$6 Million at Auction Despite Ownership Controversy

It looks like this object left Egypt relatively recently. The auction house only traced its provenance for the last 50 years – long after the export ban of antiquities from Egypt.

The Egyptian government is saying it is most probably one of several small statues stolen from the Luxor temple near Karnak.

This is a reasonable origin for the statue. Tutankhamun finished part of the main colonnade to the temple which had been started by his grandfather Amenhotep III. There are also a number of statues in the temple itself – most of which were either vandalised during the reign of Horemheb or usurped entirely – again by Horemheb or by Ramesses II; however, the ‘Armana’ style of Tutankhamun (which is also present in this bust) is quite distinctive and much more attractive (at least to modern eyes) than the rather lumpen sculpture that followed.

It’s not an object from the tomb, it is almost certainly a temple statue. It is most likely showing the relationship between the pharaoh and the great god Amun (alternatively spelled Amon or Amen) whose most important temple was in Luxor. Tutankhamun constructed a large part of the temple to show his dedication to the traditional gods of Egypt after the short-lived ‘Armana heresy’ of his father Akhenaten – although later pharaohs took chisels to his work and largely erased his name from the records.

The statue is almost certainly that of Tutankhamun because of its styling. The Armana period, which lasted about 15 years was one of radical changes in art, abandoning the very formal proportions of Egyptian sculpture that means many statues of Tutankhamun’s predecessors and successors are almost indistinguishable.

The first statues from the period are grotesques – men and women are practically indistinguishable with elongated heads, hands and feet and prominent bellies; but later Armana sculpture is incredibly realistic, but there is still a slight elongation of the face, more feminine features for men and elongated eyes.

This looks very much like a piece from the later Armana period – which would fit with Tutankhamun’s reign. After the death of Akhenaten there is a period of confusion with two named pharaohs – Smenkhare and AnkhkheperureNeferneferuaten – lasting about three years. Tutankhamun assumed the throne as Tutankhaten (The Living Image of the Aten); but relatively quickly changed his name to Tutankhamun (The Living Image of the Amun) marking the restoration of the old gods, but it took a few more years to restore artistic traditions, so many pieces commissioned during Tutankhamun’s lifetime still have the naturalism (and quality) of the Armana Period.

It’s worth pointing out that the most famous portrait of Tutankhamun, his death mask, might not actually be of him. Like many other pieces in his tomb, the mask may have been intended for a relative – in this case AnkhkheperureNeferneferuaten who might actually have been Nefertiti ruling as pharaoh.

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