Metropolitan Museum of Art Returns Artifact to Iraq After Internal Research

On Tuesday, the Metropolitan Museum of Art said that it had returned a sculpture to Iraq dated from the third millennium BCE as part its investigation into the origins of artifacts held in its permanent collection.

The Sumerian figurine, made of copper alloy and catalogued in the museum’s collection as “Man Carrying a Box, Possibly for Offerings,” was handed off to Iraqi culture officials.

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The figure is believed by the museum’s researchers to have possibly been on display in a temple and it entered the museum’s collection in 1955, according to the object’s online provenance record, which is publicly available. The Met officially deaccessioned the piece for its return to Iraq in October 2023.

In a statement to the New York Times, which first reported news of the return, the museum said after its internal researchers had flagged the object for review, they determined its place of origin last year. The museum then met with H.E. Nazar Al Khirullah, the Iraqi ambassador to the US, and officially offered its restitution. The date of the meeting was not disclosed.

The object entered the museum’s collection 70 years ago from the holdings of dealer Elias S. David, who specialized in Near Eastern art before his death in 1969. According to a catalog entry published by Christie’s, David was a close cohort of the Met’s former Near Eastern art curator, Charles Wilkinson. Additional artifacts from David’s holdings are owned by the Met, per public records.

It is unclear to what extent other objects associated with David have been scrutinized for potential provenance issues.

Last year, the museum responded to renewed attention from restitution advocates by launching a landmark effort to review its collections for evidence of looting, such as suspicious gaps in ownership records. An internal provenance research team was formed and Lucian Simmons, who previously oversaw restitution disputes at Sotheby’s, was appointed head of the museum’s provenance research in May.

The Met’s efforts follow a rise in inquiries from the Manhattan district attorney’s office into private antiquity collections assembled between the 1970s and 1990s and their links to looted sites; the museum has since returned items acquired from private collections and linked to countries including Turkey, Egypt and Italy.

ARTnews has reached out to the Met for comment.


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