A museum in Israel has postponed planned auctioning of dozens of rare Islamic antiques, including centuries-old carpets, armor and ceramics from across the Middle East, after news of the sale sparked outrage.
The LA Mayer Museum of Islamic Art in Jerusalem had planned to put 190 pieces on the block in the British auction house Sotheby’s on Tuesday and to auction more than 60 antique clocks and timepieces later that week. The rare items are expected to fetch millions of dollars.
In a statement released Monday, the museum said the auction was suspended following a positive dialogue with Israel’s Ministry of Culture and in response to a personal appeal by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.
In the statement, the Hermann de Stern Foundation, the facility’s main donor, stated that the collection was privately owned and that the sale was legally permissible.
“The Foundation’s management hopes that the postponement will make it possible to reach agreements that are also acceptable to the Ministry of Culture in the coming weeks,” it said.
The Israeli ministry condemned the sale and promised to do everything possible to prevent it.
On Monday, Rivlin said he was following the problem with “concern” and urged authorities to prevent the sale of such cultural goods.
In a statement, he said the items were “of greater value and importance than their monetary value”.
The works on offer include early Koran leaves, Ottoman textiles, pottery from all Islamic countries, a 15th century helmet that can be worn over a turban, a 12th century bowl with a Persian prince, metalwork inlaid with silver and Islamic weapons and armor, according to Sotheby’s website.
Financially tight, the LA Mayer Museum is auctioning dozens of rare items despite rare criticism https://t.co/PHA5TEYkaD
– Haaretz.com (@haaretzcom) October 26, 2020
Founded in 1965, the museum was founded by Vera Salomons, the scion of a British-Jewish aristocratic family, and named after Leo Arie Mayer, a prominent scholar of the Middle East.
It houses thousands of Islamic artifacts from the 7th to 19th centuries. There is also a collection of antique clocks passed down by the Salomons family, including dozens from Breguet.
The museum is closed for much of the year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the auction has reportedly been in the works for two years.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on Monday that the museum was facing further financial burdens.
The artifacts for sale are expected to raise as much as $ 9 million, according to Sotheby’s, which has not yet confirmed the postponement of the auction.
The museum has a collection of antique clocks passed down from the Solomons family [File: Bernat Armangue/AP Photo]Nava Kessler, chairman of the Israeli Museums Association, said it was unethical and outrageous for a museum to sell items to private collectors.
“It’s a very bad thing,” Kessler told The Associated Press. “I was so ashamed that it happened in Israel.”
Israeli Culture Minister Hili Tropper said authorities were surprised to learn in recent weeks that such a “valuable and unprecedented” sale was in the works.
“We will use all legal and public means to prevent the sale of these inalienable assets of the Islamic Museum in Jerusalem,” he said in a statement, adding that the pieces have “great historical and artistic value”.
The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) was able to prevent two artifacts from being auctioned because they had been discovered in Israel. But the museum was able to send the remaining items to London.
Michael Sebbane, the IAA’s director of national treasures, said officials were “in shock” when they heard of the sale, indicating a “lack of professionalism”.
“They sell items that are very important and unique, and once they sell them the public will have lost them,” he said.
“If a private collector buys them, you won’t see them again.”