Egypt, Late Dynastic Period, 26th to 31st Dynasty, ca. 664 to 332 BCE. A magnificent and massive wood mummy mask, expertly carved from cedar and covered in a layer of gesso painted in hues of blue, brown, white, and black. The elegant visage exhibits sizeable, almond-shaped eyes with pronounced lids beneath sweeping, slender brows, a naturalistic nose, prominent cheek bones, a petite chin, and full lips held in a gentle smile. A black headdress caps the ancient vizard, sitting just above high-set ears, while the outer corners of each eye are characteristically extended outwards. A sensuous mask showcasing the quintessential ancient Egyptian funerary artistry! Size: 11.9" W x 16.5" H (30.2 cm x 41.9 cm); 21.7" H (55.1 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.
Mummy masks were principally used to protect the face of the deceased, but they could also act as a substitute for the mummified head in the case of loss or damage. In addition, the ancient Egyptians believed that the "ba" (often incorrectly translated as "spirit") could leave the tomb and travel freely in the world of the living. To make sure that upon returning it would recognize the mummy, whose face was hidden by layers of bandages, the mask functioned as a portrait. Nevertheless, most masks had idealized features and were rarely particularized portraits.
This lid 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. Thus, they 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." The rarity of cedar meant that masks like this one were reserved for those who could afford them.
This piece has been searched against the Art Loss Register database and has been cleared. The Art Loss Register maintains the world’s largest database of stolen art, collectibles, and antiques.
Provenance: private West Hollywood, California, USA collection; ex-private Australian collection; ex-private T. McAllister collection (Egyptian art collector), acquired on the London art market in the 1970s
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Fragment of a larger piece. Losses to proper right side of head and headdress. Several stable fissures throughout. Headdress has 5 drill holes, 1 of which contains an original wooden dowel. Expected nicks, chips, and abrasions throughout, commensurate with age. Old inactive insect holes to verso. Otherwise, very nice with impressive remaining pigments. Drilled to custom wooden stand.