Q&A with Margaret Maitland - Museums Association

Q&A with Margaret Maitland

Missing fragments of a 15th-century Egyptian box finally returned to NMS
Alice Durrans
Two rare fragments from a royal ancient Egyptian box, dated c. 1427-1400 BC, have been bought and returned to National Museums Scotland (NMS).

Museums Journal spoke to Margaret Maitland, the senior curator of ancient Mediterranean collections at NMS, about retrieving the missing pieces.

How long has it taken to raise funds to acquire the missing fragments?
It took about four months to get all of the funding in place. The fragments were acquired with support from  the fundraising charity Art Fund and NMS’s charitable trust. They were acquired from a London-based art dealer and were previously been in a private collection.

How significant is the find?

Their acquisition is hugely significant. The fragments relate to one of the treasures in NMS’ ancient Egyptian collections, an exquisite 3,400-year old decorative box inscribed for King Amenhotep II. The incomplete box was excavated in a fragmentary state in the 1850s and has been in our collections for 160 years.
We were unaware of the existence of these two additional fragments until very recently and are delighted to acquire them and reunite them with our box.
We have long suspected that the box was used in the royal household, and our acquisition of the fragments helps to confirm this. One of the fragments features a motif that hadn’t been preserved on our box and had been incorrectly restored in the 1950s.

It represents the façade of the royal palace, tying in with the rich royal symbolism on the box, and confirming the object’s royal associations. Objects from the royal palace are exceptionally rare so this is a very exciting discovery.
How do you intend to display the newly pieced together box?
The box and the newly acquired fragments will go on display in a new exhibition, The Tomb: Ancient Egyptian Burial, which opens 31 March. They will be part of a display about the burial of 10 princesses, including granddaughters of Amenhotep II, from whom the box originally came. They will then go on permanent display in our new ancient Egypt gallery, which opens at the National Museum of Scotland in 2018-19.
What kind of reaction do you expect from visitors?
We hope that visitors will be just as excited as us to compare the new fragments with the original box, and to have the chance to see the exquisite craftsmanship close up.
The acquisition has given us new information about an object that has been in the museum for a long time.
It’s wonderful to be able to celebrate a reunion that has been 160 years in the making.

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