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The Starving of Saqqara sculpture. Photo: Concordia UniversityThe Starving of Saqqara sculpture. Photo: Concordia University

The mystery of ‘The Starving of Saqqara’


Grotesque or beautiful? – Rare antiquity or outright fake? – For more than a decade Concordia University has investigated the origins of a mysterious sculpture. Once part of the Diniacopoulos Collection of Mediterranean antiquities, it has been in the university’s possession since 1999.

The Starving of Saqqara. Photo: Concordia University

The Starving of Saqqara. Photo: Concordia University

The 67-centimetre-high limestone work, with traces of pigments, depicts two nude seated figures with large heads. It also features inscriptions in an unidentified language.

To learn more about the artwork, Concordia’s Director of Special Projects and Cultural Affairs, Clarence Epstein, has consulted experts from Cambridge University, the British Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the Israel Museum and the Royal Ontario Museum.

So far, no authority has been able to confirm the sculpture’s pedigree.

One specialist commented that if it can be proven to date to the period when the Jews were exiled from Egypt, it could be one of the rarest finds of its kind,” says Epstein. “Another archaeologist suggested the statue was either from a predynastic tomb or was an outright fake.”

Swiss art historian Jean-Jacques Fiechter posits: “An experienced collector and connoisseur, such as Vincent Diniacopoulos, would not have bought this piece, nor shipped it at great cost to Canada, had it not been considered authentic.”

Vincent and Olga Diniacopoulos, who amassed a collection now dispersed in museums and private collections the world over, brought the work to Canada. Identified as The Starving of Saqqara, the sculpture was exhibited in the 1950s at their family-owned Galerie Ars Classica on Sherbrooke Street in Montreal. The name Saqqara refers to the vast burial ground in the ancient capital of Memphis in Egypt. However, how this region relates to the work or how it received the name remains part of the mystery.

The writing found on the sculpture has not as yet been identified as a known language. Photo: Concordia University

The writing found on the sculpture has not as yet been identified as a known language. Photo: Concordia University

March 16 to 18: Public display
Concordians and members of the public will have a rare opportunity to see and comment on The Starving of Saqqara, which remained in multiple fragments in a sealed crate for almost half a century.

For three days the sculpture will be displayed in the Atrium of Concordia’s Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Integrated Complex (EV, 1515 Ste-Catherine St. W.) next to the building’s security desk. It will be accessible from 10am on Wednesday, March 16 until 1pm on Friday, March 18.

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