Height: 21.400 cm
Room 22: Alexander the Great
Bronze mask of Dionysos
Graeco-Roman, about 200 BC-AD 100
From a ritual bucket (situla)
This striking mask was originally one of a pair of supports for the handle of a ritual vessel. The handle ring, which originally projected from the top of the head, is now missing. Alexander the Great's conquest of Egypt resulted in some merging of Greek and Egyptian religions and this form of vessel was probably developed in Hellenistic Egypt. Dionysos, Greek god of wine, became assimilated with Osiris, the consort of the Egyptian god Isis. The vessel is a cross between a Dionysiac wine-mixing bowl and the ritual situla (bucket), used in the worship of Isis, for containing 'the milk of life'.
The bronze casting is of very high quality. The metal inlays were differently coloured to give contrast: the grapes and ivy berries are inlaid with copper, as are the lips; an iron band encircles the forehead; the whites of the eyes are inlaid with silver, and silver horns rear from the temples.
The mask was once in the collection of Dr Richard Mead (1673-1754), noted collector and physician to King George II (reigned 1727-1760). It was purchased in 1755 by Sir Paul Methuen (1672-1757) in whose family it remained until 1983. It was acquired by the British Museum in 1989.
I. Jenkins, 'The masks of Dionysos/Pan-Osiris-Apis', Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäol, volume 109 (1994), pp. 273-99