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Royall Tyler to Mildred Barnes Bliss and Robert Woods Bliss, July 24, 1939

24.VII.39 Paris

Dearest Milrob—another shock—prepare yourselves:

Kaleb’s Coptic bronze treasureBZ.1939.14.1–25. is a very serious matter. It belongs to the Khawams,Khawam Brothers, an antiquities business that was founded in Cairo in 1862 by Sélim Khawam. as does his Antinoe textileBZ.1939.13. (see below). Found at Lisht, L. bank of Nile, between Dashur and Medun—locality called Kom-el-Achmar, 2 kilom. fr. Lisht, in ruins of a Coptic church. I’m convinced they’re authentic, but of course can’t vouch for story about the find.

There are about 24 or 25 pieces, all bronze (except one leaden crossBZ.1939.14.11. See BZ.1939.14.1–25.), all green patinated, with red spots due to ferrugineus soil. In period, they range from Alexandrian times (some pre-Christian) down to about the IX cent. (tho’ KhawanKhawam Brothers, an antiquities business that was founded in Cairo in 1862 by Sélim Khawam. & Kaleb try to argue that the latest are V–VI and present sensational prototypes (true enough as to the “sensation”).

Kaleb says KhawamKhawam Brothers, an antiquities business that was founded in Cairo in 1862 by Sélim Khawam. started asking £6000 for the lot, & has now come down to £4. Kaleb says Khawam has offers already (in Egypt) for the pick of the pieces, amounting to about £3000. Kaleb thinks impossible to secure the lot at less than £3,500 (Kaleb’s commission included—Kaleb says he’s take [sic] only £250–300).

Now for a few notes on the things, of which I’ve told Kaleb he must at once have good photos taken, & send you by air-mail. Kb says KhawamKhawam Brothers, an antiquities business that was founded in Cairo in 1862 by Sélim Khawam. insists on immediate decision, and that “seriously”, Kh. will sell to his Egypt. customer if he doesn’t strike immediate bargain with you. The Antinoe textileBZ.1939.13. seems slightly less urgent.

Notes on the things.

— Masks,BZ.1939.14, 17, and 18. See BZ.1939.14.1–25. said to have been found applied to walls, 2 in number, over life-size—showing amazing survival old-Egypt. type (mummy covers). Female head, still pretty Soïtic, male head, bearded, more Greco-Rm. infl. Both studded with stones & glass paste. Period ?? Very Early Christ., probably

— Statuettes:

1) A bronze figure, in the round, 40 cm. high, of a priest in prayer.BZ.1939.14.5. See BZ.1939.14.1–25. I think VIII–IX c. EIN UNICUM.“One of a kind.” Astonishing plastic qualities—modeling, treatment of drapery, chiseling of features, hair, beard, visible under patina-crust. A wild solemnity of expression. Reminds slightly of the fig. of a priest swinging a censer, on a luster bowl from Fostat in Kelek’s Coll. at the V & A.Bowl, Egyptian, ca. 1050–1100, glazed ceramic, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, no. C.49-1952. As to expression: thus might one imagine Kelek, calling down divine vengeance upon heads of Brummer & Hirsch.Jacob Hirsch (1874–1955), a German-Swiss numismatist, archaeologist, and antiquities dealer.

There’s nothing in the least like this object.

2) Small fig. of SATAN, prowling for souls.BZ.1939.14.15. See BZ.1939.14.1–25. Very Alexandrian, but it must be Christian—perhaps as early as IV. Probably much the earliest representation known of the devil, horned & hoofed, as we think of him. Great spirit and mastery in the modeling.

3) A little Eucharistic doveBZ.1939.14.14. See BZ.1939.14.1–25. (?) very close to the Old-Egypt. Hawk.

4) A little donkey,BZ.1939.14.16. See BZ.1939.14.1–25. very well modeled.

— Vases,BZ.1939.14.1–4 and 13. See BZ.1939.14.1–25. all with Coptic inscriptions in silver inlay in the bronze. There are 5 or 6, of which the most remarkable are: 2 of the shapes familiar to us in later Mosoul [sic] bronzes, with, besides the inscriptions, silver (and some gold) inlay in designs of enormous interest as showing the Byz-Copt. models from which Arab art derived. These designs can be paralleled in VIII–IX cent. Copt. & Syriac MSS.

— 1 big lamp,BZ.1939.14.21. See BZ.1939.14.1–25. on stand, early. With relief representation of a cupid-angel, prob. IV cent.

— 1 big lamp,BZ.1939.14.6. See BZ.1939.14.1–25. VIII–IX, base inlaid with gold & silver, fish & crosses.

— Several bronze—(& one lead) cross and tablets,BZ.1939.14.7–9. See BZ.1939.14.1–25. with long inscriptions

— Other less important objects, of which one very pretty Alexandrian affair with a nude lady in relief.This object has not been identified.

Well—you see. Now for the textile,BZ.1939.13. said to be found at Antinoé. Khawam,Khawam Brothers, an antiquities business that was founded in Cairo in 1862 by Sélim Khawam. after bargaining, sticks at £800. [In margin, in Robert Woods Bliss’s hand: 3,952] Kaleb advises not to try to include it in an eventual deal on the bronzes but to treat it separately.

It’s a woolen kilim, sewn onto a modern stuff to consolidate it. Colours very well preserved (H. 144, L. 80 cm.) Period, typical VI cent (probably early VI).

On an aubergine purple field, the registers with horses heads are yellow and white with a bright red motif between the horses’ necks.

The registers with lions heads—tawny manes, white heads & paws, the motif between being green & white, the scrolls are green, with a red-white triangular base, & sprigs.

The field of the border is green, the lions are white with tawny manes. The wheels are red with white pearls, the ground of some in red-purple, of others bright blue.

Horsemen in border, yellow & red, or green & red. Horses white.

The whole is very gay and fresh—enchanting in colour. In this kilim technique, it’s the only one of the period I know—& it produces almost the effect of a silk. For the designs of heads of animals in alternating registers, see a lot of Antinoé silks, at Lyon. (Our Vols IIL’art byzantin. & esp. III—by the way, I’ve just concluded the deal with Hypérion,Hypérion, a French book publisher. & turned over the material to him).Neither volume three nor the combined volume would be published.

My lambs, I’m really in despair at having to spring all this on you, at such a time. . . But what can I do? The stuff really is of huge interest, importance, for the mysterious transition between Old Egypt. & Copto-Byz, and between Copto-Byz & Islamic. I expect John LodgeJohn Lodge has not been identified. would be interested by those pieces with inscriptions. And, I regret to say, Kaleb says Mallon (for MyersGeorge Hewitt Myers (1875–1957), an American forester and collector who specialized in the collection of textile art. He founded the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., in 1925.) is biting at the Antinoé.

All my profound apologies—and in a few days I’ll be seeing old F.!! No rest for the wicked.


R. T.

Associated People: Hermann Fiedler; Paul Mallon
Associated Things: Kalebdjian Frères
Associated Artworks: BZ.1939.13; BZ.1939.14.1–25