Unearthing 12-ton bull: tragic odyssey of Iran’s stolen artifacts at Louvre’s 230th anniversary
Unearthing 12-ton bull: tragic odyssey of Iran’s stolen artifacts at Louvre’s 230th anniversary
In the midst of the French Revolution, the National Assembly made an ingenious decision: transforming the Louvre into a magnificent museum, where the grandeur of the nation's masterpieces could be showcased for all to admire.

TEHRAN (Iran News) –In the midst of the French Revolution, the National Assembly made an ingenious decision: transforming the Louvre into a magnificent museum, where the grandeur of the nation’s masterpieces could be showcased for all to admire.

On August 10, 1793, the museum opened its doors, showcasing a remarkable exhibition of 537 paintings. Yet, the building itself carries a rich history, having been originally constructed as a fortress in the late 12th century.

The Louvre houses a breathtaking collection of artifacts representing a wide array of civilizations and cultures spanning the globe. The museum exhibits an extensive collection of artworks and artifacts from a wide range of nations, encompassing Persia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia, China, Japan, India and Africa among others.

The museum possesses an incredibly varied collection that presents a wide range of cultures and spans across different time periods. This includes a remarkable display of Persian art and artifacts, encompassing ancient Persia (known as present-day Iran) all the way to the Islamic era.

These invaluable treasures of Persian art and culture have been steadily procured and incorporated into the museum’s collection over time, making it challenging to pinpoint an exact date for when they first went on display.

For decades, the Louvre has granted visitors the opportunity to admire Persian artifacts. Yet, the presence of these treasures goes beyond celebrating artistry; it serves as a poignant reminder of a tumultuous history marked by removal and theft that continues to resonate through the ages.

These Persian artifacts, cherished symbols of Iran’s vibrant heritage, carry the burden of an unsettling history. Their journey to the Louvre Museum is shrouded in a tale of imperial power and the exploitation of cultural treasures.

In times of imbalanced power dynamics and a lack of respect for cultural ownership, these artifacts found their way into foreign hands, carried off from their ancestral homeland.

The transfer of Iranian antiquities to the Louvre Museum took place over a period of almost 90 years (1885-1979). During the reign of Naser al-Din Shah many privileges were granted to foreigners. During his reign, the French government obtained the excavation rights for Iranian antiquities, which was the beginning of the extensive and legal transfer of valuable ancient Iranian artifacts to Europe.

The first French excavations took place in 1885 and 1886 during the reign of Nasser al-Din Shah under the supervision of Marcel Dieulafoy. The main goal during this period was simply looting and stealing valuable Iranian antiquities, and no scientific archaeological operations were carried out.

In these excavations, a vast collection of objects and artifacts from the glorious civilization of the Achaemenid Empire at the Apadana Palace in Susa was discovered and transferred to France.

During this period, many important artifacts were discovered by the Dieulafoy group. For the giant pieces, the Dieulafoy group broke down each piece into smaller fragments and then placed them in large wooden crates to be sent to Paris, in violation of their archaeological excavation agreement with Iranian government. The broken pieces were reassembled in the Louvre Museum and put on display after reconstruction.

Madame Dieulafoy (Marcel’s wife and colleague) recounts in her book “Memoirs of the Excavations of Susa” how she managed to bring Iranian antiquities to France using various tricks. In a part of the book, she writes:

“Yesterday, I was watching with regret the large stone bull that was recently discovered. It weighs about twelve thousand kilograms! It is impossible to move such a massive object. Finally, I couldn’t control my anger, I took a hammer and started hitting the stone bull. As a result of my violent blows, the column split like a ripe fruit.”

Jacques de Morgan, the second supervisor of the French archaeologists who came to Iran, was in charge of the second group. He was a mining engineer and familiar with ancient scripts and languages. Unlike Dieulafoy, who was solely focused on looting antiquities, Jacques de Morgan had a greater interest in prehistoric studies and sought to discover and prove the roots and origins of human civilizations.

He managed to obtain exclusive excavation and digging rights in Susa through diplomatic relations and the efforts of Naser al-Din Shah’s personal physician. Then, he built a fortress-like structure in Susa, similar to medieval European castles, to protect his group’s discoveries from local bandits and the curiosity of government officials. In that fortress, he packed his findings in special boxes after initial studies and marking, and sent them to Paris.

Jacques de Morgan, who conducted valuable excavations, eventually resigned from his position in 1908 due to disagreements with other members of the archaeological group and the directors of the Louvre Museum. He handed over his work to his younger colleague, Ronald de Mecquenem.

Mecquenem expanded his range of studies and archaeological excavations in the Susa region and once again succumbed to the constant temptations of museum curators. He continued the search that the Dieulafoy team had started before.

Now, some believe that these artifacts are not merely masterpieces on display but stolen remnants of a nation’s soul. The call for their repatriation serves as a powerful reminder to return these cultural treasures to the land where they were born. This resonates deeply with Iranians who view these artifacts not as commodities but as part of their identity, historical tapestry, and collective memory.

The artifacts that now enchant viewers are a testament to a historical injustice that cannot be ignored.

Photo:  A double bull-capital from the Apadana Palace in Susa, one of the 36 columns that once supported the palace’s roof, on display in Louvre Museum.

  • source : Tehrantimes