Egypt is demanding Christie’s halt the auction an ancient bust of King Tutankhamun, claiming the £4 million piece was stolen from its temple.
The Egyptian Embassy in London asked that Britain prevent the July sale of the 3,000-year-old sculpture, saying it was stolen from the Karnak temple in Luxor.
Christie’s said they gave advanced warning to the Egyptian authorities and retorted that ancient works could not be traced over millennia.
The brown quartzite head of the pharaoh – measuring 11 inches – provides an ‘exceptional representation of the King,’ according to the auction house, and will go on sale at St James’s on July 4.
Egypt’s foreign ministry said: ‘The Egyptian embassy in London requested the British foreign affairs ministry and the auction hall to stop the sale.’
In addition they called for the halt of all Egyptian items planned during the auctions on July 3 and 4, stressing the importance of valid ownership certificates.
Egypt’s former head of antiquities told The Independent the ‘sculpture was looted from [Luxor’s] Karnak Temple.’
He alleged Christie’s, ‘would not have any proof whatsoever of its ownership.’
A spokesman for the auction house told The Telegraph: ‘There is a long-standing and legitimate market for works of art of the ancient world, in which Christie’s has participated for generations.
‘Christie’s strictly adheres to bilateral treaties and international laws with respect to cultural property and patrimony.’
The spokesperson told the paper, ‘Ancient objects by their nature cannot be traced over millennia.’
The bust is part of The Resandro Collection, ‘one of the world’s most renowned private collections of Egyptian art,’ the auction house’s listing states.
Christie’s said the piece was acquired from Heinz Herzer, a Munich-based dealer in 1985.
Before this, Joseph Messina, an Austrian dealer, acquired it in 1973-74 from Prinz Wilhelm von Thurn und Taxis who reputedly had it in his collection by the 1960s.
Egypt said their antiquities ministry had requested the UN cultural agency UNESCO stop the sales.