Egypt, Late Dynastic Period, 25th Dynasty, ca. 664 to 525 BCE. A stunning Egyptian sarcophagus panel, hand-carved from cedar and covered in layers of painted gesso. The top of the cover presents a mesmerizing guise that is theatrical yet semi-veristic, with ovoid copper eyes with elongated canthi surrounding white-painted sclera and black irises, a slender nose, cupped ears, and full lips above a rounded chin. Beneath the chin is an elaborate false beard with stripes of black and green atop a yellow ground, and above the forehead is a highly stylized scarab beetle representative of immortality and resurrection. A gorgeous broad collar hangs atop the chest and displays two rings each of red linear bands, red poppy flowers, and yellow circles filled with blue-and-red spots. The verso is hollow to fit around the form of the deceased, and mortises along the verso illustrate how it would have attached to the lower sarcophagus body. Size: 26" W x 45" H (66 cm x 114.3 cm); 49" H (124.5 cm) on included custom stand.
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 and sarcophagus panels like this example were created so that the "ba" - the part of the soul that left the body each day - could recognize their old form body and become rejoined each evening with the "ka" - the part of the soul that permanently stayed with the body.
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. Thus, they relief 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 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." The rarity of cedar meant that masks like this example were reserved for those who could afford them.
A stylistically-similar example, of roughly half the size and from a later dynasty, hammered for $68,750 at Christie's, New York Antiquities auction (sale 3748, June 4, 2015, lot 168): https://www.christies.com/lotfinder/ancient-art-antiquities/an-egyptian-wood-coffin-lid-30th-dynasty-5903892-details.aspx?from=searchresults&intObjectID=5903892&sid=54df11d9-d913-48cb-b4ed-86e693bda9c6
Provenance: ex-private Austin, Texas, USA collection, acquired in 2018; ex-Aphrodite Ancient Art Gallery, New York, New York, USA; ex-private Florida, USA collection, acquired in 2008; ex-private German collection, acquired in 1979; accompanied by Art Loss Register certificate, reference #S00109057
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Restoration to several areas of head, lower corners, and periphery, with stabilization material visible in some areas, and some fill and overpainting, especially around the lower third of the body. Ancient loss and stabilization to verso. Small chips and abrasions across body, head, peripheries, and verso, with light fading to original pigmentation, and stable insect damage on verso. Great traces of original pigmentation throughout. Comes with Art Loss Register Certificate.