Tuesday 30 September 2014

Ka Nefer Nefer Mask: a review of its acquisition

I have now reviewed the available correspondence and memoranda for the acquisition (and related due diligence process) of the Ka Nefer Nefer mask purchased by the St Louis Art Museum. There is clearly new evidence that has not been discussed before and that did not appear to form part of the legal cases that concluded in 2014.

I am grateful to numerous colleagues who have assisted in pointing me to leads - and for making helpful comments.

The key questions are as follows:
a. What was the reported collecting history of the mask as known at the point of acquisition by SLAM?
b. How was the emerging collecting history (and documentation) verified?
c. How did SLAM curatorial staff respond to the February 1999 revelation that the mask had been excavated at Saqqara? Did they contact the Egyptian SCA?
d. Did SLAM curatorial staff contact Dr Zahi Hawass and the SCA when allegations were made about how the mask surfaced?
e. When was the identifying personal name removed from the hand on the mask?

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Thursday 25 September 2014

SLAM and the SCA

It is now clear that curators at SLAM knew that the Ka Nefer Nefer mummy mask (but with name removed) was the one excavated (with name intact) at Saqqara when they were informed by an Egyptologist in February 1999. I remain puzzled by the apparent lack of contact with the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA). Why did SLAM contact the Cairo Museum in 1997 (prior to the purchase) in preference to the SCA?

Were the authorities at SLAM ever advised to contact the SCA? Was that advice heeded?

There are continuing questions about the depth of rigour in the due diligence process both pre and post the acquisition of the mask.

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Tuesday 23 September 2014

Roman Sarcophagus due to be returned to Italy

Source: ICE
Ric St Hilaire has written about the likely return of the Roman sarcophagus lid to Italy ("Stipulation Puts a Lid on Litigation Over Roman Sarcophagus Cover Featured in the Becchina Archive", September 22, 2014). The sarcophagus was recognised from the Becchina archive. The sarcophagus has been handled by Noryioshi Horiuchi.

Horiuchi has been at the centre of the the Italian Operation Andromeda. Some 20000 antiquities have already been seized from the dealer.

If the sarcophagus is indeed returned to Italy it will increase the pressure on the Miho Museum in Japan to resolve Italian claims on a number of objects that have also featured in the seized photographic archives.

But where are the antiquities that Horiuchi has handled over time? Who purchased them? Which other dealers are linked?

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Monday 22 September 2014

Ka Nefer Nefer Mask: some clarification

I am very grateful to officials at SLAM for clarifying some of the collecting history of the Ka Nefer Nefer mask. It has now been confirmed that a SLAM conservator was informed by a European Egyptologist in February 1999 that the mask was the one excavated at Saqqara by Goneim (and subsequently published by him). It is not clear if curators at SLAM contacted the SCA immediately or if they waited seven years until they received a letter from Zahi Hawass in February 2006.

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Wednesday 17 September 2014

The identification of Ka Nefer Nefer

I have already reflected on the significance of 1999 for the collecting history of the Ka Nefer Nefer mask acquired by the St Louis Art Museum.

It now appears that a member of the curatorial team at SLAM was informed about the Saqqara link by an Egyptologist at a major encyclopedic museum less than a year after its acquisition.

This is correspondence that has not been mentioned in the discussion of the mask up to this point.

During the subsequent few months Sidney Goldstein seems to have been made aware of Charly Mathez's claim to have seen the mask in Belgium, and in late September 1999 Goldstein wrote to him for clarification. (Up to now it has not been clear what prompted Goldstein to write his letter.)

Did Goldstein write again to Mohammed Saleh in Cairo seeking further advice? Which Egyptian officials were contacted by SLAM curators in 1999 to check out the Saqqara story?

What additional due diligence steps did SLAM undertake to explore the emerging collecting history for the mask?

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Zakaria Goneim excavating in Egypt

Here is some archive footage of Zakaria Goneim excavating in Egypt.

