Skip to main content

St Louis Art Museum: "we would do the right thing"

i was very struck by the 2010 words of St Louis Art Museum spokeswoman Jennifer Stoffel when talking about the dispute between SLAM and Egypt over the mummy mask that was excavated at Saqqara:
we would do the right thing ... if there was something that refuted the legitimacy of the provenance.
The Missouri legal decision over the mask should raise serious concerns for the museum authorities. The legal statement demonstrates at that the mask's presence was documented up to 1966, and that it seems to have gone missing by 1973.

I have rehearsed the collecting history of the mask elsewhere. Laura Elizabeth Young has also had access to the documentation at SLAM.

Let me repeat the alleged history of the mask here (as it is presented by SLAM and the Swiss dealer that sold the mask):
b. The mask was given to an official associated with the excavations. There appears to be no paperwork to support this. (Indeed Goneim in his report, The Buried Pyramid (1956), thanked the Department of Antiquities of the Egyptian Government, Cairo. The implication is that at the time of going to press the mask was in a government store.) 
The following sequence is based on documentation provided by Phoenix Ancient Art:
c. Mask seen in 1952 at an antiquities dealer in Brussels. This depends on the testimony of a Swiss national, Charly Mathez made in February 1997. SLAM contacted Mathez in 1999 but he could not remember the details or the name of the gallery. Could he really be certain that the mask he claimed to see in Brussels 45 years earlier was indeed the same one? 
d. Mask purchased "by a private collector" in approximately 1962 ("ten years later"). This is named as the "Kaloterna Collection". 
e. The private collector sold the mask to "an unnamed Swiss citizen, in whose private collection it would remain for 40 years". It is noted that the "Swiss collector requested anonymity". The Riverfront Times identified the individual as "Zuzi Jelinek of 84 Quai de Cologny, Geneva, Switzerland"; they confirmed that a "Suzana Jelinek-Ronkuline" lived at that address. (Her son is said to have offered the information that the Aboutaam brothers once rented a property on Quai de Cologny belonging to his mother. The Riverfront Times then reported, "Hicham Aboutaam directed the Riverfront Times to a woman identifying herself as Suzana Jelinek, of Zagreb, Croatia. 'I bought the mask many many years ago, and I sold it many many years ago,' says Suzana Jelinek when reached at her Zagreb home. 'I have so many things in my collection that my children don't know what all I have.'")
If we accept the Missouri legal version of the collecting history of the mask that confirms its presence in 1966 we need to conclude:
1. The mask was not given to an official connected with the excavation. We should also note that the excavator died in 1959. 
2. The mask was not at an antiquities dealer in Brussels in 1952. The testimony of Charly Mathez appears to be mistaken. 
3. The mask was not in the "Kaloterna Collection" in 1962.
This raises questions about when the mask entered the "collection" of Zuzi Jelinek. How reliable is her testimony?

The legitimacy of the "official" collecting history ("provenance") of the mask seems to have been brought into question by the court case. SLAM has stated that they would "do the right thing" if the legitimacy of the provenance was flawed.

Will the museum now do the ethical and professional "right thing" and return the mask to Egypt?


Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Getty Kouros: "The moral is, never ever buy a piece without a provenance"

In the wake of the 1992 Athens conference to discuss the Getty kouros (85.AA.40), one of the delegates, a "distinguished" American museum curator, was quoted ("Greek sculpture; the age-old question", The Economist June 20, 1992):
The moral is, never ever buy a piece without a provenance.
The recent discussions about the return of antiquities from North American museums to Italy and Greece may seem far removed from the acquisition of what appears to be a forged archaic Greek sculpture in the 1980s. However, there are some surprising overlaps.

The statue arrived at the Getty on September 18, 1983 in seven pieces. True (1993: 11) subsequently asked two questions:
Where was it found? As it was said to have been in a Swiss private collection for fifty years, why had it never been reassembled, though it was virtually complete?
A similar statue surfacing in the 1930s
A decision was taken to acquire the kouros in 1985. The official Getty line at the time (and reported in Russell…

Symes and a Roman medical set

Pierre Bergé & Associés of Paris are offering a rare Roman bronze medical set (16 May 2018, lot 236). Its recorded history is: "Ancienne collection Hishiguro, Tokyo, 1992". The catalogue entry helpfully informs us that the set probably came from a burial ("Cette trousse de chirurgien a probablement été découverte dans une sépulture ...").

The set appears to be the one that has been identified by Dr Christos Tsirogannis from an image in the Schinousa archive thus linking it to Robin Symes.

Given that the catalogue entry suggests that this piece came from a funerary context and that the history of the piece can only be traced back to 1992 (and not to 1970), questions are being raised about the set's origins.

What due diligence was conducted on the medical set prior to offering it for sale? Did Symes sell the set to Hishiguro? How did Symes obtain the set? Who sold it to him?

I understand that the appropriate authorities in France are being informed about the …

The Minoan Larnax and the Michael C. Carlos Museum

I was recently asked to comment on the acquisition of recently surfaced antiquities in Greece as part of an interview. One of the examples I gave was the Minoan larnax that was acquired by the Michael C. Carlos Museum. Although this piece has been discussed in the Greek press, the museum has not yet responded to the apparent identification in the Becchina archive.

Is the time now right for the Michael C. Carlos Museum or the wider authorities at Emory University to negotiate the return of this impressive piece so that it can be placed on display in a museum in Greece?