Wednesday,22 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1243, (23 - 29 April 2015)
Wednesday,22 August, 2018
Issue 1243, (23 - 29 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Academics challenge fraud claims

Questions about the authenticity of the ancient painting of the Meidum Geese can now be laid to rest, writes Zahi Hawass

Al-Ahram Weekly

After I wrote my article on the Meidum Geese in the Weekly last week, I received many emails from Egyptologists who were angry at what Francesco Tiradritti had written about the painting.

Many scholars called me to say that they had never heard of an Egyptologist who did not publish his theories in scientific journals, but instead tried to state points that were not true in an inappropriate forum. He should have sent his theory to the appropriate committee so that it could be discussed by art historians and Egyptologists, they said.

Many Egyptians also contacted me, saying that they were upset at the silence of the Ministry of Antiquities on the matter, as if what was written was about something that did not belong to them.

“Why don’t they protect our monuments?” asked Ahmed Al-Sawi, a great Egyptian Egyptologist who has spent his life on excavations, with many of the objects in the Egyptian Museum having been found by him.

I am still of the opinion that there is no way that Luigi Vassalli could have painted the Meidum Geese without the knowledge of Auguste Mariette, the prominent French Egyptologist who was in charge of the Bulaq Museum at the time. If the painting is fake, Mariette would have to have known.

Also, if this had been the case, the picture would never have been published by prestigious Egyptologists such as Grébaut, Capart, Werbrouck, Schäfer, Farina, Borchardt, Reisner, Maspero, Roeder and Mariette. Can we believe Tiradritti and neglect all these great scholars?

Edward Brovarski, one of the pre-eminent authorities on the art of the Old Kingdom wrote to me. He had found Tiradritti’s summary of his article on “disconcerting” and recommended that I have a look at Ogden Goelet’s very interesting 1983 article in the Bulletin of the Egyptological Seminar.

Contrary to Tiradritti’s statement that the red-breasted goose rarely winters as far as the Aegean coast of Greece and Turkey, Goelet notes in this article that a specimen of the goose was found in Egypt sometime before 1930, proving that red-breasted geese did on occasion migrate to Egypt.

Brovarski had other objections too. Tiradritti thinks that Vassalli painted the Meidum Geese. But Vassalli makes no mention of the geese in his manuscripts, despite the fact that “he used to mention his exploits even years after he made them.” More to the point, why would Vassalli depict a red-breasted goose, which supposedly never winters in Egypt, since this would be a clear give-away to anyone in the know that the painting was a modern forgery?

Tiradritti claimed that Vassalli wrote, in hieroglyphs, the initials of his second wife, Gigliati Angiola, on the painting. But Brovarski questions this. Why didn’t Vassalli write “gA” instead of “kA” for the initials of his wife? I hope that Tiradritti will respond to these comments.

I also received an email from Betsy Bryan, an Egyptologist who doubts that Tiradritti has consulted Goelet’s article. Besides being an Egyptologist, Goelet is also a famous ornithologist, and Bryan mentions his citation of three other tombs at Saqqara that also feature various birds depicted with great precision.

Contrary to Tiradritti’s contention that the paint colours are “modern,” Bryan says that in her work on the Theban tombs she found that the artists mixed a number of beige and tan colours for specific purposes, all of them made from the basic mineral pigments of red and yellow ochres with varying amounts of water.

She goes on to cite Goelet’s statements about the red-breasted geese. Goelet had identified the Meidum examples as immature birds of that species, she said. Since they are migratory, the rarity of their observation in Egypt would have been a primary motivation for painting them.

Goelet had identified the flora and fauna of the scenes and the time of year that they suggest and concluded that the painting depicted late October to November, exactly when the migration of the white-fronted geese (with which red-breasted geese frequently associate in the wild) appeared in Egypt.

Another email came to me from Richard Redding of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at the University of Michigan. He writes: “If you are further questioned on the authenticity of the Meidum Geese, I thought you would like to know that the bean goose was found in Egypt.

“Bones of the bean goose have been found in Maadi and Tell Al-Daba’a. I have identified 14 bones of the bean goose from Giza. Two geese were found in the refuse of Tutankhamun’s funerary meal. The red-breasted goose is a rare visitor to Egypt. It was seen at Alexandria in 1874 and near Damietta in 1882. It has been so heavily hunted in the last two hundred years that its population has been severely reduced, as has its range.”

Two important emails came from professor Karol Myśliwiec of Warsaw University, who called Tiradritti’s claim “pure nonsense.”

“The fowling scene discovered in the tomb of Merefnebef at Saqqara [and published by Myśliwiec], unique with respect to the preservation of its original colours, proves that some birds (e.g.

Upupa epops) were represented very naturalistically, while some others (Nile geese first of all) were products of the artist’s fantasy, particularly concerning their colours. That’s what I have stated in my analysis of that scene.”

In his publication, Myśliwiec states: “The artist evidently seeks to satisfy two various requirements of his creation: a zoological exactness and a variety of artistic expression. This may particularly be observed in the representations of two species that occur more frequently than any others: the pied kingfisher (e.g. in the common genet group), and the Egyptian goose (e.g. in the Egyptian mongoose group).

“While the sober naturalistic colouring of the first bird is always very uniform, the colouristic diversity in the representations of the geese seems to first of all satisfy the artist’s imagination.”
I think these answers to Tiradritti’s deeply flawed theory are enough to put the issue to rest.

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