Egypt, Ptolemaic period, ca. 332 to 30 BCE. A finely carved cedar mummy mask with a gilded face and lovely painted gesso details. The ovoid head features large, black-painted eyes beneath thick brows, a slender nose with delineated nostrils, thin lips, and rounded cheeks. The visage is presented beneath a puffy headdress that sits low on the forehead and features thick red and blue-green stripes that alternate between thin yellow bars. The flat verso features a trio of narrow dowel holes, and one side of the forehead still retains an original dowel. Lucite display stand for photography purposes only. Size: 4.4" W x 7.1" H (11.2 cm x 18 cm).
Ancient Egyptians believed it was of the utmost importance to preserve a body of the deceased, because the soul needed a place to reside after the death. Preservation of the body was done via mummification - a process involving the removal of internal organs that were placed in canopic jars, wrapping body in linen, and then embalming. Death masks like this example were created so that the soul could recognize the body and return to it. For this reason, death masks were made in the likeness of the deceased. Artisans used different materials. Earlier masks were carved from wood, while later ones were made of cartonnage, a material made from papyrus or linen and soaked in plaster which was then applied to a wooden mold, was used. Royal death masks, perhaps the most famous being that of Tutankhamen, were made from precious metals. All death masks were intended to resemble the deceased subject; however, eyes were always slightly enlarged and lips presented in a subtle smile, as we see in this example.
The mask was an essential part of the mummy, placed over the head to provide an idealized image of the deceased as he or she would be resurrected. This mask and others like it were traditionally carved from cedar. Interestingly, cedar wood was not native to Egypt. Egypt did not have verdant forests filled with tall trees, and unfortunately most of its native lumber was of relatively poor quality. So the ancient Egyptians relied on importing to acquire hardwoods - ebony imported from Africa, cedar and pine from Lebanon. One fabulous obelisk inscription by Thutmose III attests to the luxury of treasured hardwoods. It reads as follows, "They brought to me the choicest products . . . consisting of cedar, juniper and of meru wood . . . all the good sweet woods of God's Land." (Obelisk inscription by Thutmose III - J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Two, p. 321)
Provenance: private A.G. collection, Chicago, Illinois, USA
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Chipping to original gesso and gilding, with fading to areas of original pigmentation and gilding, losses to dowels on verso, and desiccation commensurate with age. Nice traces of original painted gesso and gilding, and great patina throughout.