Golden Coffin to Be Returned to Egypt and Other Headlines

Wilson Elser

Wilson Elser


Golden Coffin on Display at the Met Is Going Back to Egypt
The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s golden coffin is worth nearly $4 million and originally held the remains of an influential 1st century BC priest, Nedjemankh. Recent investigations determined that the coffin was stolen from the Minya region in Egypt in 2011 during a political uprising. Smugglers took the object to Germany by way of Dubai, then to France where a Parisian dealer sold it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in July 2017.

Investigators discovered that the coffin was stolen after viewing falsified documents that claimed to prove its authenticity. The investigation is ongoing and prosecutors have not yet announced charges against any antiquities traffickers. After seven years of investigation the coffin will now go on public display in Egypt.

Arizona Court Rules in Favor of Christian Artists’ Ability to Deny Service on Basis of Religious Beliefs
Two artists specializing in hand-painted wedding invitations sued the city of Phoenix, Arizona, arguing that the city’s interpretation of a criminal law illegally controlled artistic expression and ignored religious liberty. The Phoenix law at issue made it illegal for business owners to deny service to same-sex couples on the basis of religion. The artists stated that they would provide service to any customer regardless of sexual preference, but refused to produce invitations with custom messages surrounding a same-sex wedding ceremony, arguing that this directly violated their Christian beliefs. The Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the use of a criminal law to compel Christian artists to create wedding invitations that conflict with their beliefs violates the artists’ freedom of speech and free exercise rights under Arizona’s Free Exercise of Religion Act.

Native American Artist Challenges Missouri Law over Labeling of “Native-Made” Work
Peggy Fontenot is challenging a Missouri law that excludes her artwork from the definition of an “Authentic American Indian art.” Fontenot is a member of the Powhatan Patawomeck Tribe of Virginia. Although Fontenot resides in California and sells her work throughout the country, she could face fines or imprisonment for labeling her work as “Native-made” in Missouri. The Powhatan Patawomeck Tribe of Virginia is a state-recognized tribe, but the Missouri law requires enrollment in a federally recognized tribe to qualify for the Native-made label. The Missouri law is narrower in scope than the current federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act (IACA), and Fontenot’s lawyer argues that preventing IACA-qualifying works from being labeled as Native-made is a violation of the First Amendment.

Getty Museum Trust Announces $100 Million Initiative to Preserve Ancient Cultural Heritage
Citing resurgent populism, sectarian violence and climate change, the J. Paul Getty Trust created a fund aimed at quashing growing threats to cultural heritage sites and antiquities. The Getty Foundation is presently providing grants to universities for the purpose of digitally mapping Çatalhöyük in Turkey and the artistic landscape at Pompeii. In furtherance of this mission, in 2021 the Getty is planning to publish a book that explores the link between destruction of cultural heritage and mass atrocities.

Christie’s to Showcase Warhol’s Athlete Paintings in November
Christie’s will be selling a variety of works from the collection of the late Richard L. Weisman, which includes many of Andy Warhol’s “Athlete” paintings of Muhammad Ali, O.J. Simpson and Dorothy Hamill. Weisman’s collection also includes works by Alberto Giacometti, James Rosenquist, Roy Lichtenstein and Peter Beard.


New Scientific Methods Uncover Hidden Work Beneath Picasso’s Masterpiece, The Old Guitarist
The Old Guitarist has fascinated art historians for years, not only because it is the most famous piece from Picasso’s blue period but also because a woman’s face is faintly visible beneath the paint. The Art Institute of Chicago previously photographed the painting using x-rays and infrared light in 1998, during which time they discovered a seated woman holding out her left arm. However, the x-ray images only uncovered outlines and the technique does not allow the viewer to decipher color or style. Researchers at the University College London have recently used a machine vision technique called “neural style transfer” to retrieve the hidden painting from beneath The Old Guitarist. The neural network of neural-style transfer consists of layers that analyze an image at different scales. Over time, the neural network is able to recognize different artistic styles. Researchers now have taken a manually edited version of the x-ray images to uncover a complete color version of the painting. This new technique is said to “broaden the insight into an artist’s intentions, mistakes, and musings by reconstructing artwork that has been hidden.”

