Investigation: The Metropolitan Museum of Art Returns An Ancient Artifact to Iraq

30 april, 2024

The Met officially seized the piece for restitution in October 2023 due to an internal investigation of artifacts from private collections that may have been stolen.

"Man Carrying a Box, Possibly for Offerings," Mesopotamia, copper alloy, approximately 2900–2600 B.C. Source: nytimes.com
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has returned a third-millennium BCE sculpture to Iraq as part of an investigation into the origins of artifacts held in its permanent collection. Made of copper alloy and cataloged by the museum as "Man Carrying a Box, Possibly for Offerings," the Sumerian statuette was handed over to representatives of Iraqi culture. Researchers speculate it may have previously stood in a temple, writes Artnews.

According to online records, the item entered the museum's collection in 1955. Before that, it was owned by dealer Elias S. David, who specialized in Near Eastern art until his death in 1969. According to a catalog entry published by Christie’s, David was close friends with Charles Wilkinson, the former Near Eastern art curator at the Met.

Museum staff identified the origin of the artifact almost a year ago, after which the museum met with Iraq's ambassador to the U.S. Nazar Al-Khairullah, and officially offered restitution. The museum's collection also officially includes other artifacts from Elias S. David's holdings. According to the Met, the institution has all the necessary documentation for them. However, it is currently unclear whether the team has verified their history similarly.

The Metropolitan Museum began an internal investigation into the origins of individual items after a public campaign in 2023. At that time, the public sought to identify possible cases of looting, focusing on gaps in ownership documents. The Met's internal research group was led by Lucian Simmons, who had previously facilitated disputes over restitution at Sotheby's auction house. This museum policy is related to requests from the Manhattan District Attorney's Office regarding private antiquities collections assembled between the 1970s and 1990s. Since then, the Met has returned items associated with countries such as Turkey, Egypt, and Italy.

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