February 16, 2011

Ton Cremers Weighs in on the lawsuit by the St. Louis Art Museum on Keeping the Ka-Nefer-Nefer Mask

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

Questions have arisen about the legal status of an 3,200 year-old Egyptian mummy mask from a noblewoman at the court of Ramses II that has belonged to the St. Louis Art Museum for more than two decades.

The Ka-Nefer-Nefer mask, with its inlaid glass eyes and shimmering plaster face, has been on display since the museum purchased it in 1998 from a New York art dealer for $499,000, according to Jennifer Mann, reporting for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on “stltoday.com” in the article “Art museum sues to keep Egyptian mummy mask.”

Ton Cremers, security consultant, and operator of the website news service, Museum Security Network in The Netherlands, is mentioned in the lawsuit that cites numerous emails Mr. Cremers sent to government officials in 2005 and 2006 call for an investigation, according to Mann.

I reached Mr. Cremers in Rome and he, traveling on with an iPad and without his usual computer, referred us to his response today that he posted on the MSN Google Group:
Ton Cremers: There is NO doubt whatsoever that this mask was stolen from a storage in Saqqara. One does not need to be surprised that the infamous Aboutaam brothers were the ones selling this mask. They are 'renowned' for trading in dubious antiquities without any provenance. In this case they just made up a fake provenance: supposedly the mask had been part of a Swiss private collection. Yes, Switzerland again....

Anybody who has read Peter Watson's books, Sotheby's The Inside Story and The Medici Conspiracy, knows that the Swiss route should be distrusted. The Aboutaam fake provenance was very easy to unmask because the Swiss collector mentioned by them in the provenance had never heard about this mask.

According to the ICOM deontological code, no museum should keep stolen objects, no matter any legal context. There is a knack in this case: the Saint Louis Art Museum is not a member of ICOM and apparently does not mind the ICOM ethical code. If they had been an ICOM Member, they should have been thrown out of this organization immediately. It is an outright lie that they performed due diligence when achieving this mask, for they did not.

In my view, Brent Benjamin, the director of the SLAM, is nothing else than an outright buyer of stolen property (yes, I am aware that his predecessor actually bought the mask). His standpoint is that Egypt must prove that the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mask was stolen. That is putting the world upside down. One thing is sure beyond any doubt: The mask was not excavated in Missouri.

The Ka-Nefer-Nefer mask must return to Egypt as quickly as possible.
ARCA blog: Is it appropriate to mention your emails in the lawsuit and how will this impact the Museum Security Network?
Ton Cremers: I really do not know who quoted my 2005 - 2008 messages about the Ka Nefer Nefer mask in the present law suit. As far as I am concerned there is no objection against using my messages since all of these have been sent publicly. Using these messages will not have any impact on the Museum Security Network. At least not any negative impact. It really shows that the MSN is regarded as a very serious factor in the struggle against illicit trade in cultural goods.


The St Louis Art Museum is a member of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD). The museum authorities need to produce the authenticated documentation to show the mask's collecting history since its excavation. For further discussion see here.

Post a Comment