TITLE: Mummy mask
CULTURE: Ancient Egypt
PERIOD: Late Ptolemaic – Early Roman Period, c. 50 BC - 50 AD
MATERIAL: Cartonnage; linen, stucco and pigments
SIZE: Height 36 cm
PRICE: 18,500 €
PROVENANCE: Private European collection formed in the 1980s
CONDITION: In good general condition conserving the original polychrome.
This is a mask to cover the head of a mummy once the process of mummification had been completed. It was made by the technique of cartonnage which consists of a number of strips of linen (sometimes old papyrus was used) placed over each other and stuck together using tar to give the piece consistency. Later it would be covered with a fine layer of stucco to produce a smooth surface so that the polychrome could be applied.
The characteristics of this mask are those common in the late period of Egyptian history. A large part of the head is covered by a blue tripartite wig tucked behind protruding ears and revealing the face just above the eyebrows. It is an idealized face, not at all a real portrait as these did not appear until the Roman period with the “El-Fayum portraits”. The face is of a gold colour and this bears a marked religious sense as the flesh of the gods was considered to be made of gold.
The funeral mask was a basic element of the grave goods as it represented the face of the deceased. It was similar in meaning to the statues of Ka, the reserve heads of the Old Kingdom, or the masks of the sarcophagi. The idea was that if the mummy underwent any sort of mishap, the Ba of the deceased - its spirit that went out of the body every day to "live" in the Afterlife- could still recognize the body to which it had to return.