Museum Security Network

Not forgotten: stolen Egyptian mask in Saint Louis Art Museum

The Mask of Kanefernefer List of Missing Artifacts

Stolen Ka Nefer Nefer mask in Saint Louis Art Museum

Date: New Kingdom, Dynasty 19, ca. 1295-1186 BC
Material: plaster, linen, resin, glass, wood, gold, and pigment
Provenance: Saqqara, Sekhemkhet Enclosure, burial of Kanefernefer
Inscriptions: One ancient inscription in ink on hand; later removed.
Excavated by: Mohammed Zakaria Goneim in 1951/52 for the Egyptian Antiquities Service
Publication: The Buried Pyramid, (London, 1956), Plate LXVIII
Status: Currently in the possession of: The St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
In the early 1950’s, Mohamed Zakaria Goneim discovered the burial of a 19th Dynasty noblewoman named Ka-nefer-nefer inside the 3rd Dynasty enclosure of Sekhemkhet at Saqqara. In 1959, Ka-nefer-nefer’s funerary mask, along with a number of other objects from Goneim’s excavations, was transported from the Saqqara storerooms to the Cairo Museum en route to Tokyo for inclusion in an exhibition that was never mounted. It was returned Saqqara, and then sent to the antiquities department conservation lab attached to the Egyptian Museum in 1966.
In 1973, many of the objects from the burial of Ka-nefer-nefer were registered at the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. The mask was not among these objects; since it was the most important object in the assemblage, we can infer that it was missing by that time.
In 1998, the Saint Louis Art Museum (SLAM) purchased this mask from Phoenix Ancient Art (owned by the Abouttam brothers, who have since been convicted on smuggling charges and sentenced to jail time in Egypt) for nearly half a million dollars. The provenance provided to SLAM with the mask is poorly documented and unconvincing; when coupled with SCA records, it can be shown clearly to be false: SLAM claims that the mask was given to Goneim by the Egyptian government following his discovery of it in 1952, and that the mask was seen overseas in 1953. This is not possible: Goneim, like any excavator working for the Egyptian government, would never have been awarded objects, and the SCA has clear documentation that the mask was in Egypt until at least 1966. Other parts of the alleged provenance can also be shown to be faulty, and it is the contention of the SCA that SLAM did not carry out due diligence before purchasing the mask. The mask is clearly stolen property, and must be returned to Egypt.
Dr. Zahi Hawass is currently in negotiations with Dr. Brent R. Benjamin of the St. Louis Art Museum and their respective legal counsels for the return of this mask. Anyone wishing to help the SCA put pressure on SLAM to return the mask can write a letter supporting our position to:
Dr. Brent Benjamin, Director
St. Louis Art Museum
One Fine Arts Drive
Forest Park, St. Louis, MO 63110-1380
Telephone 314.721.0072

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