In her 1887 textbook "History of Art for Beginners and Students" Clara Erskine Clement wrote:

A whole cargo of fragments of Babylonish tile-paintings was once collected for the gallery of the Louvre at Paris, and, when on board a ship and ready to be sent away, by some accident the whole was sunk.

From the descriptions of them which were written, we find that there were portions of pictures of human faces and other parts of the body, of animals, mountains, and forests, of water, walls, and trees.

Does anyone know anything of this accident?


1 Answer 1


It seems likely to me that Clement was referring to the "Qurnah Disaster", named after Al Qurnah in Iraq, about 75 km north of Basra:

In 1855, Al Qurnah was the site where local tribes attacked and sank a convoy of a ship and rafts carrying 240 cases of antiquities discovered by Victor Place's mission to Khorsabad, Rawlinson's to Kuyunjik and Fresnel's to Babylon. The loss of priceless antiquities was a notable disaster for those researching the antiquities of the region. Subsequent efforts to recover antiquities lost in the Qurnah Disaster, including a Japanese expedition in 1971-2, were largely unsuccessful.

The loss amounted to decades' worth of collections by several different archaeological expeditions.

A more detailed account is here; the report of the Japanese recovery effort is also interesting.

I don't know how widely known this story was a few decades later, when Clement wrote her book. I don't believe it was widely published until the 20th century.

  • 1
    It is quite noteworthy that the shipment 'disappeared' — in a river (big, but not that deep and the spot quite localised?) — and that the most satisfactory result of eg the Japanese effort was that all members of the team 'returned home safely'? IMO: it is not at all clear that the ship/shipment actually sank at all, but may have been raided or whatever. An amount of stuff lost "to open up 4 international museums" seems rather big to vanish just like told (perhaps include the circumstances of reporting this 'loss'?) Jun 20, 2022 at 14:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.