Egyptian Late Dynastic Cedar Mummy Mask

Winning Bid: $950

Ancient Egypt, Late Period, Dynasties 26 to 31, ca. 712 to 300 BCE. An Egyptian cedar and painted gesso sarcophagus mask of an archetypical Egyptian beauty in a black striped headdress painted with crimson, black, white, and russet hues. The voluminous deep-lidded eyes highlighted in thick strokes of black paint and long sweeping eyebrows mesmerize any viewer and lead one’s eye to a rounded nose and red-outlined, plump lips resting in a slight smile. These features are beautifully accented by a heart-shaped face, tan complexion, and black banded headdress. With immense eyes that stare through time, the mask reminds us of the ephemerality of our own existence, yet the eternal importance of art. Size: 7.5″ L x 3.75″ W x 9″ H (19 cm x 9.5 cm x 22.9 cm)

Ancient Egyptians believed it was of the utmost importance to preserve a body of the deceased, as the soul needed a place to reside after the death. Conservation of the body was done via mummification – a process involving the removal of internal organs that were placed in canopic jars, wrapping the body in linen, and then embalming. Death masks, such as this, were created so that the soul could recognize the body and return to it and, thus, were carved in the likeness of the deceased. Artisans used different materials. Earlier masks were carved from wood, while later ones were made of cartonnage, a material made from papyrus or linen and soaked in plaster which was then applied to a wooden mold, was used. Royal death masks, perhaps the most famous being that of Tutankhamen, were made from precious metals.

The mask was an essential part of the mummy, placed over the head to provide an idealized image of the deceased as he or she would be resurrected. This mask and others like it were traditionally carved from cedar. Interestingly, cedar wood was not native to Egypt. Egypt did not have verdant forests filled with tall trees, and unfortunately most of its native lumber was of relatively poor quality. So the ancient Egyptians relied on importing to acquire hardwoods – ebony imported from Africa, cedar and pine from Lebanon. One fabulous obelisk inscription by Thutmose III attests to the luxury of treasured hardwoods. It reads as follows, “They brought to me the choicest products . . . consisting of cedar, juniper and of meru wood . . . all the good sweet woods of God’s Land.” (Obelisk inscription by Thutmose III – J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Two, p. 321)