An ancient Egyptian granite relief fragment inscribed with the name of Amenemhat I, ruler of Egypt from 1991 BC to 1962 BC, is being returned tomorrow, October 29, to its home in Eqypt. Curators in the museum’s Department of Egyptian Art recently recognized that the fragment was part of the larger work and confirmed this by matching the inscription on the fragment with the inscription on the larger work. The work had been on loan to The Metropolitan Museum of Art from a private owner, though the museum had never displayed it publicly.
The work is the corner of the base of a red granite “naos,” which is a shrine used to house a statue of a deity. The shrine was dedicated to the god Amun, the chief deity of Karnak, so it most likely had an Amun statue inside at one point. The naos was moved to its present location in the Ptah Temple of the Karnak complex during the New Kingdom.
Once the museum’s staff identified the larger work from which the fragment came, the museum reached out to the owner of the work and took steps to notify the Egyptian authorities of the discovery. The museum also arranged to purchase the work from its owner in order to take official possession of the work and return it promptly and unencumbered to Egypt.
Dorothea Arnold, the Lila Acheson Wallace chairman of the Museum’s Egyptian Art Department, commented: “For a long time, I puzzled about the object to which this fragment belonged. I finally pieced it together when I came across a photograph showing a naos in Karnak which is missing a corner in an article by Luc Gabolde in the journal Égypte Afrique et Orient. The fragment on loan to us looked like it might fit this larger work. With my colleague Adela Oppenheim, we found a publication which set out the inscription on the naos in Karnak and we compared that inscription with the inscription on the fragment – the pieces fit together perfectly. We decided that, in these circumstances, the appropriate thing to do was to alert the Egyptian authorities and to make arrangements with the owner so that we could return the fragment to Egypt. We are so pleased to be giving the missing piece of the puzzle back.”
The work is to be delivered by Museum staff to representatives of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt, which is headed by Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General.
Thomas P. Campbell, director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, commented: “The Metropolitan Museum is delighted to be able to assist in returning this granite fragment to its original home. Though the fragment is small, its return is a larger symbol of the museum’s deep respect for the importance of protecting Egypt’s cultural heritage and the long history of warm relations the museum enjoys with Egypt and the Supreme Council of Antiquities.”
Dr. Arnold added: “The Department of Egyptian Art and the Arab Republic of Egypt have a long and important history of collaboration and collegiality. In returning the fragment, we are pleased to be able to show our appreciation for the generosity they have shown us over the years.”
The return of the granite relief fragment comes eight years after the Museum returned a 19th Dynasty relief showing the head of a goddess to Egypt. In that case, the work had been on loan to the Museum from a private owner since 1996. A visiting Dutch Egyptologist saw the work on display and remembered that he had seen it previously when he studied the relief-decorated chapel of Sety I at Memphis. He shared his findings and research with the museum, which purchased the work from the owner and returned it to Ambassador Mahmoud Allam, former Consul General of the Arab Republic of Egypt in New York.