New Mask in the Lab

Amaris Sturm is a second-year graduate student in the Winterthur/ University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation. She is currently completing a summer internship in the Penn Museum’s conservation labs.

I’m excited to introduce a new addition to the objects for treatment in the Artifact Lab! This Roman period Egyptian mummy mask and shroud, likely from 220 – 250 AD and excavated from Deir el-Bahri in the late 19th century, will be one of my primary treatment projects during my summer at the Penn Museum.

E2462- Overall before treatment

E2462- Overall before treatment

Meant to be placed over the upper body of a mummy, this mask is constructed of multiple pieces of coarsely woven linen sewn into a long shroud.  At the top of the shroud is a hollow, molded mud plaster mask in the form of a man’s face with a jeweled crown. The entire front surface has a white ground with colorful painted decoration. Additionally, gilding is present on fragments of the crown.

Sadly, the mask was folded at some point in its history, obscuring most of the linen shroud. Although there are no records of the complete decorated surface and little is known about the history of the mask in our collection, other similar examples from Deir el-Bahri give great insight into what may be hidden beneath the folds.

Comparable mask in the Louvre collection

Comparable mask from the Louvre collection

Comparable examples, including this example from the Louvre, show the continuation of the man’s white tunic with a goblet in one hand and a plant stem in the other. A lower register is likely present containing Sokar, a falcon-headed god, on a boat and flanked by two jackals. One jackal is visible on an exposed corner of the Penn Museum’s mask.

E2462- Crown before treatment

E2462- Molded mud plaster crown before treatment

Apart from being folded, the mask has other condition issues that will be treated over the course of my summer internship in the lab. The textile support of the crown has sagged, causing the mud plaster to break and crumble. Additionally, the exposed painted surface is flaking and the linen fabric has started to tear and unravel.

I hope to start treatment in this coming week and unfold the shroud, allowing us to better understand the construction, decoration, and condition of this mummy mask. Check back to see what it revealed and for more on the mask’s treatment!


Panel Portrait of a Man. Louvre Museum. Accessed June 25, 2016.

Riggs, C. 2000. Roman Period Mummy Masks from Deir el-Bahri. From The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 86. Egypt Exploration Society. 121-144.

Coming Soon: Nefrina’s Mummy Mask

In 2011 I had the privilege to work on the mummy mask shown below, and I am excited that it will soon be on display In the Artifact Lab! Since this mask will be a new addition to the gallery, it seems fitting the mask have an introduction to the blog as well.

mask croppedFunerary masks, like this one, were placed over the wrapped mummy as an idealized representation of the deceased. This mask is made of cartonnage which is a complex composite material. It was made by wrapping a head shaped core (probably made from mud or straw) with layers of linen and papyrus impregnated with glue. The exterior of the mask was then covered with plaster and painted. To help you visualize the stratigraphy of the mask, here is a diagram:


A diagram showing the multiple layers that make up Nefrina’s mask, with the inner linen layer represented in blue at the bottom and the outer paint layer(s) represented in black at the top

The face of this mask has a slightly different preparation from the rest of the head, as it has gold leaf and required a predatory layer called red bole.  Bole is a fine clay ground layer that is applied before putting down gold leaf as it creates a richer color and provides a good surface for burnishing the gold. Once finished, the mask would have been removed from the core and be ready for use.

This mask belonged to a woman from the Ptolemaic period (300-30 BC) named Nefer-iin-e (Nefrina). Nefrina’s mummy and coffin are on display at the Reading Public Museum, just about an hour from Philadelphia in Reading, PA, and it is from the translation of the text on her coffin that her name is known in addition to information about her parents. Her father, Irthrrw (Irethorrou) and mother, Ir(ty)-r-w (Irty-rou), both served in the temple for the Egyptian fertility god Min.

The Reading Public Museum has made this great video where you can learn more about Nefrina:

In 2012 the mask was reunited with the coffin and mummy at the Reading Public Museum for the first time in 82 years as part of an exhibit called Nefrina’s World. Now that the mask is back at the Penn Museum, we are excited that it is going to be on display here too! Once it is in the gallery we will follow up with a post about it’s conservation treatment.

– posted by Tessa De Alarcon