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Egyptian Cedar, Gesso & Linen Sarcophagus Mask

Egypt, Late Dynastic Period, 26th to 31st Dynasty, ca. 664 to 332 BCE. A hand-carved wooden mask with a curved facial profile covered in russet and black pigment atop thick layers of chalky-white gesso. The face is defined by painted almond-shaped eyes, a triangular nose, full lips, and a rounded chin, all beneath curving brows and a thin forehead. Sections of original linen padding remains attached to the peripheries and suggest that, along with the convex reverse, this mask was a substitute for the head of the deceased rather than a facial cover. The sarcophagus mask was an essential component of the mummy, as it provided an idealized image of the deceased as they would appear once resurrected. This mask and others like it were traditionally carved from cedar. Size: 4" W x 5.5" H (10.2 cm x 14 cm).

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. Thus, they relief 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 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." The rarity of cedar meant that masks like this example were reserved for those who could afford them.

Condition: Losses to areas of verso and peripheries, with chipping and fading to original pigmentation and gesso layers, desiccation to linen wrappings, and age-commensurate wear to some high-point areas. Nice earthen deposits as well as traces of original gesso, pigmentation, and linen wrappings throughout.

Provenance: private Honolulu, Hawaii, USA collection

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