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Egyptian mask to stay at St. Louis Art Museum

A 3,200-year-old mummy mask located in gallery 130 inside the St. Louis Art Museum isn’t going anywhere soon. 

Mummy Mask of the Lady Ka-nefer-nefer [Credit: Saint Louis Art Museum]
U.S. District Court Judge Henry Autry made that decision earlier this week, according to court documents filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Missouri. 

The government, represented by U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan, filed a claim in March 2011 stating that the “Mummy Mask of the Lady Ka-nefer-nefer” (1295-1186 BC) had entered the country illegally and should be retuned to the property of Eygpt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities. 

According to court documents, the U.S. government alleges the mask was “packed for shipping” to Cario, Egypt in preparation for an exhibit in Tokyo. After a few trips in Egypt, the mask was declared “missing” in 1973. While the government declared the item to be out of Egyptian's possession, it was unable to provide specific facts to show the mask was indeed stolen in the first place. 

Dr. Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities and Egypt’s chief archaeologist, accused the St. Louis Art Museum of stealing the mask from a storage room in Saqqara, Egypt, near the site where it was excavated in 1952. 

Brent Benjamin, St. Louis Art Museum director, said the museum researched the mask’s origin before acquiring it. Benjamin said the museum went as far as contacting the Art Loss Register and Interpol to see if the mask was listed on one of their databases of stolen art. David Linenbroker, a partner at Husch Blackwell, represented the museum during the court process. 

“The verified complaint does not provide a factual statement of theft, smuggling or clandestine importation,” U.S. District Court Judge Henry stated in court documents. “Rather, the complaint merely states that the mask was found to be ‘missing’ from Egypt in 1973.” 

The museum bought the mask in 1998 from New York dealer Phoenix Ancient Art for $499,000. The government has 60 days to file for an appeal. 

Author: Matthew Hibbard | Source: St. Louis Business Journal [April 04, 2012]

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