Mexico on Tuesday urged auction house Christie’s to cancel a planned sale in Paris of more than 30 artifacts dating back to the country’s pre-Hispanic era, saying the items are part of the national heritage and should be returned.
Christie’s plans to auction masks, carved stones and other figures by Aztec, Mayan, Toltec and Mixtec cultures on Feb. 9, with some expected to fetch as much as 900,000 euros ($1.1 million).
Mexico’s government-run National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) reviewed the items on sale and identified 32 as part of the country’s “cultural heritage.”
Diego Prieto, INAH’s director general, said the institute had filed a complaint with the Mexican attorney general’s office over the auction, and that the country’s foreign ministry is trying to retrieve the items through diplomatic channels.
Speaking in a virtual news conference, Prieto said “sacred” objects should not be for sale.
“There shouldn’t be trade in national treasures,” he said.
Christie’s did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Among stand-out items in the sale are a greenstone Teotihuacan Serpentine mask, dating from circa 450-650 AD, which Christie’s said “was part of the collection” of Pierre Matisse, the youngest son of the famous French painter Henri Matisse.
Another highlight is a sculpture of Cihuateotl, a goddess of fertility in Aztec culture. ($1 = 0.8304 euros)