University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Mummy Mask [Object of the Day #109]


November 16, 2012

Mummy Mask
Mummy Mask

This Egyptian funerary mask from the late Ptolemaic or Roman Period (after 300 BCE) has a gilded face to suggest that the deceased had joined the gods in the afterlife.  It meant that now, the owner had skin and bones of gold, just like the gods. On the headdress, alternating stripes of gold and blue represent the colors of the precious metal and a semi precious stone, lapis lazuli.  The tradition of covering the head and shoulders of a mummy with a cartonnage (linen and gesso) mask had begun much earlier in Egypt, toward the end of the First Intermediate Period (around 2000 BCE). Its use continued into the Middle Kingdom, and the mask may represent an early stage in the development of the anthropoid coffin, a type that eventually became the most popular form.  The idea of the funerary mask may actually have developed even earlier, in the Old Kingdom (around 2350 BCE ), when some mummified bodies, wrapped in linen, had a thin coat of
plaster applied to the face and head.  Facial features were modeled in the wet plaster, and when dried, the face of the mummy had a lifelike appearance.

An interesting bit of information about the more modern history of this mummy mask is that it had been part of the collection of Helena Rubinstein, the developer of one of the largest international cosmetics company of the early Twentieth Century.

Penn Museum Object #53-20-1A

See this and other objects like it on Penn Museum’s Online Collection Database

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