Saturday, 12 July 2014

The Statue of Sekhemka

From the BBC

A 4,000-year-old Egyptian statue expected to raise about £6m has sold for £15.76m at Christie's of London.

Northampton Borough Council auctioned the Sekhemka limestone statue to help fund a £14m extension to Northampton Museum and Art Gallery.

However, Arts Council England had warned the council its museum could lose its accreditation status.

The Egyptian ambassador to Britain said the council should have handed the statue back if it did not want it.

Someone grabbed it 100+ years ago. We have no idea what was involved in that. And having been to Egypt and seen how little respect the guides have for the paintings in the Valley of the Kings (offering to allow me to take flash photographs in a "no flash photography" area for a few dollars), I don't have much sympathy with "giving anything back" to Egypt.

Protesters gathered outside Christie's before the sale said they wanted the statue to be returned to Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities.

Sue Edwards, from the Save Sekhemka Action Group, who travelled from Northampton to the auction, said: "This is the darkest cultural day in the town's history.

Really? You don't think maybe the fire at the Royal Theatre in 1887 might score a bit higher?

Sorry, but I was born and raised in Northampton. I lived there 20 years. My father has lived there 50 years. He's into all sorts of history. And I'd never heard of this statue before this auction. And the Save Sekhemka Action Group has something like 1100 "likes" on Facebook out of a population of 200,000+, which suggests it's not exactly highly culturally valued.

Loss of Arts Council England accreditation would make the museum ineligible for a range of future grants and funding, however the leader of the council David Mackintosh said he did not see why this should happen.

But as it then shows, Arts Council England grants have been something like £250,000 over 3 years. £6m is going to cover a couple of decades of losses.

The statue has not been on display for four years, and no-one had asked to see it in that time, he said.

"It's been in our ownership for over 100 years and it's never really been the centrepiece of our collection," he told BBC Look East.

Oops. That's a pretty good test of how much interest something has.

Personally, I think museums should either be about local history, or about a subject. Swindon has a town museum, and some of it's good, showing things like roman and iron age finds nearby, but some things in it are just junk, like a stuffed crocodile. It's nothing to do with the town, it's just something that was a rarity once, given to the museum and no-one's got rid of it.

It seems to me that Northampton is doing the right thing: sell off something that's really nothing to do with the town to pay for making a better museum that is.

5 comments:

Bayard said...

"The Egyptian ambassador to Britain said the council should have handed the statue back if it did not want it."

The point was, they did want it. It's just that they wanted the £6M more.

"having been to Egypt and seen how little respect the guides have for the paintings in the Valley of the Kings (offering to allow me to take flash photographs in a "no flash photography" area for a few dollars), I don't have much sympathy with "giving anything back" to Egypt."

My grandfather used to remark, whenever the Greeks started agitating about the return of the Elgin Marbles, that the first time he visited the Acropolis, in WWI, the Greeks were still smashing up the marble and taking it away to make into lime.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Agreed. All this old stuff was new once*. If somebody is daft enough to give them £16 million for it, then everybody's happy.

* Although I did get a bit of a thrill in a museum in Rome where there was an old rusty coin in a cabinet and the label said, very matter-of-factly, "Nazarene coin which belonged to one of Jesus' hand maidens".

How they worked that out beats me, but I'd like to imagine it is true.

The Stigler said...

Bayard,
Doesn't surprise me. This stuff was made valuable by French and British explorers. If the Rosetta Stone hadn't been decoded, we would never have known most of the history (which now brings tourists).

Mark,
I remember going on a school trip to France and our teacher saying that a church apparantly had some bones of St Peter. "But there's so many churches with bones of St Peter that he was clearly a very big man".

Ian Hills said...

So the Egyptian ambassador didn't think the statue was worth buying....

Ian B said...

Ah yes, David "Who Needs A Bus Station?" Mackintosh. Absolute twunt of a man.