Mexico attempts to halt German auction of Pre-Colombian artefacts

Mexico attempts to halt German auction of Pre-Colombian artefacts

Two female figures made of reddish clay from Tlatilco in the Mexican Central Highlands, around 1500-550 BC, being offered for sale at Gerhard Hirsch Nachfolger with an estimate of € 3,000

The Mexican government has stepped up its campaign to end the international sales of pre-Colombian artefacts.  Earlier this week, Alejandra Fraustro, the Mexican Secretary of Culture wrote to the Munich-based dealer, Gerhard Hirsch Nachfolger in an attempt to halt an auction—scheduled for Tuesday 21 September—of 74 artefacts, which the Instituto Nacional de Arqueologia e Historia (INAH) has designated as “national patrimony” belonging to the people of Mexico.

In her letter, Fraustro highlighted a 1934 Mexican law which prohibits the export of items of archeological importance. The culture secretary also reiterated the Mexican government’s renewed commitment to safeguard works deemed to be national heritage, and to seek the return of other works suspected of having been removed illegally or trafficked.

According to the online catalogue for the sale, the pieces include a selection of figures from the areas of Michoacan and Veracruz. A figure of Cihuateotl, the Mexica or Aztec goddess of women who died in childbirth, dated between 300-900 AD, has a reserve price of €5,000 while an Olmec mask has an estimate of €100,000. Francisco Quiroga, Mexico’s ambassador in Germany, visited Munich this week and spoke to Francisca Bernheimer, the head of Gerhard Hirsch Nachfolger and niece of the firm’s founder. The embassy did not respond to a request for comment, but it appeared that the sale would go ahead, at the time of this article’s publication .

A green nephrite Olmec mask of a dignitary, around 1500-600 BC, offered for sale at Gerhard Hirsch Nachfolger with an estimate of €100,000

Quiroga said on social media that several wealthy people “who have a great love for Mexico”, including some involved in the country’s profitable mining sector, had offered to purchase the items in order to return them to Mexico. While he said he appreciated the offer, he thought it would not be appropriate as it would “fuel the trade in stolen artefacts”, the ambassador posted . Without going into more detail, he added that INAH has identified one of the items as a fake.

Bernheimer, who some years ago expanded the company’s sales to include items from the ancient world alongside the coins and medals it is known for, declined to speak to The Art Newspaper. In a statement, however, she strongly denied suggestions that any of the works are fakes and said they have all been fully authenticated. Some individual works—including the Olmec mask—had additionally been checked against The Art Loss Register, she added, which tracks stolen works.

Chris Marinello of Art Recovery told The Art Newspaper that “the right thing to do is pull the works from sale and sort it out.”

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