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Tuesday 16 September 2014

Zakaria Goneim at Saqqara

Zahi Hawass discusses the excavations at Saqqara by Zakaria Goneim.

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The Ka Nefer Nefer Mask and 2005

Paul Barford has written about Michel van Rijn's public comments on the acquisition of the Ka Nefer Nefer mask by the St Louis Art Museum.

I am grateful to a reader of LM for sending me the archived link to van Rijn's post. Although it is not dated (there is an update on 18 December 2005), the correspondence confirms a date in December 2005.

Leaving aside style and presentation, what did van Rijn suggest and reveal?

  • the mask had been removed from the store at Saqqara
  • the name of the person responsible
  • the removal took place in the 1990s
  • the mask had been published by Goneim

In December 2005 this information had not been made public although it appears that SLAM curators had been advised of the Saqqara link and the Goneim publication some years before.

So how did van Rijn know this?

SLAM officials need to release documents that will outline what they knew and when.

And what did they do to investigate these claims?

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Monday 15 September 2014

The Ka Nefer Nefer Mask and the Saqqara link

In the spring of 1998 the St Louis Art Museum acquired the Ka Nefer Nefer mask that is now known to have been excavated at Saqqara. In late December 2005 a notice on the Museum Security Network drew attention to that association of find-spot. In January 2006 Brent R. Benjamin, the Director of SLAM, issued a memorandum in which he stated:
The St Louis Post-Dispatch, the Riverfront Times, and the Art Newspaper have made inquiries regarding the provenance of the Museum’s Mummy Mask, acquired in 1998. These inquiries resulted from an allegation, posted on an internet website, that the mask was stolen from storage of a Museum in Saqqarah, Egypt. You may visit the site at http://www.michelvanrijn.nl/artnews/st-louis.htm. In our opinion, it speaks for itself. Michael van Rijn is the proprietor of this website, based in the Netherlands, which is devoted to art theft issues. Mr. van Rijn has supplied no information in support of his accusation.
It should be noted that this website is no longer available.

SLAM needs to release the full set of documentation that would reveal when members of staff in the museum first became aware of the Saqqara association.

Serious questions will need to be raised if it becomes clear that SLAM staff knew about the link months or even years before December 2005 but did not contact the Egyptian authorities.

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Thursday 11 September 2014

The Ka Nefer Nefer mask and 1999

In the fall of 1999 Sidney Goldstein seems to have been very concerned to clarify when the Ka Nefer Nefer mask had surfaced on the 'Belgian' antiquities market. What new information had been received by the curatorial team?

Earlier today I requested a series of documents from the curatorial team at St Louis Art Museum. As far as I can see these letters have not been released - or some of them only in part.

I hope that in the interests of transparency those documents will be made public (and in full).

There is a growing possibility --- and I stress the possibility, no more --- that SLAM officials could have been aware of the Saqqara and Goneim link for several years before the information became public in late 2005.

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Tuesday 9 September 2014

Where was Ka Nefer Nefer displayed in Geneva?

Mask excavated at Saqqara
Last week I commented on issues about Sidney Goldstein's explicit statement that the Ka Nefer Nefer mask had been displayed in Geneva's Museum of Art and History. This was stated in a letter to the Cairo Museum apparently prior to acquisition. Indeed the letter has been cited as proof of the rigour of the due diligence process conducted by the curatorial team at the St Louis Art Museum.

It became clear last week that curatorial staff at Geneva's Musées d'art et d'histoire could find no clear record of the mask's display in the museum. Indeed there was a strong rejection of the link between the museum and the mask.

The letter to Cairo has not been placed in the public domain so some of the detail is unclear.

So was Goldstein mistaken? He had presumably been to Geneva to view the mask. Where did he see it? Was it in the museum? Or was it elsewhere? When did he see it?

We should also remember that the letter suggests that Goldstein's is asking about parallels for the mask.

