Ancient Egyptian statue sells for £16 million in UK despite outcry

Amer Sultan in London, Friday 11 Jul 2014

The statue had previously been on display at Northampton Museum in the UK

The limestone statue of Egyptian scribe Sekhemka

A 4,000-year-old Egyptian statue has been sold for just over £15 million at an auction at Christie’s in London, despite the Egyptian government’s outcry and strong criticism inside the UK.

The sculpture, which depicts Sekhemka, inspector of royal scribes, is being sold by Northampton Borough Council. It was originally acquired by the 2nd Marquess of Northampton during his travels in Egypt in 1849-50 and was given to Northampton Museum either by the 3rd or 4th Marquess of Northampton prior to 1880.

The auction was interrupted by some Egyptians who were trying to stop the controversial sale.  During the bidding, the group started shouting inside the auction room.

“You are selling antiquities stolen from Egypt! You will not be allowed to go with it!” shouted one.

Northampton Borough Council, which claims absolute ownership of the statue, plans to use the money to help fund a £14 million extension to Northampton Museum and Art Gallery.

However, Arts Council England has warned that if the sale goes through, the museum could lose its accreditation status.

Ashraf El-Kholy, Egypt' s ambassador to the UK, has pledged to challenge the sale which he described as "illegal". "Today's sale is not the end of it," he told Ahram Online.

According to the inscription on the statue’s base, it depicts a man who was inspector of the scribes of the royal court.

Christie’s London’s Director and Head of Antiquities Georgiana Aitken said that Sekhemka ranks as the most important Egyptian sculpture ever to come to market.

"Christie’s is honoured to present it," she added.

Renowned comic book writer Alan Moore has commented that the sale "could only be catastrophic."

He was quoted as saying that the planned sale is "undercutting one of the fundamental principles by which museums acquire artefacts in their collections.”

Moore, from Northampton, added: “I have donated things to the museum. But I would not be able to do that again in the knowledge that at some point in the future that gifts, made in good faith, could be sold off by a council."

Some reports say by putting the invaluable statue on sale, Northampton Borough Council violated the terms of gifting agreement between the Marquess of Northampton and Northampton Museum.

Christie’s and the council insist the sale is legal.

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