An Egyptian Gilt Cartonnage Mummy Mask, Ptolemaic Period, ca. 1st century BCE


Elaborately decorated, this brightly painted cartonnage mask has been identified as belonging to a man. The skin on the ears, face, and neck of the mask is gilded to imitate the imperishable golden skin of the gods. The large eyes of the deceased are rimmed in black with blue eyebrows. His long, elaborately decorated wig, is secured by a gilt diadem with a central raised boss, painted blue and overlaid on all sides with religious imagery to address his hope for a successful entry into the afterlife. The top of his head is protected by the winged scarab, a symbol of rebirth into the next world. Images of the deceased’s mummy before Osiris on the lappets suggest a positive judgment on his entrance to the afterlife, Anubis shown in jackal form is below. The back portrays the winged vulture goddess Nekhbet holding a shen ring (symbol of eternity) in each talon, with stylized djed pillars below. On both sides, geometric patterns decorate parts of the headdress, back, and sides, with a rosette motif border at the base.

Background: Funerary masks were a critical aspect of the external ornamentation of the mummy. Masks could range in type from crude plaster images to ones beaten from solid gold, such as the famous King Tutankhamun mask. Cartonnage masks were the fundamentally most important part of mummy adornment until the Roman era. Types of masks changed, of course, but a mask had to be present. Ikram's helmet-masks, ie: those that fully cover the head and shoulders, were adopted during the Old Kingdom period and while other methods were adopted during the Middle and New Kingdoms (anthropoid coffins and mummy boards, respectively), masks of some type were never fully abandoned. Helmet-masks were brought back during the Ptolemaic period, with motifs depicted on the lower parts of the mask instead of a singular depiction of the deceased.  Ptolemaic period masks eventually divided into two groups: an "Egyptian Group" and a "Roman Group." Egyptian masks, as with this example, kept with traditional mask elements but sometimes had enlarged proportions to resemble the size of the coffin. Roman masks became more of a portrait of the deceased than a mask, fixed on a panel rather than a three-dimensional helmet.

Ref: Salima Ikram and Aidan Dodson, The Mummy in Ancient Egypt: Equipping the Dead for Eternity, London: Thames and Hudson (1998), pgs. 166-189.

Condition: Loss to the gilt along the nose, small break above the upper lip, minor losses to the cartonnage on the wig and at the back of the mask, and expected age-related wear. Overall the mask is intact with minor stabilization and overpainting, it is in very good condition with excellent, vibrant polychrome remaining. Mounted for display.

Dimensions: Height: 17 3/4 inches (45 cm), width: 11 1/2 inches (29.2 cm)

Provenance: The Simonian Family Collection of Ancient Art, Switzerland, acquired in the 1960s and then by descent, legally imported into the USA in 2016.

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