Saint Louis Art Museum Wins Court Battle Over Ancient Egyptian Mask


The Mask of Lady Ka-Nefer-Nefer at the Saint Louis Art Museum.
  • The Mask of Lady Ka-Nefer-Nefer at the Saint Louis Art Museum.
U.S. District Court Judge Henry Autrey has rejected the U.S. attorney's office suit against the Saint Louis Art Museum in the case of the ancient Egyptian artifact, the Mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer.

The government filed the suit in order to return the mask to the Egyptian government, which claimed it had been stolen and then illegally removed from the country. With the court victory, the mask will remain at the Saint Louis Art Museum, although the U.S. attorney's office has 60 days to appeal the decision.

The U.S. government's case was based on civil forfeiture laws, and that was where Judge Autrey found fault; in his March 31 ruling, he noted that the government did not provide any proof that mask was "stolen, smuggled, clandestinely imported or introduced," merely that the mask had been shipped to the Egyptian Museum in  Cairo in 1966, and that the box it was supposed to be in was found empty in 1973. The Saint Louis Art Museum acquired the piece from Phoenix Ancient Art in 1998.

So where was the mask in those intervening years?

That mystery was the source of Malcolm Gay's gripping feature story "Out of Egypt," which the Riverfront Times published in 2006. It's a long read, but well worth your time. When you've finished, perhaps you'll want to head over to the Saint Louis Art Museum, where the Mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer remains on display.

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Riverfront Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Riverfront Times Club for as little as $5 a month.