Coming Soon: Nefrina’s Mummy Mask

Update – this post contains outdated language. We no longer use the term “mummy” and instead use “mummified human individuals” to refer to Ancient Egyptian people whose bodies were preserved for the afterlife. To read more about this decision, follow this link.

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 mummified human remains 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