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Large Egyptian Wood / Gesso Sarcophagus Mask

Egypt, Late Dynastic Period, 26th to 31st Dynasty, ca. 664 to 332 BCE. A large and finely-carved wooden sarcophagus mask detailed with scattered areas of paint atop chalky white gesso. The mask is defined by its prominent flaring nose, a wide headdress across the brow, plateaued eyes, and a petite mouth, with the flat verso meant to protect the body and face of the deceased. Areas of the original gesso are still visible with traces of red, tan, and dark-grey pigment hinting at how the mask would have appeared in the past. Residual dowel holes are scattered across the obverse and reverse sides with fragments of the original dowels in each. Though rough and exposed, this wooden mask is a beautiful example of ancient Egyptian funerary practices. Size: 9.25" W x 12.25" H (23.5 cm x 31.1 cm).

Mummy masks were principally used to protect the face of the deceased, but they could also act as a substitute for the mummified head in the case of loss or damage. In addition, the ancient Egyptians believed that the "ba" (often incorrectly translated as “spirit”) could leave the tomb and travel freely in the world of the living. To make sure that upon returning it would recognize the mummy, whose face was hidden by layers of bandage, the mask functioned as a portrait. Nevertheless, most masks had idealized features and were rarely particularized portraits.

Condition: Surface wear and abrasions commensurate with age as shown, losses to areas of cheeks, headdress, chin, dowels, and verso, losses and discoloration to pigmentation and gesso, with several stable hairline fissures. Light earthen deposits throughout. Mounted for suspension on verso with two ring screws and a metal wire.

Provenance: private New York, New York, USA collection; ex-private German collection, acquired about 15 years ago

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