Museum Attendee Stabs Painting at the Centre Pompidou
An individual deliberately stabbed a painting by French conceptual artist Daniel Buren, entitled Peinture [Manifestation 3] (1967). The attacker was clearly visible on surveillance cameras and was immediately turned over to the police. He has since been transferred to a psychiatric unit. While museum conservationists are working to repair the damaged painting, another work by Buren will hang in its place.

Museums to Enact Agreement Ahead of Brexit to Share Works of Art
Manet’s masterpiece Music in the Tuileries Gardens is traveling to Ireland from the National Gallery in London on October 30, the day before Brexit is scheduled to take effect. Thirty-one of collector Sir Hugh Lane’s paintings have been on long-term loan to the Hugh Lane gallery in Dublin. The most popular works in the collection presently travel back and forth to London every six years. The agreement expires this year, but next month works by Degas, Monet and Vuillard are scheduled to return to Dublin, and works by Renoir, Morisot and Pissarro are scheduled to return to London, indicating that an agreement is in place for continued exchange of the masterpieces in anticipation of post-Brexit transportation dilemmas.

Thieves Rob French Castle Built During the Reign of Louis XIV
Six thieves robbed the 17th century chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte after tying up the owners with neckties. The thieves pilfered a vast amount of emeralds but did not take any of the tapestries, bronze sculptures or paintings within the chateau. Fortunately, the owners, 90-year-old Patrice de Vogüé and his 78-year-old wife, Cristina, were unharmed. The castle inspired the palace Versailles and often is used in film-sets as a replacement for Versailles − including in Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette” and the James Bond film “Moonraker.”

German Restorers Discover 1,700-Year-Old Painted Wooden Shield
Restorers at the Landesmuseum in Halle have determined that a newly excavated fragment of the painted wooden shield of a German soldier is nearly 1,700 years old. The shield was retrieved from the tomb of a prosperous chief, who died at age 30, near Magdeburg, Germany. Although the newly discovered shield had rotted, fragments of paint were observable under a microscope, including “Egyptian blue” and vermillion. Scientists believe the pigments were expensive Roman imports. Archaeologists also discovered a gold neck ring and brooch, silver belts, spurs, a knife, coins and arrowheads, drinking glasses, a bronze vessel for mixing wine and a bronze stool. Many of these were Roman in origin, while the silver shield buckle appears to have a Scandinavian connection.

Relic Discovered Beneath Rembrandt’s Home Now on Display
Two clay pots were recovered in 1997 from the cesspit beneath Rembrandt van Rijn’s Amsterdam house. Recent testing of one of the pots determined that it contains a deposit containing quartz, which the artist used to prepare the ground for his canvases. No other Dutch Golden Age artist used a quartz-based ground, and so the pot and its contents likely belonged to Rembrandt. The pot will be on display until February 2020 as part of the exhibition Rembrandt’s Laboratory: Rembrandt’s Technique Unraveled.


Berlin Creates Collaborative Effort to Research Namibian Objects
Fostered by the Gerda Henkel Foundation, a new project, “Confronting Colonial Pasts, Envisioning Creative Futures” has brought Namibian museum experts to Berlin to study the nearly 1,400 Namibian objects in Berlin’s museum collections. Germany obtained many of these items during colonialism and the German army acquired approximately 50 percent of the items, which suggests they were removed by force. Advisor to the project Larissa Forster states that many of the institutions collecting these objects were complicit in the violence, and the goal of the project is to shift the authority of interpretation from Germany to Namibia.


Despite Regional Struggles, Beirut Maintains an Active Art Scene
Beirut has had its share of political issues over the past few years between the Syrian refugee crisis and a growing national debt. Austerity measures have prevented gallery owners from being able to transport their works abroad, which is quashing the business when it should be experiencing massive success. One owner has decided to sell work in Paris until the situation improves. However, there have been positive improvements in the country’s art sphere. One art dealer explained that since there is no ability to reap large economic returns, artists have more freedom to create what they want instead of pleasing the market. At the Beirut art fair earlier this month, five dealers sold out their booths entirely. The founder claims that the art fair has not been affected by the economic crisis and had its highest attendance yet. There also has been a rise in new museums, with at least three institutions scheduled to open within the next five years.

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Wilson Elser

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