima to investigate. Interpol in turn asked a Lima court for an international arrest warrant for Patterson in 2004. Four years later, there has been no ruling, according to Interpol officials in Lima.

Patterson is accused of selling fakes and forgeries as well as looted antiquities. It seems Patterson may have been connected in some way to the looted Peruvian gold headdress which was recovered from Patterson’s lawyer’s office in 2006.

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