Tuesday, September 16, 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, September 15, 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, September 11, 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, September 9, 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, September 8, 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, September 3, 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, September 2, 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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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Brazil's Cultural Heritage

There is a report in Attractions Management about the pillaging of cultural property in Brazil ("Brazilian states fight back to protect cultural heritage from trafficking", August 26, 2014). There is a small exhibition to mark objects that have been recovered. But the scale of acknowledged theft is huge:
Over the past 12 years, the Minas Gerais Office of the Public Prosecutor for Cultural Heritage and Tourism (CPPC) has recorded the loss of 700 objects of cultural value, though it estimates even more have been lost because most of the objects were never catalogued.
It looks as if this is another area where museums and private collectors need to adopt a more due diligence process before making an acquisition.

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