At Large  February 20, 2019  Chandra Noyes

Met Relinquishes Looted Coffin to Authorities

Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art

Lid of the coffin of the priest of Heryshef, Nedjemankh (detail). Egyptian, Late Ptolemaic Period, 150–50 BC. Cartonnage (linen, glue, and gesso), gesso, paint, gold, silver, resin, glass, wood, leaded bronze, L. 181 × W. 53 × D. 28 cm (71 1/4 × 20 7/8 × 11 in.). The Metropolitan Museum of art, New York, Purchase, 2017 Benefit Fund; Lila Acheson Wallace Gift; Louis V. Bell, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, and Rogers Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest; Leona Sobel Education and The Camille M. Lownds Funds; and 2016 Benefit Fund, 2017 (2017.255b)
 

Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced this week that they had handed over their prized Coffin of Nedjemankh to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, the first step in returning the artifact to Egypt. The first-century BC gilded Coffin had been the centerpiece of the exhibition Nedjemankh and His Gilded Coffin, which opened in July 2018, and included 70 other Egyptian objects from The Met’s collection.

The Museum recently learned that the Coffin, which they purchased in July 2017, had in fact been looted from Egypt in 2011. All objects purchased by the Museum are subject to a vetting process that they describe as "vigorous," including extensive research into ownership history. The provenance that accompanied the Coffin turned out to be falsified, as were other documents, including a forged 1971 Egyptian export license for the coffin. 

Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art

In a press release from the Museum, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said, “Stewards of the world’s most important artifacts have a duty to hold their acquisitions to the highest level of scrutiny. Following my Office’s investigation, this beautiful piece of ancient Egyptian history will soon be returned to its rightful place. Our Antiquities Trafficking Unit will continue to root out stolen antiquities in our fight to stop the looting of historic sites and the trade of stolen artifacts around the world.”

At over 5 feet long, the stunning golden Coffin has a highly ornamented surface featuring hieroglyphic evidence about the life and duties of the priest Nedjemankh, whose name the Coffin bears. Devoted to the ram-headed god Heryshef of Herakleopolis, the gilding of Nedjemankh’s coffin indicates that he was a high-ranking priest, and god-like himself.

This is just the beginning of what will likely be lengthy litigation for The Met, who say they will try and recoup the $3.9 million they paid a Paris dealer for the work. The Museum also promises to review and revise its acquisitions process to avoid further expensive embarrassments.

About the Author

Chandra Noyes

Chandra Noyes is Managing Editor for Art & Object.

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