The art world was rocked last week. Jean-Luc Martinez, former director of the Louvre, has been charged with complicity in fraud and money laundering. This is due to the acquisition of supposedly looted antiquities for the timeless assortment of the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
The Louvre then announced that it had filed a petition to open a prison investigation as a civil matter. This could allow the Parisian museum to suffer financial damage if it is ruled in its favor that it was immediately harmed by an alleged trafficking ring.
A worldwide investigation is currently linked to the $56 million sales of properties to the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Metropolitan Museum of Art between 2013 and 2017.
But as the details soften, one scholar seems to have held a prominent position: Marc Gabolde, a French specialist in historical Egypt and a professor at the Paul Valery University in Montpellier. Gabolde, famous for investigating missing Egyptian artifacts, knew about the Louvre in the past about the mysterious origin of one item.
In 2018, Marc Gabolde, a specialist on the young pharaoh Tutankhamen, began research on an unusually well-preserved pink granite stela depicting the pharaoh, made shortly before his death around 1318 B.C.E. The stele, which is now at the center of an investigation into Martinez’s involvement, was bought by the Louvre Abu Dhabi in 2016 for €8.5 million with the approval of the Louvre in Paris and Agence France-Muséums, which runs France’s top public museums.
Jean-Luc Martinez was in charge of the Louvre at the time and was president of the scientific committee of the Agence France-Museums, which was tasked with authenticating the provenance of works of art destined for Louvre Abu Dhabi’s acquisition. He remained in every position until the last 12 months.
By 2019, Marc Gabolde had collected several purple flags indicating the stele’s dubious provenance. The main indicator was that the article belonged to the Egyptian service provider Habib Tawadros in the 30s. Tawadros may also be related to the gold sarcophagus of the Egyptian priest Nejemankh, bought by the Met in 2017, which was confiscated by US authorities and returned to Egypt in 2019.
Marc Gabolde shared his preliminary findings with Vincent Rondo, head of the Egyptian department of the Louvre, and Olivier Perdue, editor of the Revue d’Egyptologie, with whom he eventually published an article on the stele and Jean-Luc Martinez.
While examining the stele, Gabolde compiled a list of items believed to have belonged to Tawadros and offered them to a German navy officer often named Johannes Behrens. According to Marc Gabolde, two objects are already problematic. When he suggested this to his colleagues, they thought that the results of the investigation were inconvenient and unpleasant for the bloodline of the stela, Marc Gabolde said.
Ultimately, Gabolde’s conclusions about the origin of the stele were not conclusive, Perdu reported, with a characterization that Gabolde agreed with. In addition, Perdu mentioned that at that time he did not notice a single element that would allow him to verify the fraudulent origin of the stele.