Treasure of Harageh 5 banded Travertine objects are part of the Egyptian treasures sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image: Bonhams
LONDON— Bonhams, the international fine art auction house has sold the ‘Treasure of Harageh’, a collection of 4,000-year-old artifacts discovered in an Egyptian tomb in 1914, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The Egyptian treasures sale which is for an undisclosed sum was on behalf of the St Louis Society of the Archaeological Institute of America.
The ‘Treasure of Harageh’ collection was acquired by the St. Louis Society around 1914 in return for contributing to funding the excavation by the British School of Archaeology in Egypt from Tomb 124 at Harageh, the Fayum, near Lahun. To seal the private treaty deal between The St Louis Society and The Met, Bonhams withdrew the Egyptian Treasures on Thursday, the day of the sale, and announced Friday that it had been sold. Estimated to sell for £80,000 to £120,000 after being consigned to auction by the St Louis Society, it was expected that the Egyptian treasures world bring more than the estimated auction price at auction.
For Bonhams Auction House, the sale of the Egyptian treasures to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York is a big accomplishment. Madeleine Perridge, Director of Antiquities at Bonhams, commented: “We are truly delighted that this wonderful collection of ancient Egyptian treasures is going to The Met where they will be displayed to best effect and provide academics with access. We are very pleased to have found such a satisfactory resolution ensuring that the tomb group will be kept together for posterity. Making connections at this level is part of what Bonhams offers its clients.”
St Louis Society of the Archaeological Institute of America is also delighted about the sale and the relationship with Bonhams. A spokesperson for The St. Louis Society notes: “We are very pleased with the outcome. Bonhams representation was superb. The Metropolitan Museum in New York is the best home for The Treasure. We are looking forward to seeing the objects and jewelry on exhibition.”
The ‘Treasure of Harageh’ was discovered by a team working under the legendary William Matthew Flinders Petrie, universally regarded as the father of modern archaeology. Led by Reginald Engelbach whose career in Egyptology included a term as Chief Keeper of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, the team began excavations at the site of Harageh, 62 miles southwest of Cairo in October of 1913. It is in this area that served as resting place for the dead that the excavators discovered the ‘Treasure of Harageh’ in a tomb. Believed to have belonged to an elite woman of elevated status, often identified as Iytenhab, on the basis of a funerary stela which may not have been part of the original entombment, contained the treasure that now belong to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The treasures dates from the period of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom, 12th Dynasty, probably the reign of Sesostris II, circa 1897-1878 B.C.
For many years, the ‘Treasure of Harageh’ was in the collection of the St. Louis Society of the Archaeological Institute of America. Housed at the St. Louis Art Museum and later the Washington University in St. Louis, the collection was in private storage for almost two years until it surfaced at Bonhams auction. The appearance of the artifacts on the auction block led to the criticism of the St Louis Society of the Archaeological Institute of America. While some critics noted that selling the Egyptian treasures would encourage artifact hoodlums to desecrate and loot treasures, others contend that the private sale of the Egyptian artifacts to the Metropolitan Museum of Art undercuts the true value of the Egyptian treasures. Some historians have also argued that selling the Egyptian treasures is another huddle for researchers.
In response to all the criticism, St. Louis Society of the Archaeological Institute of America noted that the ‘Treasure of Harageh’ had to be sold because it was becoming impossible to continue to pay the exorbitant storage fees. This was in addition to the struggles of finding the best way to preserve the Egyptian treasures.
The ‘Treasure of Harageh’ consists of 37 valuable items including flasks, vases, and jewelry decorated with lapis lazuli, a rare mineral:
* Five banded travertine objects including a kohl-pot; a cosmetic vase with lid; a bag-shaped flask; a small ‘magical jar’ vase with a stopper: and a cosmetic spoon with the handle in the form of an ankh-sign.
* Seven silver cowrie shells with double horizontal piercings probably to be strung into a necklace, six of which have with tiny beads inside to rattle with movement.
* Fourteen silver mounted shell pendants of tear-drop form, the shells of mottled black and white, each mounted in silver frames with loops for the suspension to be worn as a necklace.
* Ten silver and hardstone inlaid jewelry elements probably from pectorals, inlaid with various materials including lapis lazuli, carnelian, and glass, one a gilded cartouche for the Pharaoh Sesostris II, composed of the hieroglyphs for his prenomen Kha-kheper-re.
* A unique silver jewel in the form of a bee, in three-dimensional form, inlaid in the round with lapis lazuli, carnelian, and glass, the anatomical detail preserved with a long body and multiple legs, the wings splaying out from the body.
The sale of the ‘Treasure of Harageh’, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York is a great addition to the museum’s collection. The museum which has been at the forefront of presenting amazing artifacts and treasures from Egypt and other parts of the world to a wide art audience in the United States will no doubt make the treasures even more valuable in the art space.