The Met, Amid an Audit of its Holdings, Returns an Ancient Statue to Iraq

The Met, Amid an Audit of its Holdings, Returns an Ancient Statue to Iraq


The Metropolitan Museum of Art said on Tuesday it has returned a Sumerian sculpture dating from the third millennium B.C. to Iraq and described the repatriation as a product of the museum’s more intensive efforts to review the provenance of items in its collection.

The ancient artifact had been in the museum’s collection for nearly 70 years.

“The Met is committed to the responsible collecting of antiquities and to the shared stewardship of the world’s cultural heritage,” Max Hollein, the museum’s director, said in a statement. “We are honored to collaborate with the Republic of Iraq on the return of this sculpture, and we value the important relationships we have fostered with our colleagues there.”

Museum officials did not address what research had led to the return of the copper alloy sculpture, titled “Man Carrying a Box, Possibly for Offerings.The museum said the artifact dates from around 2900–2600 B.C, and had been part of its collection since 1955 when it was bought by the museum.

The Met said the artifact had been on display there in recent decades until some galleries were closed and the works removed during renovations beginning in January 2023. The figure had also been included in special exhibitions at the Met and elsewhere, it said. The artifact was possibly a temple object depicting the figure of a nude man carrying a box on his head, possibly an offering.

“After provenance research by the Museum’s scholars established that the works rightfully belong to the Republic of Iraq, the Museum met with H.E. Nazar Al Khirullah, Ambassador of the Republic of Iraq to the United States of America and offered to return the work,” the museum said in a news release. The return of the statue was marked by a ceremony in Washington, D.C., attended by Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani.

The Met last year announced a major new effort to scour its collections for looted art after facing increasing scrutiny from law enforcement officials, academics and the news media over the degree to which its collection included objects that had possibly been stolen.

It announced a decision to hire a provenance research team, and last month said it had appointed a Sotheby’s executive, Lucian Simmons, to fill the newly created position of head of provenance research, starting in May.

Like museums all over the world, the Met has been buffeted in recent years by growing calls to restitute works that law enforcement officials and foreign governments have said it has no right to.

In recent years, for example, the Manhattan district attorney’s office has seized dozens of antiquities from the museum to return them to countries including Turkey, Egypt and Italy.

As part of a new push for transparency, the details of all returned objects, like the Iraqi artifact, will remain on the Met’s website even after repatriation, it said.


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