Mummy mask

Egyptian
Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 11 to early Dynasty 12
2140–1926 B.C.


Dimensions

Height: 60 cm (23 5/8 in.)

Accession Number

1987.54

Medium or Technique

Cartonnage

On View

Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood Gallery (Gallery 119)

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Masks

While Egyptians of the Old Kingdom had attempted to add lifelike features to the outer wrappings of mummies, masks with idealized images of the deceased, designed to cover the head and shoulders of the mummy, were introduced during the First Intermediate Period. By the early Middle Kingdom they became a standard part of the Egyptian burial assemblage, and they would continue to be used for two thousand years, into the Roman era. This mask, like many funerary masks of the period, was made of cartonnage. It was painted to imitate a mask that was covered with gold and inlaid with semiprecious stone, materials that would have been used for the masks of higher officials who could better afford them. The long, plain front panel was designed to be hidden under the outermost layer of mummy wrappings, with only the head revealed.

Due to its imperishability, gold was believed to be the color of the gods’ flesh. By using it for the skin of the deceased, the artist therefore indicated that he or she had entered the realm of the divine. Likewise, the eyebrows and beard were painted blue because the hair and beards of deities were believed to be of lapis lazuli. Although men in Egyptian art were typically portrayed as clean shaven or wearing a short goatee, moustaches and fuller beards such as those depicted here seem to have been fashionable on funerary masks for a brief period in the early Middle Kingdom. The artist of this mask paid careful attention to details, such as the stippling of the beard and eyebrows and the meticulous rendering of the eyes’ canthi, and thus gave the face a lifelike and expressive quality despite the symbolic coloring.

Provenance

By 1987: with Nabil Anawati, Archaeologia Gallery, Montreal; purchased by the MFA from Nabil Anawati.
(Accession Date: February 25, 1987)

Credit Line

Edward J. and Mary S. Holmes Fund