A 3,000-year-old stone sculpture of Tutankhamun has gone under the hammer at Christie’s for £4m, in spite of calls by the Egyptian government to halt the sale.
The brown quartzite head depicting the most famous of ancient Egypt’s pharaohs went to a telephone bidder at Christie’s London salerooms on Thursday evening.
Depictions of the boy king from the time of his rule — which ran from 1332 to 1323BC — are extremely rare. Nearly all are held in museums.
The Egyptian government this week called for the sale to be postponed in order to investigate the sculpture’s provenance and evidence of its legal export from Egypt.
Cairo has questioned the ownership of ancient Egyptian antiquities that have previously appeared for sale, sometimes demanding their return. Exceptions are made for items legally acquired before a 1983 law banned the trade and export of antiquities.
It is not known where the Tutankhamun head was found, but the auction house said its ownership records went back to the 1960s, when it was part of the collection of Prince Wilhelm von Thurn und Taxis, a German collector. It thereafter passed through the hands of dealers before being bought by the current vendor, a private collection known as the Resandro Collection, Christie’s said.
The auction house has said it would not sell a work without clear title of ownership and “a thorough understanding of modern provenance”.
“We have established all the required information covering recent ownership and gone beyond what is required to assure legal title. The object is not, and has not been, the subject of an investigation, nor has it been previously flagged as an object of concern, despite being well known and exhibited publicly,” Christie’s said in a statement.
Tarek Adel, the Egyptian ambassador in London, said on Wednesday that the sale reflected “a total disregard for relevant international legal provisions and conventions”.
He added: “Moral and ethical considerations related to the preservation and protection of cultural rights and properties worldwide have clearly been sidelined.”