Does the Goldstein letter contain two statements that could have been misleading? Does this undermine the claim that curatorial staff at SLAM conducted a rigorous due diligence process?

It would be helpful for SLAM to reveal details of the acquisition process in order to eliminate any uncertainty.

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Monday 8 September 2014

Shiva Returns to India

In August 2008 I commented on the Shiva acquired by the National Gallery of Australia.

The BBC has now reported that the museum will be returning the bronze to India along with another from the Art Gallery of New South Wales ("Australia to return 'stolen' Hindu statues to India", 5 September 2014). The story quoted a statement from the Australian Prime Minister's office:
Returning the sculptures "is testimony to Australia's good citizenship on such matters and the importance with which Australia views its relationship with India". 
I hope that the Prime Minister and his government team will reflect on how these two major museums acquired the objects in the first place. What went wrong with the due diligence process? How could museums in Australia adopt a more rigorous acquisition policy?

And what about the other objects that were derived from the same source? Will those same Australian museums be handing them over as well?

For the earlier statement from Canberra see here.

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Ka Nefer Nefer and the detached flake

Mummy mask excavated at Saqqara
Last week I commented on the existence of a photograph that predated the acquisition of the Ka Nefer Nefer mummy mask by the St Louis Art Museum. I was particularly interested in the issue of when the personal name had been erased. Paul Barford has now noted a flake of paint that seems to have become detached and wonders what caused it.

Could the removal of the name have destabilised the surface of the mask in the immediate area? And does this hint at when the name was removed?

It would be helpful for SLAM to release their conservation report on the mummy mask.

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Wednesday 3 September 2014

The mummy mask and the erased inscription

Mummy mask from Saqqara
The mummy mask that all now agree was excavated at Saqqara once had a hieratic inscription on the (right) hand, a feature observed by Paul Barford back in March 2011 ("A question for St Louis"). Paul has an image from Goneim's 1956 publication that shows the inscription quite clearly. Yet this personal name has been erased as K.M. Johnston's recent photo of the mask shows.

I have now seen an image of the mask taken c. 1997 (or perhaps a little before) that shows that the inscription had been erased prior to acquisition by the St Louis Art Museum.

So when was this name removed? At what point in the collecting history?

And why would someone want to remove a personal name that would have identified the mask?

Curators at SLAM never seem to have addressed this significant (lost) detail.

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Tuesday 2 September 2014

Goldstein, Geneva, and the Mummy Mask

Mummy mask excavated at Saqqara
It is known that Sidney Goldstein, the Associate Director of the St Louis Art Museum (SLAM) as well as the curator of Ancient Art, wrote a letter to Dr Mohammed Saleh, then director of the Cairo Museum, prior to the acquisition of the Egyptian mummy mask—known to have been excavated at Saqqara—by the museum in March 1998. The letter does not appear to have been released by SLAM, but a copy was made available to Malcolm Gay for his key article in February 2006. As the veracity of this letter has never been challenged we must assume its accuracy. (The letter was mentioned in a statement, "Press inquiry regarding provenance of mummy mask, 19.1998", issued by Brent Benjamin in January 2006.)

The letter includes a statement by Goldstein:
It [sc the mask] is currently on exhibition in the Egyptian exhibition at the Museum of Art and History in Geneva.
Goldstein, who also appears to have been a donor supporting the acquisition ("Sid Goldstein in memory of Donna and Earl Jacobs"), appears to be making a statement that the mask was on display in a major European museum. This claim would no doubt suggest to Saleh that the enquiry about "parallels" for the mask on display in Geneva was about a well-established object.

Was Goldstein mistaken about the venue? When was the mask displayed in the Musée d'histoire et d'art? What is the documentation for this exhibition?

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Another Bubon bronze head likely to be repatriated

It appears that a bronze head acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum from Nicolas Koutoulakis has been removed from display and appears to be...