Thursday, February 16, 2006

The St Louis Mask controversy

The mysterious voyage of the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mask
A long feature (10 pages - easier to read in Print view) about the discovery and subsequent travels of the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mask now in the St Lousi Art Museum: "Unlike the smooth-sided pyramids of later dynasties, Djoser's is built of smaller stone blocks that incline toward a central core of rubble. As Goneim's excavation progressed, the new site's structural similarity to Djoser led the archaeologist to believe he might have uncovered the 'buried' pyramid of a hitherto-unknown pharaoh of the Third Dynasty. . . . Fueling his excitement were the scores of more recent burials his crew had encountered atop the pyramid's core, the earliest of which dated from the Nineteenth Dynasty (1293-1185 B.C.). . . . Among the many burials Goneim discovered atop the pyramid, one in particular caught his eye: the unmummified body of a woman, wrapped in a simple reed mat. Her remains, which dated to the Nineteenth Dynasty, were badly decomposed, but she wore an elaborate mask over her head and shoulders. Her face, covered by a thin sheet of blended copper and gold, peeked from beneath an intricate resin wig molded into plaits. The diadem that crowned her head was made of glass, as were her eyes and nipples. In each hand she held an amulet symbolizing strength and welfare; etched across her folded arms was a scene depicting the encounter between Osiris, the Egyptian god of the dead, and the woman's spiritual double in the afterlife, known as her ka. Goneim dubbed the woman Ka-Nefer-Nefer: the Twice-Beautiful Ka. So taken was Goneim with Ka-Nefer-Nefer (pronounced caw nef-er nef-er) that he would publish photographs of the mask in three subsequent books about the excavation. But amid the excitement of the dig in 1952, her fate was obscured. She would disappear from public view for nearly 50 years. More precisely, until 1998, when the Saint Louis Art Museum purchased the mask for a half-million dollars from Phoenix Ancient Art, an antiquities dealership owned by the Lebanese brothers Hicham and Ali Aboutaam. . . . But while the story of Ka-Nefer-Nefer's discovery is well known, her flight out of Egypt remains a mystery.
See the above article for the entire story.

Who owns the St Louis Mask?
"The St Louis Art Museum is facing allegations that an ancient Egyptian mask in its collection was stolen from a warehouse in Saqqara, Egypt in the 1980s. Dr Zahi Hawass, head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), told The Art Newspaper that he believes the so-called Mask of Ka-nefer-nefer was removed from Egypt illegally and that the SCA is now taking steps to launch an official restitution request. Questions about the mask’s provenance were first raised by Ton Cremers, the Dutch moderator of the on-line Museum Security Mailing List, who sent an open letter to St Louis Art Museum director Brent Benjamin requesting information about how the mask had made its way into the museum collection. . . . Dr Raven says the storeroom at Saqqara, which contained finds from the Anglo-Dutch excavations (organised by the Egypt Exploration Society in London and the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden), was looted 'after 1985'. Dr Raven, who witnessed the damage to the warehouse first-hand, says that after this theft, the storage facility was dismantled and the remaining contents relocated."

The Egyptian Cultural Heritage Organization are currently taking an interest in the fate of the mask and further information should be available shortly.

No comments: