This wooden funerary mask comes from the 22nd/ 23rd Dynasty, during a time when Egypt was, once again, briefly separated in to ‘Upper’ and ‘Lower’ territories. The upper was ruled by a series of Pharaohs who were Meshwesh, ancient Libyans from c. 943 BC until 716 BC, and the much smaller Lower Egypt was ruled by Tutkheperre Shoshenq and his decedents until the unification in 713 BC by Tefnakht I.
Created from a finely grained hard cedar wood, the well-proportioned mask has deep-set eyes which would have originally been set with bronze and glass, the straight eyebrows, now also missing, would have been inlayed with cast bronze. A long straight nose and lightly curved lips give the mask a calm, content appearance.
Although death masks were idealised, they were made to resemble the deceased. Generally, features were enlarged, the lips clearly delineated, full, and pursed together in a placid smile. Some masks also display fashions of the time, with painted jewellery and makeup reflecting the period. The chief purpose of ancient Egyptian funerary rituals (including mummification) was to enable the individual to pass from the earthly life to a new existence, in which he or she would possess the attributes of divine beings. The outward appearance of the transfigured dead would reflect their new, god-like status. For this reason, all images of the dead, whether mummy-masks, anthropoid coffins or free-standing statues, were idealized, representing the individual as eternally youthful and free from all physical disabilities or blemishes. The first mummy masks appear at the end of the Old Kingdom (around 2686-2181 B.C). Early masks were made from wood, followed by masks made from cartonnage, a material made from papyrus or linen that was soaked in plaster and then moulded on a wooden mould. Royal death masks were often made from precious metals, usually gold or gold leaf on bronze.
This mask once formed part of the lid of a mummiform coffin. The full sarcophagus would have been covered in gesso and brightly painted, usually with texts and vignettes from the Book of the Dead, often featuring a representation of the owner making appropriate offerings to the gods of the underworld, principally Osiris.
The British Museum has a similar wooden Egyptian coffin mask. Like ours it has been carved from a rich, dark hardwood with a naturalistic appearance and has lost its bronze and ivory inserts.
Private Collection of Mr F.A. who acquired the mask on 18th May 1969 from Versailles Auction House (3, Impasse des Chevau-Légers, Versailles, France). Accompanied by original invoice dated 18th May 1969 – “Masque de Sarcophage” (item 5) and French Cultural Passport 191943.
Accompanied by radiocarbon test.