The Meidum Geese Are Not A Fake – Part 2

In last week’s editorial I introduced my counter-arguments to Francesco Tiradritti’s theory that the Meidum Geese may be a fake. I would like now to publish the opinions of a number of colleagues on the subject. They are all famous archaeologists and art historians who are among the greatest experts when it comes to the art of the Old Kingdom. I believe that knowing their views will allow readers to understand better the debate.

the Meidum geese-JE 34571a-CG1742
The Meidum Geese © Sandro Vannini


Prof. Karol Myśliwiec, Director of the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures at the Polish Academy of Sciences, commented:

“Ignorance and arrogance turned out to be the best couple performing a dance called sensation. This is the only reflection that comes to one’s mind while reading the comparison of an Egyptian painting representing geese to Mona Lisa. The conclusion drawn from this “extremely” accurate juxtaposition (what would Leonardo da Vinci say about it?) is “evident”: the geese from Meydum are a fake.

Finding a fake evidently became a dream of some Egyptologists. Arguments are not important; important is the hunger of sensation characterizing particularly the readers who are not prepared for a personal analysis of art objects. Looking for an Ancient Egyptian “Mona”, one should rather turn to masterpieces of painting and relief found in Old Kingdom tombs in Saqqara and New Kingdom tombs in Thebes.

Among the Old Kingdom examples, there is a rock-hewn chapel of the mastaba of vizier Merefnebef, discovered and published recently by the Polish-Egyptian archaeological mission west of the pyramid of Djoser. Not only the portraits of the tomb owner and his four consorts, decorating the walls of the chapel, but also a scene of fowling, preserving magnificent polychromy of various species of birds and other animals, as well as the representation of a shepherd with his large size geese, provide arguments for the authenticity of the Meydum painting. Concerning the identification of the various species of geese, based on their colours, particularly important is what Karol Myśliwiec concludes on p. 134 of his publication (K. Mysliwiec et all., The Tomb of Merefnebef, Saqqara I, Warsaw 2004, Text, p. 134): «The artist evidently seeks to satisfy two various requirements of his creation: a zoological exactness and variety of artistic expression. This may particularly be observed in the representations of two species that occur more frequently than any other ones: the Pied Kingfisher (e.g. in the Common Genet group), and the Egyptian goose (e.g. in the Egyptian Mongoose group). While the sober naturalistic colouring of the first bird is always very uniform, the colouristic diversity in the representations of the geese seems to first of all satisfy the artist’s imagination.»”

Dr Edward Brovarski, an Egyptologist from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, said to me:

“I find Tiradritti’s summary of his article on the Meidum geese disconcerting. You might want to have a look at Ogden Goelet’s very interesting article on the painting in BES 5 (1983), pp. 41-60. He says the Bean goose and the Red-breasted goose are indeed quite rare in Egypt, but notes that a specimen of the latter was found in Egypt some time before 1930. Tiradritti’s point is that that the Red-breasted goose rarely winters as far south as the Aegean coast of Greece and Turkey. But Goelet provides that example, which shows the Red-breasted goose did on occasion migrate to Egypt.

Tiradritti thinks Vassali painted the Meidum geese. But, as he himself points out, Vassali makes no mention of the geese in his manuscripts despite the fact that ‘he used to mention his exploits even years after he made them.’ More to the point, why would Vassali depict a Red-breasted goose, which supposedly never winters in Egypt, since this would be a clear giveaway to anyone in the know that the painting was a modern forgery?”

Finally, Dr Richard Redding, from the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology of the University of Michigan, cleared any doubt I could have by saying:

If you are further questioned on the authenticity of the Meidum geese, I thought you would like to know that the Bean goose was found in Egypt. Bones of the bean goose have been found at Ma’adi and Tell el-Daba’a. I have also identified 14 bones of the Bean goose from Giza and two Bean geese were found in the refuse of Tutankhamun’s funerary meal.

The Red-breasted goose is a rare visitor to Egypt. It has been seen at Alexandria in 1874 and near Damietta in 1882. It has been so heavily hunted in the last two hundred years that its population is severely reduced as is its range.

I hope the opinions of these experts shed light on the issue. I will keep readers posted if the debate further develops.

Zahi Hawass