"Mosse and Museum"

The Support of Berlin Publisher Rudolf Mosse (1843–1920) for the Egyptian Museum Berlin

Jana Helmbold-Doyé (Egyptologist, museum curator) and Thomas L. Gertzen (Egyptologist, historian) engaged in research into the history of Berlin’s Egyptian Museum and the provenance of its collection, have assembled an international team exploring the trade in Egyptian antiquities and museum history with the intention of determining the contribution of German-Jewish entrepreneur Rudolf Mosse to the development of Berlin’s Egyptian collection.

The number of objects donated by Mosse to the museum now stands at about 700. The bulk derives from excavations conducted by Egyptologist Heinrich Brugsch (1827–1894) and acquisitions he made during an extended journey to Egypt, 1891/92, which Mosse financed. The aim of the project is not only to establish facts and figures but also to consider the implications of patronage for:

  1. the history of Egyptology as a scholarly discipline
  2. the development of large museum collections
  3. provenance research
  4. the history of Jews in Germany

The cooperation with the Moses-Mendelssohn Centre for European-Jewish Studies in Potsdam, broadens the historical perspective on the collection of the Egyptian Museum from its focus on the Berlin cotton merchant James Simon (1851–1932), whose foremost biographer Olaf Matthes is a contributor to the planned publication. Other contributors – which include Patrizia Piacentini of the Egyptological Institute in Milan, as well as Fredrik Hagen and Kim Ryholt (authors of the recently published volume “The Egyptian Antiquities Trade in Egypt”) present new insights into how antiquities and Egyptian cultural heritage were “acquired” by European scholars and institutions. As an exemplary case study, Heike Schmidt publishes the results of her long-term research into the biography of the Brugsch brothers, Heinrich and Emil, and their roles as scholars, buyers, and sellers of Egyptian antiquities.

The project focusses on earlier phases of the Egyptian Museum’s history and aims at an overdue recognition of Jewish benefactors of the State Museums; the family-name of its protagonist is associated with the darkest period of German history –Rudolf Mosse’s private collection of art was confiscated by the National Socialists, and after his death auctioned off in 1934. Recently the State Museums have restituted several objects so acquired.

While the injustice and cruelty of that time shall never be forgotten, the project, however, proposes that Rudolf Mosse, or rather his family, should not be remembered only as “victims” of Nazi persecution but also as most generous benefactors of Berlin Museums.

The catalogue of some objects donated by Mosse, includes new insights into Egyptian art history; some of the most remarkable items among them are subject for the first time to scholarly study.

Project directors: Dr. Jana Helmbold-Doyé (Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung); Dr. Thomas L. Gertzen (Moses-Mendelssohn Zentrum für europäisch-jüdische Studien)
Project staff: Dr. Marianne Eaton-Krauss; Dipl. mus. Klaus Finneiser; Marius Gebhardt M.A.; Lara Golla BA; Elisabeth Greifenstein M.A.; Prof. Dr. Fredrik Hagen; Dr. Olaf Matthes; PD Dr. Jan Moje; Prof. Dr. Patrizia Piacentini; Prof. Dr. Kim Ryholt; Heike Schmidt
Funding: Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung
Duration: September 2015 until October 2017