Stolen mosque lamps to return to Egypt as Cairo museum houses new database

Authorities confirmed the objects had been taken from national collection and fakes left in their place


Three rare Mamluk mosque lamps that had been stolen and then offered for private sale are to be repatriated to Egypt. The authorities confirmed that the lamps had been stolen from the national collection and fakes left in their place. The Art Newspaper first reported the suspected thefts in December 2014.

One of the lamps is now in the Egyptian Embassy in London, while two are in the United Arab Emirates, awaiting transport to Cairo, according to Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities.

Scholars raised the alarm after photographs of the Medieval lamps—which have previously sold for up to $2m on the legitimate market—circulated among dealers and collectors, with one even including a catalogue number. One was subsequently bought for £500,000. Egyptian experts examined similar lamps held at the new National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation and concluded they were replicas.

The Cairo museum subsequently decided to house a database of artefacts, that the Ministry is developing, to prevent “cultural racketeering”. This move has been welcomed amid the ongoing political upheaval in Egypt.

“The database is extremely important,” says Doris Behrens-Abouseif, the author and professor of Islamic art and archaeology at London’s School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS). “It’s a shame that it didn’t exist until now.”

Meanwhile, claims arose over three other suspect Egyptian items listed for sale at London auction houses in 2015.


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