Gilded cartonnage mummy mask

Egyptian (Greco-Roman Period)
Late 1st century BC - early 1st century AD

Mummy masks are a depiction of the head and chest of the dead and were worn over the wrapped head of the mummy. They were principally used to protect the deceased's face but could also act as substitutes for the mummified head should it be damaged or lost. Egyptians believed that the spirit or ba survived death and could leave the confines of a tomb. The mummy mask therefore provided the means for the returning ba to recognize its host - whose face was hidden by layers of bandage - and it is therefore odd that mummy masks were rarely particularized portraits. Accordingly, this example has idealized features.

The use of gold was connected to the belief that the sun god Re, with whom the mummy hoped to be united, had flesh of pure gold. The mask was created from layers of wet linen gummed together, usually shaped over a mould and then given a thin outer coating of plaster. Once it had hardened, it could then be gilded or painted. The broad collar with its strings of beads and inscribed headband was applied in slightly raised relief. The latter is inscribed with a funerary text and the top of the mask is decorated with a winged scarab beetle to associate it with the sun god. The back of the wig is decorated in polychrome with a row of deities, a ba and falcon with outstretched wings and seven short columns of near unintelligible hieroglyphs.

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Height: 44.000 cm
Width: 28.000 cm

Museum number

EA 29472


Acquired by the British Museum in 1897


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