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Memphite Relief Returned April 17, 2001
by Angela M.H. Schuster


The looted goddess relief from Memphis
(The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) [LARGER IMAGE]

A relief of a goddess, carved during the reign of the Dynasty XIX pharaoh Seti I (r. 1294-1279 B.C.) and looted from the ancient city of Memphis, just south of Cairo, has been returned to the Arab Republic of Egypt. The limestone panel was on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it had been on loan from a private collector since 1996.


Photo of the chapel of Seti I at Memphis, taken shortly after its excavation in 1948, shows the Met Panel in situ.
(Courtesy the Arab Republic of Egypt) [LARGER IMAGE]

Last April, Jacobus van Dijk, an Egyptologist at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and specialist in the monuments of Memphis, noticed the relief on display in the Metropolitan. He remembered having seen it in a photograph of a chapel of Seti I taken soon after its excavation by the Egyptian Antiquities Service in 1948. The photograph shows the panel, somewhat askew, in the back of the room. Van Djik shared his findings with Dorothea Arnold, the Met's Lila Acheson Wallace Curator of Egyptian Art, who brought the relief's provenience to the attention of its current owner. The Met subsequently arranged to purchase the work and negotiated its return to Egypt.

The panel, 12.5 inches high and 19.4 inches wide, was once part of a much larger scene, which included an image of Seti I. The goddess bends forward; similar works attest that she was once seen offering her breast to the pharaoh, divine nourishment.

"Today is a very special day," said Egyptian ambassador Mahmoud Allam, "for it marks an important collaboration with the people of the Metropolitan Museum, whom we consider good friends of Egypt."

Right, Dorothea Arnold of the Metropolitan Museum presents the relief to Egyptian ambassador Mahmoud Allam. (Angela M.H. Schuster) [LARGER IMAGE]


The panel was owned for many years by Mrs. Richard Rodgers, wife of the American composer. It was sold to another private collector on May 22, 1981. Its most recent owner inherited the panel from the purchaser.

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America