The UK government has declined to issue the export licence in the hope a UK institution can raise the funds to keep the limestone relief in the country for further study of the Amarna period, Egyptology, art history and early human societies.
The relief depicts the women lying on mats asleep with their instruments (harps, lutes and box lyres) close at hand and a brazier in each room to keep them warm. They were part of the entourage of Akhenaten and his queen Nefertiti.
The c.1351-1334BC relief had been sold on July 6, 2022, at Christie’s Antiquities sale in London. An export licence was applied for but the UK government is giving a UK institution until April 22 to raise funds toward the £69,300 needed (including the auction fees paid by the owner) plus VAT of £2860 (which can be reclaimed by an eligible institution).
Arts and heritage minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said: “This limestone relief offers a beguiling glimpse into daily life in the Amarna Period of Ancient Egypt and is hugely valuable to academics researching this fascinating period of history. I hope a UK buyer can come forward so this important artefact can be enjoyed and studied here.”
The minister’s decision follows the advice of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest.
Committee member Pippa Shirley said: “Glimpses of the private lives of servants from this period are immensely rare, and this one, in the revolutionary style developed by Akhenaten for the palaces and temples at his new capital city, Amarna, is unparalleled.
“The king and queen oversaw the design and execution of the decorative schemes, and encouraged not only greater artistic freedom and naturalistic composition, but a growing interest in reflecting the lives of ordinary people. Although only a fragment, the light the relief casts on aspects of art, culture and daily life during the reign of one of the most intriguing rulers of ancient Egypt means that every effort should be made to keep it in this country.”