Wooden Sarcophagus Mask
Period: Late Period, 8th - 4th century B.C.
Dimensions: H: 30 cm (11.8 in)
Ex- Sayed bey Khashaba collection, ca. 1910;
Ex- Swiss private collection, 1970;
Ex- German private collection, 1989.
Full face and in good condition with glued fragments and some filling. Some remains of black paint in the eyes. The hard, polished wood reveals numerous veins.
This mask, which belonged to an anthropoid sarcophagus, was probably covered with stucco and then painted in several colors. It was fixed to the cover by wooden plates inserted in the holes still visible and drilled asymmetrically near the temples. The interior of the mask is hollow and certainly intended to be placed on the body of the sarcophagus and to adapt to the shape of the mummy. The represented figure, who was not wearing a beard, is wearing a smooth wig, the upper part of which can be seen thanks to the line drawn in relief above the forehead. Despite a slight asymmetry, the face presents soft lines and shaped with precision and expertise; the idealized and somewhat impersonal expression prevents him from assigning a specific age. The eye contour and the sinuous lines of the eyebrows (which, according to the Egyptian iconographic tradition, are extended by a thick line stretching to the temples) are in slight relief: in reality, the Egyptians made up their eyes with kohol, a black substance which protected them from the sun and the dryness of the desert climate of these regions. In each eye, the iris and the pupil retain some traces of polychromy (black). The outline of the nose is well traced, the lips are fleshy. The ears are well rendered and superimposed on the hairstyle.
The serene expression of the face (the slight “smile” sketched by the lips is often interpreted as the artistic manifestation of a feeling of inner peace, rather than just a momentary smile) and the quality of the modeling can be compared to the production artistic and high level objects from the Late Period.
Quality wood is rather scarce in Egypt, sculptors and carpenters were forced to resort to imports from abroad to produce good quality objects. Despite this, wooden sculptures have a great and long tradition in Egyptian art, since the first wooden statuettes already date from the beginning of the historical period; but the panoply of wooden objects is not limited only to the figurative arts, since there are domestic or working tools, feminine toiletries, or musical instruments, etc. Even if wood is a perishable material, its use provided significant advantages: lighter and easier to work, it also made it possible to compose statues in several elements and especially to paint them with a rich polychromy, after having coated them with stucco.
IKRAM S. – DODSON A., The Mummy in Ancient Egypt, Equipping the Dead for the Eternity, London, 1998, pp. 166 ff.
PAGE-GASSER M. – WIESE A.B. (eds.), Egypte, Moments d’Eternité, Art égyptien dans les collections privées, Suisse, Mainz/Rhine, 1998, pp. 240-243, nos. 157-158.
PERDU O. – RICKAL E., La collection égyptienne du Musée de Picardie, Paris-Amiens, 1994, pp. 40-41, nos. 24-25.