Wednesday, April 4, 2012

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?


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